Labneh is a beautiful soft cheese simply made from strained yoghurt that can be eaten with pretty much everything but which is an especially good friend to rich and spicy mezzes. The first time I tasted it I was sat at a little linen-covered table on the edge of a vegetable garden in Amirim, an entirely vegetarian organic agricultural community set in the hills overlooking the glittering Sea of Galilee. Served on an azure blue plate, the pure white cheese was drizzled with local honey and accompanied with small baskets of freshly baked bread, crushed pistachio nuts and sun-warmed figs fresh from the tree that shimmered hazy waves of warm light over the table. Like all delicate ingredients, 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. Here it is lavished with zhoug, a punchy and fragrant chilli and herb relish from Yemen. Served with warm flatbread fresh from the oven, this makes for a perfect breakfast or as the precursor to a long lazy lunch in the sun.
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
Generous pinch of sea salt
For the zhoug:
20g flat leaf parsley
1-3 green chillies, depending upon their size and heat
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp sea salt
3 tbsp extra-virgin-olive oil
2 tbsp cold water
How I make it
To make the labneh, simply combine all the ingredients and line a sieve with a square of muslin. Place the sieve over a bowl and tip in the mixed yoghurt. Bring the corners of the muslin together and loosely tie. Leave to drain in a cool place for three to 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. This 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.