Labaneh – Yogurt Cheese

Labaneh is a traditional Middle Eastern food, made from strained yogurt. It can be served as a spread on pita, as an accompaniment to moujedra, or, as we discovered last week, eaten on injera in place of traditional Ethiopian soft cheeses! The name “labaneh” evokes the white colour of the cheese, since the Hebrew and Arabic sounds “L-B-N” are the root for the word for white (lavan in Hebrew). If anyone has more information on the etymology, please let me know. I love languages and linguistics, and am always interested.

I have heard about labaneh for years, and always thought I should try it, but had never tasted it until a few weeks ago. We have a friend who is a first-rate cook, and who specializes in foods from his native Israel. At a recent party at his new house, he served, among other delicious foods, his freshly-made labaneh, with two different types of za’atar. Now it was in front of me, so I had to try it. And once I tried it, I knew I had to make it.

There are many recipes out there, and most are quite similar. This is a simple process; only the finer details differ. I will write out our friend’s recipe, since this is what we did, and it worked beautifully. This version produces a softer cheese, perfect for spreading. To get a firmer cheese that can be rolled into balls and covered in olive oil, increase the draining time.

Yogurt in cheesecloth

Yogurt in cheesecloth, hanging from my kitchen cupboard

Labaneh

Combine:

  • 750ml Greek yogurt, 6% milk fat
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

Stir well to combine. Line a bowl or colander with four or five layers of cheesecloth. Tie the ends to form a sack, and let hang from a cupboard knob or someplace similar  for 5 hours. Make sure there is a bowl or something underneath the sack to collect the liquid!

At the end of 5 hours (or more, if you want a firmer cheese), unwrap the ball, and serve! This is lovely with a sprinkle of za’atar and some good olive oil. Enjoy.

Just unwrapped. You can still see the marks from the cheesecloth on the cheese.

Just unwrapped. You can still see the marks from the cheesecloth on the cheese.

Labaneh, plated, with za'atar and a drizzle of olive oil.

Labaneh, plated, with za’atar and a drizzle of olive oil.

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7 thoughts on “Labaneh – Yogurt Cheese

  1. I’ve never considered making this myself as it’s sold prepared here (complete with olive oil and za’atar!) – I’d be surprised if you couldn’t find it in the US – seems like the sort of thing that Trader Joe would sell but certainly I’d expect decent kosher or Middle Eastern stores to carry it. I’m a big fan – some decent fresh bread and salad to go with it and black coffee to wash it down!

    • I’ve never seen it in the shops here, although I admit, I haven’t looked too hard. There is no Trader Joe’s here, alas – I always try to find one when I’m in the US so I can drool – , but the supermarkets in my part of town carry a lot of kosher and Israeli products. I will take a look next time I’m shopping.

      Enjoy your coffee!

    • The labaneh was also similar to how I make paneer, which I do from time to time (although less frequently now that I’ve found it at my local supermarket!) Of course, I don’t boil the yogurt, but once I started, it felt like familiar territory.

      I always love hearing about how one food reminds us other others we know from different parts of the world. I will now look for chakka, and see what I can do with that! Thanks. 🙂

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