Before I start, I must warn you that this is the first of several Middle Eastern recipes coming your way this week. Remember how I was on a massive mezze hangover? So of course, I had to go ahead and make ALL of the stuff that I was craving! And of course, I’ve got to share it all with you, haven’t I?
Labneh is a luscious yogurt cheese with all the satisfaction of cream cheese but much lighter and not to mention, much healthier! I’ll concede that it takes a bit of time to prepare but I’ll also guarantee that you will be blown away by the results! There’s hardly any real work to be done but the wait can be unbearable. I should know.
Creamy and slightly sharp, labneh can be had as is with a pinch of salt, used as a substitute for greek yogurt in dips or transformed into these delightful spiced labneh balls. I used mine two ways – to make tzatziki & these little labneh balls. Simply scoop some up with anything crispy and let the flavours explode in your mouth!
Here’s what you do. Place a fine-mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth over a bowl. Use as deep a bowl as your refrigerator shelf will allow. Grab yourself some yogurt and scoop it all into the cheesecloth. Season with salt, cover and chill for at least 24 hours.
The volume of yogurt should’ve halved by now. Squeeze out any residual whey and scrape off the thickened yogurt into a clean bowl. Yep, that’s it. That’s all the work you do to get deliciously rich labneh!
It is that simple! If I’m using labneh as a base for dips etc, I like to whip it up with a hand whisk or hand mixer. It’s beautifully light and airy and oh my god, just perfect!
To make the labneh balls, pinch a bit of the yogurt cheese and roll it into little balls between your palms. Pat them dry with paper towels. Now, transfer them to a container, immerse them in olive oil and herbs and let marinate 8 hours or overnight. Serve topped with za’atar or mixed herbs! Oh, yum!
Prep Time: Upto 2 days | Cook time: 10 minutes | Makes ~1½ cups labneh & about a dozen labneh balls
1 kg yogurt (full-fat & low-fat are both fine; stay away from fat-free)
A pinch of salt
Olive oil, to marinate
2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary or thyme or 2-3 tbsp dried, to marinate
Chilli flakes or za’atar, to garnish (optional)
- Line a large fine-mesh strainer (or colander) with a cheesecloth (or thin tea towel). Scoop in 1 kg yogurt, add a pinch of salt and cover and refrigerate to let the whey drain for at least 24 hours (and upto 2 days)
- Now, the volume of the yogurt should’ve halved. Gather the corners of the cheesecloth, making a sort of money bag or parcel, lift it out of the strainer and squeeze out as much liquid as you can.
- Transfer the yogurt cheese to a bowl and refrigerate covered for another 2 hours or so. It should now be firm enough to shape.
- Pinch away some yogurt cheese and roll it into a small ball (~1”). Set this on a plate lined with paper towels. Use up all the yogurt cheese to make such balls. Pat them as dry as you can with paper towels and carefully transfer them all to an airtight container.
- Pour enough olive oil in to cover the balls, add 2-3 sprigs fresh or 2-3 tbsp dried herbs and seal the container. Let it marinate for around 8 hours or overnight.
- To serve, scoop a few balls out, drizzle some of the infused oil on them and for an extra zing, top with chilli flakes or za’atar. Enjoy as is or serve with toasted pita wedges, crispy lavash or any toasted, crusty bread!
ADAPATIONS & HACKS
- For the marinade, you can experiment with different flavours – chilli, parsley, mint, lemon zest – feel free to use whatever your favourites are!
- If you’re not too comfortable rolling the balls with your hands, use a small cookie scoop to do the same
- If the labneh balls seem too fragile to transfer to a container, re-refrigerate them and let them dry out for a few hours