Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Tasting Jerusalem #15 – Labneh

Dee – I was delighted to hear that labneh had been chosen as June 2015’s featured ingredient.  Basically it’s yoghurt which has had the water strained from it to give it a similar consistency to cream cheese and a slightly sharper taste.
I’d been wanting to have a go at making it since I first saw the recipe in the book, but never got further than the planning stage.  I guess there must have been an element of fear in there somewhere, as I did have some concerns about the yoghurt just seeping through the muslin and not ‘setting’.
It was only a matter of time before I rolled up my sleeves and got started though, and I was encouraged by Beth and Sarene from the Tasting Jerusalem group, who had put up some pictures of labneh that they had made.

I’ve split this blog entry up into three parts;  the first covering the preparation of the labneh itself, as described on page 302 of the book, and then two different recipes featuring the prepared labneh as an ingredient.

Recipe 1:  Labneh
To make the labneh, a little salt needs to be added to the yoghurt, and the mixture then wrapped in muslin and suspended over a bowl to catch the whey.  I remember a while ago reading about families making it at home tying the muslin to kitchen taps and leaving the bowl in the sink to catch the whey.  It’s a very simple process but the mixture needs to be left for some time before it is ready.  It is recommended that yoghurt made from goats’ milk is used as part of the mixture to add flavour, but I opted instead for some Greek yoghurt which was already slightly thickened.  I secretly also thought that this would minimise the risk of it all going wrong.
After 24 hours the process was complete and I was pleased to see that the yoghurt had been strained and thickened.  My labneh was ready to use.  I couldn’t resist having a little taste, and was happy with the creamy consistency that had been achieved.  As I had played it safe and only used a relatively small amount of Greek yoghurt, there wasn’t enough whey left to use in future recipes, but next time (and there will be a next time) I make it I will start with a larger quantity of yoghurt.

Recipe 2:  Root Vegetable Slaw with Labneh
This recipe appears on page 49 and is another light and colourful looking dish that proved to be ideally matched to the run of warm and sunny weather that we are enjoying at the moment.  We had to make a couple of substitutions with the ingredient list; the first being an increased quantity of celeriac which we used in place of kohlrabi, which we weren’t able to find.  The recipe also called for the ingredients for the dressing to be simmered and left to cool but we decided to leave this bit out and keep them as they were to add a little more sharpness to the taste.
There was a lot of peeling, chopping and careful slicing involved with this recipe but there was no cooking involved so it wasn’t too onerous.
I’d made a batch of seeded flatbreads up earlier in the day as my vision for the finished salad was to spread the labneh on the bread and top it off with the salad.  This worked well and in its finished form made what was initially a light salad into a pretty substantial meal.
There was loads of salad left over, which will keep us going for lunches for the rest of the week.  I’m hoping that the dressing will pickle the sliced vegetables slightly.

Bonus Recipe:  Labneh Balls
We didn’t use all of the labneh with the bread and salad but there wasn’t enough left to top any more bread, so I decided to make what was left into labneh balls.
The inspiration for these came from a photo that Beth from the Tasting Jerusalem group shared showing them topped with sumac, za'atar and dukkah.  There is a recipe for them in the book 'Yoghurt Culture' by Cheryl Sternman Rule, but as I don't have a copy of the book I just made these from small balls of labneh topped with spices and arranged on a serving plate.  It was quite a messy process making them, but it was worth it as they tasted great with the spicy toppings.  In the picture above, sumac and za’atar were used as the toppings.
They would make nice canapes at a dinner party to be eaten as they are, or they could be spread onto small squares of bread or crackers.

I’m glad that my labneh worked out well and look forward to making up some more in the future.  There’s the goats’ yoghurt version to try for a start, and further reading has revealed that it can be dried and preserved in olive oil, which I am also keen to try.  In terms of the blog, there is at least one more recipe in the book which includes it, so it will be appearing again.

“Tasting Jerusalem is a virtual cooking community exploring the vibrant flavors and cuisine of the Middle East through the lens of Jerusalem by Ottolenghi and Tamimi published by Ebury Press. You can follow along and cook with us by subscribing to omgyummy.com  following the hashtag #TastingJrslm on Twitter and Instagram, liking our Facebook Page or joining our Google+ Community and finally checking out all of our groups’ dishes on Pinterest

(Please note: I have listed the UK publisher and have linked to the UK Amazon site.  The US details are provided on the omgyummy.com web site)


  1. Well done! Cheryl has a recipe for the labneh balls in her book, which I may have posted a picture of on Tasting Jerusalem as she served them at her book launch party. Love your flatbread/labneh/slaw idea. And it is so stifling hot here, I wish I was eating that for dinner right now!

    1. Thank you, they could well be the ones. We're still going with the salad, which we're having for lunch today. I think it will be gone tomorrow though. It goes really well on the flatbreads. :-)

    2. Hello Beth, I just checked and it was the photo that you posted showing Cheryl's version. I've amended the text accordingly.