Thursday, April 12, 2012

labne—creamy, healthy lebanese yogurt one step!

labne (labneh, labni) is a simple yogurt cheese easily made from homemade or store-bought yogurt. it is a staple of Lebanese cuisine that i grew up with in Alice's Kitchen. the Arabic word for yogurt, laban, from the same root as name of the country Lebanon (lubnan), meaning White One, referring to the Lebanese mountains, especially the typically snow-covered Mt. Lebanon.
sitto (my grandmother) would make the laban (yogurt) as a first step, making the sign of the cross over the milk and starter to bless it. the next day when the yogurt was ready, some was kept for eating, while a quart was saved to make labne.

three items: a teaspoon of sea salt, a quart of full-fat yogurt, and a cloth bag, which mama made from white cotton sheets is all that is needed. the reusable bag is a 8 x 9 inch rectangle with a drawstring at the top. a large coffee filter could be used instead. i learned by reading packaged yogurt labels that reduced or non-fat yogurt has lots more carbs.
to one quart of yogurt, mix in one teaspoon of sea salt until thoroughly combined. turning the bag inside out so the seams are on the outside makes it easier to remove the labne from the bag at finish. wet the cloth bag with cold water and wring out. pour the salted yogurt into the damp bag, tie the top so a corner of the bag is at the bottom, and hang over the sink to drain overnight.

salt draws the water (whey) from the yogurt, making labne, a creamy tart cheese that is a superb substitute for cream cheese or sour cream and has more protein and less sugar and carbohydrates than unstrained yogurt.
 above: full bag of laban draining overnight to make labne. below: labne ready to serve!
once reduced of whey, the quart of yogurt makes a pint of yogurt cheese, labne!
drizzle with olive oil and refrigerate!
traditionally labne is served with bread and olives for breakfast, or a light supper. it's an ingredient in the filling of Lebanese meat pies (sfeeha), and is eaten with stuffed grape leaves, kibbe bil sineyeh, and is a staple of a typical Lebanese mezza. white and creamy, nutritious and tart, it is great on crackers or as a base for a dip.

i haven't tried making it with now readily available goat milk yogurt, which was likely done in the old country, so will add this to my next experiment list! check back for results!