If you haven’t had labaneh (لبنة) then you’re in for a savory treat! I grew up on labaneh, as did most Arab-American kids. It’s a staple in most Arab-American households. There’s always a container in the fridge. Breakfasts and brunches include some form of labaneh with olive oil and zaatar for dipping, usually alongside olives, freshly slices cucumbers and tomatoes, and in most cases boiled eggs.
When we were kids, my mom used to make us labaneh sandwiches on Arabic bread (that’s what we call pita bread at our house). It’s, hands-down, my favorite dairy product. I still make myself labaneh on toast in the mornings.
So what is labaneh? It’s savory cream cheese … of sorts. According to Wikipedia, labaneh is:
yogurt that has been strained to remove its whey, resulting in a thicker consistency than unstrained yogurt, while preserving yogurt’s distinctive, sour taste.”
That description doesn’t do labaneh justice! Comparing it to savory cream cheese is so much more appetizing. My favorite kind of labaneh is the rounds. Admittedly, I casually refer to them as labaneh balls. But that doesn’t sound as appealing. Maybe I should refer to them as labaneh truffles, just to give off that exotic vibe.
In all honesty, the labneh rounds and the dip taste just about the same. The process for straining yogurt into Arabic cream cheese is essentially the same. It’s how long you strain and what you do after the yogurt has been strained that really defines the difference between the two. I’m not really sure why I get so much more excited about the labaneh rounds. Maybe because they’re perfectly portioned? That would be a great reason if I didn’t eat four rounds … or more in one sitting.
Labaneh isn’t hard to make. It just takes time – idle time, mostly while the yogurt is being strained. Now, don’t go out and buy a strainer and some yogurt. That’s not exactly what I meant. The straining takes place over a 24-hour period using cheesecloth. I have vivid memories staying overnight at my Tayta’s and waking up to find a white, damp, bag hanging from the kitchen sink. That’s how she strained her yogurt—overnight, hanging from the kitchen sink. My Tayta seriously makes the best homemade labaneh. It’s tangy and savory and I know she adds a little extra salt, just the way we like it. Those nights, I’d go home with a Tupperware full of Tayta’s fresh labaneh.
- 2 cups Plain Whole Greek Yogurt (I used Fage Total Plain)
- 1 Cheesecloth
- 2 cups Olive oil (maybe a little more depending on the size of your jar)
- 1-2 tablespoons Salt
- Herbs (dried or fresh mint, dill, rosemary, etc.), optional
- Line a large strainer with cheesecloth, folded over once
- Set over a deep bowl
- In a separate bowl, stir the salt into the Greek yogurt until combined
- Spoon the yogurt into the middle of the cheesecloth
- Gather the cheesecloth around the sides to cover the yogurt and fasten (I used a rubber band)
- Suspend the cheesecloth from a stationary object, like the faucet of a sink, or a stick draped over the sink, and allow it to drip drain into a bowl underneath
- Keep the cheesecloth suspended 24 hours
- After 24 hours, fill a glass jar (with a secure lid) ¼ way with olive oil
- Rub your hands together with some olive oil and begin rolling small balls out of the labaneh and placing them into the jar
- Add optional herbs
- Once, you’ve filled the jar, pour olive oil into the jar until the balls are covered
- Keep refrigerated for up to 2 months.