Serve sensational yet simple labneh for your next get-together
A few years ago, while I was having lunch with a friend in a Mediterranean deli, my friend headed over to the refrigerated section for some labneh.
My friend explained that his wife loved labneh on shakshuka.
Shakshuka's a popular Middle Eastern/North African dish made with eggs poached on top of a mixture of tomatoes, onions, bell peppers and garlic. It's frequently seasoned with coriander, cumin and paprika and garnished with chopped parsley. My friend serves labneh on the side.
Two weeks ago, we went to my partner's son's house for dinner. He surprised us with a mezza (or meze), presenting us with hummus, baba ghanoush, falafels and labneh served as a spread for wheat-free crackers, plus a few other Mediterranean dishes. Wow! Except for the crackers, all of it was made from scratch.
Nan's son shared his recipe for scratch-made labneh, and a week later, when we had guests to our house for the first time in over a year, I made labneh.
Labneh is, quite simply, drained yogurt seasoned with salt.
Nan's son used organic Greek yogurt for his labneh's base. Any plain yogurt works, such as fat-free or low-fat, as long as it's plain.
For my first foray into making labneh, I started with a quart (2 pounds) of organic, whole milk, plain Greek yogurt. Fortunately, I already had cheesecloth made from organic cotton.
You may have stopped there and asked: "Why use cheesecloth made from organic cotton?"
Many folks don't know this, but most of the cotton grown in the U.S. is Roundup Ready cotton. There's an excellent chance that products, such as cheesecloth, made from Roundup Ready cotton, have some of the herbicide along for the ride.
Organic cotton shouldn't have been sprayed with that herbicide, which is what I prefer. Plus, I want to reward organic farmers by purchasing their products, helping to sustain organic growers.
To season my labneh, I stirred in a teaspoon of sea salt, hoping to help my yogurt drain more liquid -- like salting and draining cucumbers for a cucumber salad.
I cut a piece of cheesecloth about 3-feet square and rinsed it under cold water, rinsing and wringing it out a few times.
Next, I placed a large wire mesh strainer over a bowl deep enough to keep my strainer from touching the bowl's bottom and then spread the cheesecloth over the strainer allowing the excess to hang over the sides.
I transferred the yogurt to the cheesecloth-lined strainer, folded the cheesecloth over the yogurt, placed a slightly smaller plate than the strainer on the yogurt, and put a quart jar of spaghetti sauce on top to weigh it all down.
The bowl and strainer went into my refrigerator for two days. When I took it apart, there was about a cup of milky liquid in the bowl's bottom; that's whey. My labneh had a beautifully smooth and creamy texture, similar to soft cream cheese.
I spooned about half the labneh onto a large dinner plate, topped it with snipped fresh chives and surrounded it with carrots, celery and wheat-free crackers. Then, I brought it out for an appetizer to rave reviews.
Give making your own labneh a try.
• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 quart (32 ounces) organic, plain, whole milk Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon sea salt
Open the yogurt container; add and stir in the salt.
Place a wire mesh strainer large enough to hold all the yogurt over a bowl sufficiently deep to keep the bottom of the strainer at least 1-inch from the bowl's bottom.
Cut a 1-yard square piece of unbleached, cotton cheesecloth (preferably made from organic cotton) and rinse the cheesecloth under cold water, wringing as much water from it as possible. Spread the cheesecloth out and place it into the center of the strainer with the extra cheesecloth hanging over the bowl's sides.
Transfer the yogurt into the cheesecloth-lined strainer. Fold the cheesecloth over the yogurt, place a clean plate over the yogurt so it sits on top of the yogurt, and then place a large can or bottle on the plate. Place in the refrigerator for at least 24 and up to 48 hours.
Once drained (the liquid in the bowl's bottom is whey), transfer the cheese to a bowl, cover and refrigerate.
Serving suggestion: Spoon out the labneh into a bowl, distribute fresh-snipped organic chives over the top and serve as an appetizer with organic vegetables and/or crackers.
Makes about 24 ounces of cheese.
Nutrition values per tablespoon: 21 calories (47.3 percent from fat), 1.1 g fat (0.9 g saturated fat), 1.3 g carbohydrates, 0.9 g sugars, 0 g fiber, 1.5 g protein, 5 mg cholesterol, 45 mg sodium.
SaltSense: Omitting the added salt reduces the sodium per serving to 8 milligrams.