An introduction to the varied ingredients of Lebanese food, as taken from our second cookbook.
Labneh is found across the Middle East. It is yoghurt that has had most of its liquid strained until it is almost as thick as cream cheese (how thick it becomes will depend on how long you strain it and how you like it). Where on a British table you might have a jar of mayonnaise, in Lebanon you’ll find labneh serving almost the same role as a dip, a cool accompaniment to grilled meats or fish, or as part of a mezze spread where it would be served on a plate, drizzled with oil and scattered with the host’s choice of seasoning — fresh herbs, za’atar, chopped olives, even some chopped vegetables.
The great thing about it is that once it’s made it can be kept for up to a week. Take a medium sieve or colander big enough to hold 500g of thick yoghurt. Sit the sieve over a bowl. Wet then wring out a muslin cloth or tea towel so that it’s damp, and press it inside the mesh of the sieve. Some cooks like to salt the labneh at this point — I don’t — but if you like, just stir a little salt in with the yoghurt to taste, remembering that it will intensify in flavour as it drains. Pour the yoghurt into the cloth and then leave it undisturbed in the fridge overnight. At first you might think that it’s draining so slowly that nothing is happening but have faith. Overnight the liquid will drip away and leave a thick yoghurt that’s much smoother and cheese-like. Serve it right away or store in the fridge, covered.