For more photos and recipe notes, visit Cardamom and Tea. It's hard to find labneh better than that made from homemade yogurt. The good news is that it's very easy to make and requires no special equipment or expertise. —Kathryn Pauline
1 1/2 cups
yogurt with live active cultures
homemade yogurt (or skip the first half of this recipe and use store-bought plain, unstrained yogurt)
long sheet cheesecloth
For serving (optional): salt, za'atar or mint leaves, and extra virgin olive oil
Heat the milk very carefully over low heat so that it doesn't scorch or boil over. Stir it every few minutes and keep a very close eye on it.
As soon as it starts to simmer, take it off the heat and pour it into the container you're going to store it in (either glass or ceramic). You can leave it in the same container you heated it in, as long as it's a non-reactive metal and you have avoided scorching the bottom.
Let it cool down a bit, checking periodically to make sure the milk doesn't cool down too much. It should still feel warm, but should be cool enough that you can stick your finger in the milk without burning yourself. Once it's at this point, add the tablespoon of yogurt to a small bowl and combine it with 1/4 c of the warm milk.
Add this mixture back into the container, mix it together, and cover it with a loose-fitting lid or plastic wrap.
Wrap the whole thing in a blanket. This will keep it insulated so that it keeps some of the residual heat from the milk.
Store the blanketed container in the oven and put a note on the control board so no one turns it on while your yogurt is inside.
Let it ferment for anywhere between 8 to 24 hours, depending on how sour you want it to be. It will become more sour as it ages. 12 hours is usually perfect.
Once you're happy with the consistency, put it in the refrigerator to let it chill.
Once it's chilled, put a couple of layers of undyed paper towels or clean tea towels (washed without dryer sheets, fabric softener, or fragrance) on top to soak up some of the whey. Discard after they absorb as much liquid as they'll hold.
Enjoy the yogurt as is, or hang it with cheesecloth to turn it into Greek yogurt (hung for about 4 hours) or labneh (hung for about 12 hours).
Line a medium-sized bowl (approximately 1 quart) with several layers of cheesecloth. Make sure that the cheesecloth square is large enough to tie the corners around 1 quart of yogurt.
Spoon the yogurt into the center of the cheesecloth-covered bowl, place the wooden spoon over the top then wrap the cheesecloth edges over the top, tying them around the wooden spoon.
Place the ball inside the pitcher, with the wooden spoon allowing it to hang from the top. This will keep it away from the pooling whey, so that it can strain as it hangs.
Cover with plastic wrap, give the fridge a sniff check to make sure there are no funky smells, and strain the labneh in the fridge for about 6-12 hours, depending on the consistency you want. It will be more like Greek yogurt after 6 hours and much firmer after 12. *
To serve, spread thinly on a plate, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and spices.
* Don't be surprised if the labneh loses a couple cups of whey during the straining process. You might need to empty the pitcher if the whey-line starts to get too close to the ball. Also don't be surprised if the trickle of whey slows down dramatically after the first couple hours. It will lose most of its whey in the first 6 hours.