How to make Labneh & other exciting news

I wish I could go away and come back to news like this every single time. So Wales was FUN – as soon as the days ahead give me some time back, I’ll scribe up our experiences of rolling, verdant hills and stunning landscapes. Anyhow, we were in Wales when I got some exciting news. Remember food52? I’ve talked about them often enough, about their weekly recipe contests with the winning entries going in a cookbook.

IMG_0011So well, so good, so long have I hankered heart and soul to be a finalist. Each week, I would start on the top of the curve, fired up, all excited with the development of a new recipe, many of which have not been posted on this blog. By Thursday, my spirits would fall a bit because I hadn’t made it to the finals. Well, that was till a few weeks ago, when I was away and didn’t do my religious ‘Thursday check for the finalists’. Till the Friday when I logged on to my email and saw a note……from the editors, calling me out, to the final, for an adaptation of my suya recipe. My winning entry was a ‘suya swordfish recipe‘ and after by the end of the public polls, I emerged winner.

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The prize: a bounty of goods from this OXO, and not OXO cubes (for my British comrades!). Plus I get a $100 gift card from Wholefoods and a copy of last year’s food52 cookbook and I’m also int he running to win the Wholefoods grand prize of $1000. And the satisfaction that my recipes have some merit, especially when they have ethnic flavours from Nigeria. I tell you, I’m a happy woman even if sadly absent from this blog for a whole week, yes I’m counting. Absent due to Summer cleaning – an extension of Spring cleaning because it didn’t happen in April and tidying my cookbooks (even if they’re not 360 cookbooks), a daughter’s birthday, work, work, work, being home alone with the kids with husband away over the weekend and just basking in life, still taking countless photos 🙂 and still eating and exercising, just in case you’d forgotten that once upon a time, I committed to better living.

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And as you know me well, I’m never happier when I’m talking about comfort food and strangely winter, summer, autumn and spring, yogurt does it for me. With jam, or jam, or jam. And this time, strained, drained and flavoured in little balls.

I was actually triggered by a pot of yogurt, which gorgeous as the container was….had contents that tasted nothing like my regular Turkish yogurt. Rather than let it go to waste, I took the easy way out and researched this balls, common to Middle Eastern cuisine and part of the exciting mezze.

IMG_9976 Excitingly, essentially and easily, Labneh is drained/strained yogurt. simply defined. And yes, Greek and Turkish yogurts are strained, Labneh is super strained yogurt, traditionally ‘hung’ in a sieve, muslin or cheesecloth for anything between a few hours and a day. The aim – to rid the yogurt of its whey, that light yellow liquid which tinges our yogurt with a faint golden hue. Very faint albeit. The result: white, soft ‘cheese’ with the texture of Philadelphia, the calories and tartness of yogurt and a versatility that begs for it to be made and served morning, noon and night. Think of it as yogurt at the Oscars, all doled up.

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And best of all, you don’t need a recipe – use it as you would cream cheese. Some have whisked it up and smothered it over the top of cakes and others have filled cakes with it, others have loving served it up in bowls. Even more have gone further and rolled out tiny balls and those who want to keep it forever, smother the very spheres of creamy deliciousness in oil, lots of oil.

Choose you path, but whatever you do – make your own Labneh. Buy a pot of Greek yogurt or Turkish you don’t like. Be enamored with the yogurt cup and then proceed to make your own the day before your guests come, or when you’re home…all alone. And take my notes below as a mere guide. Improve. Improvise. Invent.

Labneh

Ingredients, makes about 10 walnut sized balls

350 g Turkish or Greek (set) yogurt ( I used 3.5% fat yogurt and it worked well but imagine how creamy it would be with higher fat yogurts)
Pinch of salt
Spice suggestions, if you will:
Suya mix – dry ground peanuts with a mixture of paprika, chilli, ginger powder, onion powder, garlic powder and salt
Greek herb mix – a dried blend of oregano, basil, thyme, mint and parsley
Almond mix – toasted, crushed flaked almonds with chopped fresh mint

How to make Labneh

Prepare the yogurt: stir the yogurt well and season with a pinch of salt. The salt helps draw out the whey (think of cucumbers& aubergines where the salt drains them of their natural liquids). Because you may want to use this in a ‘sweet’ recipe, temper how much salt you add.

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Bag and hang: place the yogurt in the centre of a muslin/cheesecloth folded 4 times (or line a sieve with coffee filters). Gather up the ends of the cloth and tie up tight, gently gathering up the yogurt to form a ball. You’ll notice the whey begin to drip, drip, drip as soon as you begin. Keep it in the fridge, the whey that is and stir into your breakfast cereal, or back into yogurt or find out a myriad other ways to use it – it is rich in protein, and remember Little Miss Muffet? . Moving on, pass a skewer through the tie/knot and hang over a deep bowl. Because the weather was really hot and I didn’t want any hygiene issues, I placed my yogurt ball over a bowl, in the fridge overnight. The next morning, much of the whey had drained out, leaving a very creamy residue which was firm on the outside and somewhat soft and creamy on the inside.

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If you like, you can serve it now, gently stirred together and topped with anything from olives and tomatoes to herbs and spice mixes. Me however, I was far from content with just leaving it plain so I forged ahead.

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Make your labneh balls: with my spice mixes all prepared, I pinched off chunks of cheese, dunked them in the spices, then gently rolled them to form balls. This reduced the amount of cheese that got stuck to my fingers, though note that a bowl of water close by is very handy. The suya and Greek herb mix were easy and ready in no time.

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For the Almond mix, I gently mixed in some chopped fresh mint, using the tips of my fingers and minimising again, the stickiness and loss associated with wet foods. Then I pinched off more cheese chunks and rolled them in the crushed almonds. Off to the fridge they went, no oil soak as I knew they would form breakfast for the whole some part of the week.


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I loved them – the suya version was incredibly spicy, cutting through the richness of the cheese. The Greek herb version was very fragrant and reminded me of marinated feta chunks, only softer but by far my favourite was the almond and fresh mint, which I served with a drizzle of acacia honey to accompany my mugs of  mint tea and my oven-baked pita chips.

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If you want to enjoy Labneh in authentic surroundings, then you just might be able to do so with Beth of Dirty Kitchen Secrets who is organising a ‘Taste Lebanon Culinary Tour‘ from September 23rd to the 1st of October. If I could go I would but I can’t for many reasons and so I’m asking you, can you go? Know someone who can? Spread the word please, there are only a few places left. And if you can’t of course, bring Lebanon to your dining table by making your own Labneh.

Check out this terrific recipes from other comrades in foodie arms

Labneh balls by Fig Jam & Lime Chutney
Roquerfort & Labneh mousse by Taste of Beirut
Labneh on Anissa’s blog, with a lovely photo of a traditional Labneh hanging bag
Labneh with chilli and anchovy by Helen of Food Stories
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Have you tried Labneh before? Any delicious recipes to share – I’ll be making it again very soon so please let me know. Thanks.[wpurp-searchable-recipe]How to make Labneh & other exciting news – – – [/wpurp-searchable-recipe]

26 Comments

  1. Labneh is my favorite type of cheese! I can eat it all day. But I’ve never tried it with your interesting additions, it’s worth a try.
    I just stumbled upon your blog, love all the photos and international recipes.
    Gal.

  2. Brilliant news and very well deserved! You’ll have to find yourself a new mountain to climb now!!
    The labneh looks great, I have seen it in local middle eastern shops but never made exactly this myself although I have done paneer which I imagine is similar. Great pictures!

  3. Congratulations Ozoz! I am so happy for you! You must show us what you got with that prize money! Funny I was searching your blog for your Suya recipe to try to make it. I love trying regional dishes that I have never tasted before, then what a great surprise to find this!

    Okay, now what is sad is I have a yogurt strainer and I’ve had for years and have never used. I have no excuse, now I seriously need to try it! Thanks for the loving nudge that I need sometimes! 🙂

  4. Absolutely exquisite photos and beautiful post. I have made my own yogurt and yogurt cheese for years… I have a spice mix I always use that I am addicted to – but will definitely have to try some of yours. They also sound so yummy. You can take a look at mine on my recipes page under appetizers, I think.
    I was really edified by the photos of the yogurt in the brown sac. Really artistic.
    🙂
    Valerie

  5. Congratulations my friend on your winning recipe for Food 52. Is there a Whole Foods in the Netherlands? We jokingly call Whole Foods “Whole Paycheck” as it is a wonderful food store and it is not cheap. A heavenly place for a foodie.

    I have never made labneh, looks really good. I think I am chicken,

    • Thanks Norma, Krista.

      Trissa, I’m going to head to the nearest Whole Foods….which is the UK :-), or find someone going (and returning) to the US!

      Oyster Culture, thanks. I think the US is too far to come for a $100 Whole Foods shopping spree. If I win the grand prize of $1000, I’ll seriously consider it!

      Thanks Velva dear, I’ll have to see how far my $100 prize money gets me!

  6. Woohoo! I am so happy for you, and that others besides your dear readers recognized what an amazing talent you are! I’m doing the happy dance in my chair! So now you have to plan a trip the US to spend your loot =)

  7. Congratulations OZ!! How are you going to spend your prize money? And thanks for the step by step on the labneh! Never tried to make it before, I’ve only made ricotta but your instructions are very clear and gives me courage to try it!

  8. Congratulations on your win, dear Ozoz!!! I’m so very happy for you! 🙂 LOVE these photos. Just love them! 🙂

  9. Congratulations on your well-deserved win! And thanks for demystifying what labneh is 🙂 I *love* your description that it is yoghurt all dolled up to go to the oscars – LOL! These little rolled balls sound absolutely heavenly – thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks Shaz, I love the plate too. I got it at a flea market for a couple of euros.

      Rhonda , the words exactly I sought – public endorsement and recognition. Thank you

      Mimi, thanks. I’ll have to try using Labneh in sweet recipes

      mademoiselle délicieuse, thank you

      Jeanne, thanks you too.

  10. Congratualtions! It is so nice to have an “official” recognition confirming what you already knew…you are a fabulous cook and blogger. Always a pleasure. I still have some greek yogurt left over, I think I know what I’ll do with it now.

  11. Congratulations Oz! Never tried to make labne before, but I like that hanging process, it sounds very doable. All the flavours sound delicious, and I love that serving plate 🙂

  12. Congratulations! Isn’t it funny that when we finally let go, we often find that we’ve been striving so arduously for just falls into our laps. I’m so happy you won, and what a wonderful set of prizes too! Your recipes are always so inventive, and I’m surprised you didn’t win earlier. Thank you for this introduction to labneh…I want to give it a try now!

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