What if you were to indulge, just completely let go, and sink into a fresh bowl of Labneh? Become drenched in that sour creamy texture encapsulating everything that is great about our food. Taste it. Savor it. So rich, your tongue becomes thick with it. Frothy and smooth with a hint of saltiness, it’s a dish saturated with pure bliss, overflowing at the brim with zesty green olive oil.
Labneh is a yogurt that has been strained to remove its whey, resulting in a thicker consistency than unstrained yogurt, while preserving yogurt’s distinctive, sour taste, with a consistency similar to a soft cheese. Like many types of yogurt, strained yogurt is often made from milk that has been enriched by boiling off some of its water content, and/or by adding extra butterfat and powdered milk. Due to the straining process to remove excess whey, even non-fat varieties of strained yogurt are much thicker, richer, and creamier than yogurts that have not been strained. It is usually eaten in a fashion similar to hummos, spread on a plate and drizzled with olive oil often sprinkled with some dried mint. While Labneh is classified as a cheese, it retains the distinctive sour flavor of yoghurt. We love it so much at home that we practically brush our teeth in it!
Besides being used fresh, Labneh is also dried then formed into balls, sometimes covered with herbs or spices, and stored in olive oil, called Labneh bil zeit (Labneh in oil). Labneh is a popular mezza dish and sandwich ingredient. The flavor depends largely on the sort of milk used; Labneh from cow’s milk has a rather mild flavor compared to the one with goat’s milk. Also the quality of olive oil topping influences the taste of Labneh. It can be preserved for over a year, as it ages it turns more sour.
Labneh, like all cultured dairy food is rich in beneficial bacteria. As a probiotic food, Labneh carries with it all the benefits of yogurt. Foods rich in beneficial bacteria support proper immune system function, and the process of lactic acid fermentation increases the vitamin content of many foods. Here we have an amazing dish full with good bacteria, years before the word probiotic was advertised on every shelf.
Labneh is a word derived from the word ‘laban’, the surname laban means white or milk. The same applies to the origin of the name Lebanon. The name Lebanon originates from the Semitic root lbn, which yields a range of words that have to do with white or whiteness. The name is likely a reference to the snow-capped Mount Lebanon. The name is recorded in Ancient Egypt as Rmnn, where R stood for Canaanite L.
So here we have two wonderful things originating from the same Semitic word Lbn, symbolizing so much more then just their color.
My recipe for Labneh bil Zeit:
- Stir 2 teaspoons sea salt into the yogurt and mix well
- Line the sieve with a double layer of cheesecloth letting it hang over the sides. Place the sieve on top of a jug or deep bowl.
- Pour in the yogurt
- Bring the corners of the cheesecloth together and twist from the top allowing excess liquid from the yogurt to be released.
- Place it in the fridge and allow to drain for 24 hours until it is the consistency you desire. Then either drizzle with olive oil and serve as a dip or roll it into balls, grate some lemon zest over and some fresh herbs (rosemary, mint leaves, fresh zaatar leaves) and store them in a sterilized jar.