Making Lebneh

If you read my last post, you will already have a fridge full of fresh and gorgeous homemade yogurt. And you may be wondering, now what the heck am I going to DO with all this yogurt?! Well, here’s what I did with about half of mine. I made lebneh.

Lebneh is plain yogurt that has been strained of its whey until it has the consistency of something between crème fraîche and cream cheese. You’ll find it on every table in the Middle East, usually lightly salted, sprinkled with dried mint and drizzled with olive oil. It is a usual suspect at a typical Arabic breakfast, but can be used as an accompaniment to other meals as well.

My dad, whom you met in my previous post, mixes his whole batch with a bit of salt, a bit of olive oil (to help it stay fresh) and some dried mint and keeps it in the fridge like that. It’s a good, time-saving, idea, especially useful if you always eat your lebneh the same way, but I like to leave it ‘pure’ so it can be used for sweet applications as well as savoury.

My favourite uses for lebneh are:

1. Spread on Ryvita with apricot jam and black tea (or coffee) for breakfast (as above)
2. In a bowl, mixed with dried fruit and nuts and drizzled with honey (my kids love it this way for breakfast or a snack)
3. Mixed with olive oil, salt and dried mint (as my dad does) and spread on a toasted bagel (especially great with onion bagels)
4. Spread on a Green Goddess (details next week!)
5. As an ingredient in Fetziki

Now that we know what to do with it, let’s get on to making it.

What You Need:

Plain yogurt (as much as you like, bearing in mind that you will get a yield of about 1/2 what you start with)
Cheesecloth (double thickness), a muslin or even large coffee filters
A sieve (if you can’t hang the cloth, or if you go for the fridge method)
An empty bowl to catch the whey

What You Do:

1. Place the cloth or muslin over the bowl and scoop the yogurt into the middle.

2. Tie two opposite ends together, then use the remaining two ends to tie the sling up over the bowl or sink.

3. Leave overnight.

4. When the lebneh is as thick as you want it, tip it out into an airtight container and refrigerate it. It should last about 1-2 weeks that way – a bit longer if you’ve mixed it with olive oil (just a tsp and mix well).

Notes for Next Time:

1. As with finding the perfect spot for incubating yogurt, the trick to making lebneh is finding the straining rig that works best for you. I’ve made it with everything from a hanging pillowcase (works brilliantly – just make sure it’s clean and lint-free!) to a free-standing coffee filter, placed over the coffee pot. Just put yogurt instead of coffee and wait 12 hours!
2. If you have lots of space in your fridge, try putting the cheesecloth or muslin in a strainer, setting that over the bowl and putting the whole contraption in the fridge. It will help your lebneh last longer.
3. You can use the sieve method outside the fridge too, if you don’t have a handy place to hang the cloth. You might even line a sieve with coffee filters if you can’t find cheesecloth or muslins. Or a clean pillowcase.
4. Muslins are fantastically handy to have anyway – you can find them in baby shops or in the baby section of supermarkets. They’re really cheap and offer by far the best return on your investment of any kitchen kit out there!
5. I’ve always thrown my whey away. Is there another way? Ha ha ha (but seriously – any ideas for it?)