Labneh is a beautiful soft cheese made from strained yoghurt that can be eaten with pretty much everything but is especially good alongside rich and spicy mezzes and falafel. The good news is that it’s dead easy to make. All you have to be mindful of is the quality of the yoghurt you use so don’t be tempted to buy anything that claims to be ‘Greek-style’ yoghurt. It isn’t. Be more Greek! The first time I tasted labneh was on the beautiful Greek island of Paxos. I was sitting at a little cloth-covered table on Gaios harbour having walked there from Lakka just as sun was rising. Served on an azure blue plate, the pure white cheese was drizzled with local honey and accompanied with small baskets of freshly baked bread, pistachio nuts and sun-warmed figs fresh from the tree. Just thinking about it now makes me sigh with pleasure; this is still one of my favourite breakfasts of all time. Like all delicate food, labneh takes on flavours very well and is stunning stirred through with a mixture of finely chopped fresh herbs and garlic; or served with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of za’atar. Yesterday I drizzled it with some zhoug, a punchy and fragrant chilli and herb relish from Yemen that’s very popular in Israel. Serve with warm wholemeal pittas.
For the labneh:
500g of Greek yoghurt, with a generous pinch of sea salt stirred through
3 cloves of garlic, very finely chopped
1 lemon, zested and juiced
For the zhoug:
20g flat leaf parsley
3 mild green chillies
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp sea salt
3 tbsp extra-virgin-olive oil
2 tbsp cold water
How I make it
To make the labneh, simply stir in the garlic, lemon zest and juice and line a sieve with a square of muslin. Place the sieve over a bowl and tip in the yoghurt. Bring the corners of the muslin together and loosely tie. Leave to drain in a cool place for around four hours (the longer you leave it, the thicker it will become). Keep in the fridge in an airtight container for up to three days.
For the zhoug, whizz all the ingredients together in a mini processor until you have the consistency of pesto. It will keep for about a week in an airtight container and it freezes well.
To serve, place the labneh in a dish and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and the zhoug.