Photo: Hector Manuel Sanchez

Keep this Middle Eastern yogurt cheese in your fridge for instant snacks and meals.

Jennifer Kushnier
April 12, 2018

If you haven’t seen the word labneh popping up on restaurant menus in the past year or so, get ready, ‘cause you’re about to. Datassential called it one of the top 10 flavors to watch this year, and we think it’s earned a rightful place on the list.

 This thick and creamy spreadable “cheese” is a Lebanese staple made by straining yogurt. Think of it as a less-tart version of cream cheese, but with more protein and fewer calories, fat, and sodium. Plus, labneh has good-for-your-gut probiotics, and eating it just twice a week could even help reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease.

Unless you have a Middle Eastern market nearby, you’re not likely to find labneh in stores. Luckily, it’s incredibly easy (and cheap) to make at home. The longer you strain it, the thicker it will get. And don’t forget to use up the leftover milky whey. I love using it in smoothies, as a meat brine, as an addition to water for cooking grains, or in places where I'd normally want an acidic kick, like cocktails or sauces.

Traditionally, labneh is served as part of a mezza (or meze) spread, made up of dishes like hummus, baba ghanoush, falafel, stuffed grape leaves, and lots of pita. But we can eat labneh as a snack on its own or as part of a lighter main meal. Give these ideas a try: 

  • Spread on toasted bagels or slices of good bread, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with herbs, spices, “everything bagel” seasoning, or togarashi.
  • Use as a dip for sliced veggies, warm pita wedges, or grilled flatbread. Simply mix in garlic, roasted red pepper, harissa, gochujang, or caramelized onions, then drizzle it all with olive oil.
  • Spread it on a wrap or bread for a sandwich like you would mayo or goat cheese. It pairs well with eggs, veggies, chicken, or even pickles.
  • Add it to frittatas or omelets.
  • Stuff it into dates, figs, or olives.
  • ”Pickle” it: spoon it into balls, roll them, and store them in olive oil in the fridge for a month or more. Add them to green or grain salads or sub them for mozzarella in a caprese.
  • Drizzle with honey and serve with dried or fresh fruits and walnuts or pistachios.
  • Top oatmeal with it and drizzle with maple syrup.
  • Make a cheesecake (just use a little less salt when making the labneh and use it in place of the cream cheese)

The bottom line: When a recipe calls for cream cheese or sour cream, you can almost always sub in labneh. The best part? This versatile cheese pairs well with a variety of herbs and spices, so you can really customize the flavor profile to match whatever you're craving.