Despite it being much more common than people think, we’re often asked ‘what is labneh?’. The long answer is actually rather interesting. Light, refreshing, versatile and delicious, labneh is a type of soft cheese that has been part of traditional Lebanese cuisine for eons. Also known as labneh, lebneh and even zabedi, this humble yet ancient food is one of the Middle East’s best kept culinary secrets; let’s take a look at why you need to know about labneh.
While no one knows exactly when labneh was first created, cheeses made from strained yoghurt have been eaten in the Levant (a region comprising modern day Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Israel) for thousands of years. Ancient Bedouin tribes used labneh as an important source of protein and even had a dry version designed to suit their travelling lifestyle, while the Armenians are widely credited with introducing labneh throughout much of the Middle East many centuries ago.
The popularity of labneh grew quickly and before long every culture throughout the Middle East and beyond had developed a unique version. The main difference between labneh varieties comes via the choice of milk (which drastically affects the flavour) and everything from goat, sheep and cow’s milk through to camel and water buffalo’s milk have been used. The other main differences in labneh come from whether it is eaten fresh, dried or preserved in olive oil.
In Lebanon, this versatile food tends to be eaten in a similar fashion to hommus and any traditional mezze spread will always include at least one type of labneh. Labneh makes a delicious dip for fresh pita or falafel balls; it is a nutritious breakfast when paired with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of fresh za’atar, and it is often slathered on a pita with za’atar and vegetables to form a fast and tasty lunch.
Like most Middle Eastern foods, labneh is extremely good for you. Apart from being an important source of protein, labneh is considered a probiotic food, meaning that it is high in a range of healthy bacteria that help to boost your immune system. Labneh is also low in calories and the process of lactic acid fermentation involved in making labneh means it offers a range of nutritional benefits as well.
The beauty of this amazing food is that it is extremely easy to make, and while every family has their own special technique the basics are as follows.
1. Take freshly made yoghurt (ideally made from raw milk) and mix in a sprinkle of salt.
2. Line a colander with cheesecloth, set it over a large bowl and pour in the yoghurt mixture.
3. Leave it to strain for 24 hours.
4. Your labne is now ready to eat though you can also mix in your favourite herbs and spices such as garlic, chilli, ginger or dill.
5. If kept covered and refrigerated labneh can keep for up to 2 weeks; however, you can also form it into balls and preserve it in olive oil where it will keep for months.
Labneh is healthy, delicious and will make a fantastic addition to any meal of the day and no one makes authentic Lebanese labneh quite like we do. To get a taste of Sydney’s best Lebanese food simply drop by Manoosh or order from us online; you will be glad that you did.