Creamy, tangy savoury treat is no strain to make

22 August 2013 - 03:00 By Andrea Burgener


I've written about making your own labneh before, in sweet form. Now I want to urge you again to make it, but this time in its more traditional savoury form.

Labneh is thought of as a cheese but is really just strained yoghurt. Originally Middle Eastern, and often made from goat's yoghurt, it is now more commonly made from the bovine equivalent.

If you've ever had great labneh - and it's not that easy to come by - then you'll surely go for the idea of making your own. It's so simple that toddlers can make it, but the sublime creamy-tangy result gives no hint of that. Basically, you're removing the liquid, or whey, to turn pourable yoghurt into something you can roll into balls.

What you do with it after this is up to you. I like it on top of soft greens, with a pouring of vinaigrette and chilli.

Eat it with olive oil, mint and flatbread, and you have a typical Palestinean breakfast. Rolling the balls in toasted sesame seeds or peppercorns and finely chopped herbs is also fantastic. Try many things, but please don't heat it. Eating it with hot things, however, is fantastic. A good plan is to top just grilled, oily garlicky slices of brinjal with balls of cool labneh.

Not all yoghurts are actually yoghurt. Pretend yoghurt - which is most of the stuff on the shelves - is made with added starch and stabiliser, and sometimes won't separate into solid and water: it's been eternally mutated by the god of food technology.

Once you start reading the ingredients label on most yoghurt containers, you realise that what you have in your hands is something closer to custard or milk pudding than what yoghurt should be. My favourite is still Tanglewood Jersey yoghurt; one of the only true yoghurts in the country, containing nothing but milk and culture.

So, on to Labneh Making 101. This is for one litre of plain "Bulgarian" or "Greek" yoghurt, which makes about 350ml labneh.

Add ¼ teaspoon salt to the yoghurt and mix well. Place a clean kitchen cloth over a large sieve. Place sieve over a bowl just slightly larger in diameter, with some space beneath.

Pour yoghurt into cloth-covered sieve and with yoghurt either covered or exposed, plonk whole morass into fridge. Leave to drain for anything from 24 to 38 hours. Check bowl regularly to make sure the sieve base is still clear of the whey.

Remove when as firm as loose cream cheese (just roll-able). Over-draining won't hurt. Scoop or roll into little balls. If not using immediately, you can store labneh for weeks, submerged in slightly salted olive oil, in a bottle in the fridge. Add rosemary and crushed garlic to this oil if you want.

  • Burgener is chef at The Leopard in Melville, Johannesburg