Friday, August 23, 2013

Labneh (Creamy Strained Yogurt Cheese) with Olives, Pistachios & Oregano


It always intrigues me how adaptable a container of plain yogurt can be. Add it to a smoothie, replace sour cream or mayonnaise in dressing, sweeten it a bit and it becomes a dressing for fruit, or use it to replace the fat in muffins or quick bread. Or, the best of all, strain it for a day or two and it turns into tangy, spreadable cheese, called labneh in Middle Eastern countries. In this Yotam Ottolenghi recipe, the labneh is spread on a plate and topped with a mix of briny olives and toasted nuts and spread on crusty bread for an easy and tasty appetizer.

(Note: Although I can sometimes find goat's milk yogurt, it takes a drive and costs a lot more. I made a half-batch of this recipe using good-quality, plain Greek yogurt.) 

Labneh with Olives, Pistachios & Oregano
Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi, via The Guardian
(Serves 4)

450g (16 oz) goat's yogurt (I used 17.6 oz plain good-quality Greek Yogurt)
450g (16 oz) natural yogurt

coarse sea salt
20 black olives, pitted (I used a mix of black and green olives)
1 1/2 Tbsp roughly chopped fresh oregano
1 Tbsp chopped parsley

grated zest of 2 lemons
1 small garlic clove, crushed
100ml (3 1/2 oz) olive oil
20g pistachios (about 1 oz), lightly toasted
20g pine nuts (about 1 oz), lightly toasted

1/2 tsp flaked chilli
3 ripe tomatoes
1/2 a small red onion, thinly sliced (I omitted)

Line a deep bowl with cheesecloth or muslin. In another bowl, stir the two yogurts and half a teaspoon of salt, pour into the cloth, bring together the edges to form a tight bundle and tie securely with string. Hang the bundle over a bowl, or over the kitchen sink from the tap, and leave for 24-36 hours. After this time, much of the liquid should have drained out and the remaining yogurt will turn thick and quite dry; the centre may still be creamy.

Although I have both a small yogurt strainer and cheese cloth for larger amounts I use my large fine strainer layered with a damp paper towel.

Remove the labneh from the cloth and transfer to a serving platter. Spread it over the plate with the back of a spoon, creating a loose, wavy pattern about 2cm (about 3/4 inch) thick.

Next, roughly chop the olives and put them in a bowl with the oregano, parsley, lemon zest, garlic and olive oil (reserving two tablespoons of the oil for the tomatoes). Use a pestle and mortar to crush the nuts roughly, leaving some just broken and others finely crushed. Stir into the olive mix, then spoon this over the labneh, leaving a border of about 2cm (about 3/4 inch) around the edge (if you want your labneh a bit milder, don't use the whole quantity), then sprinkle with chilli.

Finally, cut the tomatoes into thick wedges and mix with the sliced onion. Arrange on a side plate next to the labneh, sprinkle with salt and drizzle with the reserved olive oil. Serve the labneh and tomatoes with torn chunks of bread.

Notes/Results: The thick creamy and tangy yogurt cheese is perfectly wonderful with the mix of olives and nuts. The chili flakes add just a little kick. I kept the recipe mostly as written, except for using just cow's milk yogurt and mixing in the green olives. I liked this with the bread and the ripe local tomatoes (I wasn't feeling the red onion so I left it off the plate) but I liked it even better spread on seeded flat bread crackers. I will make this again.  

This is my Potluck recipe for I Heart Cooking Clubs as well as my IHCC Optional Monthly Community Recipe--where we are making labneh and using it in an Ottolenghi recipe. You can check out all the Potluck creations by going to the post and following the links.

Happy Aloha Friday!


  1. That looks delicious! I pinned a recipe for a butternut and labneh cheesecake today - clearly the universe is telling me to make labneh!

  2. I've never thought to serve labneh this way! I love that it's paired with the salty olives...I'm imagining that that compliments the creaminess perfectly.

  3. Love the idea of labneh as the focus of a dish instead of just as a topping, especially with the herbs, spices and toasted nuts. Looks delicious!

  4. Joyce, kitchen flavoursAugust 24, 2013 at 6:59 AM

    Hi Deb,
    Labneh is certainly a challenge for me to try, I do make my own yoghurt, and hopefully I'll have time to make some labneh. This looks wonderful and perfect with the bread. Something that is entirely new to me. I love flaked chillies, it always adds a nice kick to dishes.
    A lovely labneh dish!

  5. Saturdays with MaggyAugust 24, 2013 at 7:16 AM

    Wow this is a great recipe! I have been making my own yogurt at home for awhile now (easy to get local milk, not so much local yogurt) and I'll bet if I strain it long enough I could make this cheese. Thanks for sharing:)

  6. I could tear into this plate. Tangy, salty, crunchy, creamy. I've said it before, but it merits saying again. Ottolenghi is brilliant when it comes to contrasting flavors and textures.

  7. Couscous & ConsciousnessAugust 24, 2013 at 8:39 PM

    Deb, this dish just screams Ottolenghi at his finest to me. The labneh used this way, with that amazing topping, just represents the ultimate in taste, flavour and texture sensations. I have my labneh straining tonight, and although I had something altogether different planned for it, I'm sorely tempted to try it this way.

  8. Gluten Free A-Z BlogAugust 31, 2013 at 6:09 AM

    We are lebnah lovers and makers from way back. My husband's family is Middle Eatern. Since there is so much Greek Yogurt available now, we haven't made it in a long time. I know it tastes better than store bought.. You are inspiring me to get out my lebnah strainer and start straining..


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