Recipe: Syrian Style Labneh (Spiced Yogurt Cheese) – Vegetarian

Syrian Style Labneh (Spiced Yogurt Cheese)
Syrian Style Labneh (Spiced Yogurt Cheese)

This recipe is adapted from Poopa Dweck’s  cookbook, Aromas of Aleppo, The Legendary Cuisine of Syrian Jews. I wrote more about that book in this post on Syrian Red Lentil Soup.

Labneh, aka Lebneh, is eaten all over the Middle East. The term can cover a wide range of yogurt-based products from very thick liquid all the way through to a firmly pressed fresh cheese. It is made by draining the liquid from plain yogurt through cheesecloth, and then optionally adding flavorings, and it is quite easy to do at home.

You’ll get the best results if you start with a good yogurt, such as Fage or Greek Gods. I made this batch with full fat, but I think 2% will be fine too. If you try it with non-fat, let me know how it turns out.

Dweck flavors her version with cumin, dried mint and Aleppo Pepper. She doesn’t specify, but I used spearmint and it worked really well. If you don’t have the Aleppo Pepper, red chili flakes would be a decent substitute. Serve this with wedges of toasted pita bread and you’ve got a delicious snack.

You can easily vary the flavorings with other Middle Eastern herbs and spices, citrus zest, garlic and so on. If you feel compelled to make sun-dried tomato Thai Curry labneh, please, don’t tell me!

Syrian Style Labneh (Spiced Yogurt Cheese)

Vegetarian, not vegan

  • 1 quart thick Greek-style yogurt or 1.5 quart thinner natural yogurt
  • 1.5 t ground cumin
  • 1.5 t. dried spearmint
  • 1/2 t. Aleppo pepper or chili flakes
  • 1.5 t. sea salt
  • olive oil
  • cheesecloth
  1. Put a large colander in a bowl. Line the colander with a double layer of cheesecloth. Pour in the yogurt, and tie the cheesecloth into a ball. For bonus points, tie cheesecloth around a wooden spoon or something you can hang over the colander rim so it is suspended. That will help it drain faster, using its own weight.
  2. Put the whole apparatus in the refrigerator overnight. Make sure there is enough room in the bowl to catch the liquid, we don’t want a mess in your fridge.
  3. Remove the yogurt from the cheesecloth into a clean bowl. It should be firm enough to form somewhat decent balls at this point. If not, drain it more. Mix in the cumin, spearmint, pepper and sea salt.
  4. To serve, fill a shallow bowl with about 1/8″ of olive oil. Grease your hands and form balls a bit smaller than a golf ball. Arrange in the dish, and garnish with roughly chopped parsley or cilantro.
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Posted by Michael Natkin on Wednesday, April 16th, 2008 in Appetizers, Recipes.

14 Responses to “Recipe: Syrian Style Labneh (Spiced Yogurt Cheese) – Vegetarian”

  1. April 17, 2008 at 7:48 am #

    Having eaten this from Michael, it was a fantastic appetizer. On my list to try at home!

  2. April 17, 2008 at 12:00 pm #

    lovely photo! this looks like such a delicious snack. you’re very brave! :)

  3. CJ
    April 17, 2008 at 12:54 pm #

    Please don’t refer to this dish as “Syrian style”, there’s nothing Syrian about it. Recipes such as this have been around the Mediterranean world for over 4000 years. You’re just insulting a whole lot of people this way.

  4. Michael Natkin
    April 17, 2008 at 1:19 pm #

    I disagree. It is Syrian style because of the choice of spices. Aleppo pepper is quite clearly Syrian, and it is the flavor choices of a woman deeply rooted in the cuisine of the Aleppan Jews. So yes, Labneh is all over the Middle East, but this version of it is specifically Syrian, more specifically Aleppan.

  5. April 17, 2008 at 4:03 pm #

    Mmm! I like labneh with za’atar as the spice mix. (Za’atar, as well as labneh, baklava and other dishes show up all over the Middle East, including Syria, so when a Syrian cookbook comes out, it’s only natural that it should include these pan-Middle-Eastern dishes as well as uniquely Syrian ones. I don’t think it insults anyone to show how widespread a certain dish is throughout a region–rather, I think it’s fascinating to look at the very subtle variations that occur when you follow that dish across borders).

  6. April 17, 2008 at 5:22 pm #

    Wonderful to see you writing about yogurt cheese. We like it so much we wrote a cookbook and guide to expand its uses. We even paid to have yogurt cheese analyzed in a lab for nutritional content. Yogurt cheese (or YoChee as we call it) is a wonderful versatile ingredient you can make at home to improve your own yogurt. It has substantial health and taste benefits (a creamy food which is low or no fat plus high protein and calcium). I hope you will take a look at,” Eat Well the YoChee Way” our guide and cookbook to this important food. It really increases the use of yogurt cheese to main courses, soups, sauces, desserts, and much more. (Nutritional content included). Our website YoChee.com contains a free yogurt cheese how – to slide show, nutrition information and free recipes.

  7. April 17, 2008 at 9:47 pm #

    This is the 3rd time this week I’ve seen some reference to yogurt cheese. It’s a sign! Now I just need to remember to pick up some cheese cloth.

  8. April 19, 2008 at 4:33 am #

    I suggest if you really want to get into yogurt cheese you get one of the inexpensive yogurt cheese strainers. They really ease the process. We have two of the best ones at YoChee.com

  9. May 6, 2008 at 11:41 am #

    This would make a killer appetizer! I’m so glad you provided the recipe with the spices. I’ll have to find the aleppo pepper next time i’m the middle eastern store.

    I’m so conditioned to eating a sweet version of this growing up. In India, they call it shrikhand and it’s flavored with saffron & pistachios & sometimes fruit.

  10. Anonymous
    May 26, 2008 at 5:52 pm #

    Just wondering if it would be okay to add fresh chives, basil, etc. to the yogurt itself, and then let the whey drain off. Seems likeit would be a good way to get teh flavors of the herbs to release more into the cheese. What do you think??

  11. Michael Natkin
    May 26, 2008 at 5:55 pm #

    I’ve never tried it that way, but I don’t think there would be anything fundamentally wrong with it. My guess is that the herb flavor would be more evenly distributed (which could be good or bad depending on your preference), and more intense, but possibly less fresh. The volatile oils in fresh herbs release their top notes pretty quickly. If you try it both ways, please let us know which you like!

  12. October 13, 2009 at 8:46 am #

    I love this stuff. I did try and make it with fat free yogurt and it did not turn out very good. I will just stick with the full fat and work out!

  13. Shannen
    December 12, 2009 at 9:49 am #

    I made this with fat free yoghurt in a cheesecloth, which I pressed every 2-3 hours over a 12 hour period, and ended up with a very firm yoghurt cheese I could cut into portions quite neatly, albeit if stirred, I could make it more like a cream consistency.

    I preferred it with full fat yoghurt but the healthy option worked just fine for me too!

  14. Bernard
    December 19, 2011 at 8:07 am #

    Too much salt! Quarter that amount and add to taste.

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