Vegan labneh | لبنة نباتية
Labneh is probably the one dairy product that I missed the most after ditching dairy. I used to eat it quite often, and it was my favorite late-night snack. If I couldn’t sleep and discovered that my mom was awake as well, we’d go to the kitchen quietly, sit at our round kitchen table, gossip and eat labneh. My mom would char some flat bread on a fire stovetop, and we’d drizzle olive oil on the labneh and eat it with hot, crispy bread. It was almost a ritual.
I have tried some of the internet’s cashew-based labneh recipes, and even though they tasted good, it didn’t feel like I was eating labneh, but rather a generic nut cheese. I couldn’t shake off the cashew taste. Sorry cashew crew, no hard feelings, it just didn’t cut it for me. I found the best way to make vegan labneh is by following the traditional method of straining yoghurt. After all, labneh is strained yoghurt cheese (even though I doubt people think of it as a cheese—it’s a category of its own, hokay?). You’re just not going to get that yoghurty taste from cashews.
Yoghurt-based labneh is a lot easier than you think, and it requires minimal ingredients. The only special equipment you’ll need is cheesecloth. As a matter of fact, you can make labneh with nothing but yoghurt, but it won’t taste as good as the one mixed in with a little bit of salt. Salt also helps strain the liquids or “whey” in the yoghurt.
I have tried making labneh with a nut milk bag, but unfortunately, I didn’t have great results as the holes in nut milk bags are very small, so the yoghurt didn’t strain any liquid. You might have better luck than I did though. I have also tried straining the yoghurt on a sieve without hanging it from a higher surface e.g. over a sink or from a sturdy cupboard handle, but the liquid wasn’t strained. I also tried making labneh with both regular and Greek-style yoghurt (the Alpro one), but honestly haven’t noticed that big of a difference, especially since the Greek-style one didn’t seem like it was a lot denser. In the Levant, people make labneh with Greek yoghurt or sheep milk; the latter giving it a bit of a funky taste, so you have the option to add a little bit of lactic acid, citric acid or lemon juice, although I think leaving it out for a few days does the trick.
Unless you have large amounts of yoghurt and cheesecloth, this recipe yields small servings that can be consumed very quickly. If you want to make a larger quantity, simply double or triple the ingredients.
Labneh has the consistency of cream cheese, and it’s one of life’s simplest pleasures. You can slather it all over your face, shampoo your hair with it, vent to it your deepest, darkest secrets, or you can just eat it! Enjoy!
-String or twine
-Somewhere to hang the labneh, such as a sink faucet or a sturdy cupboard handle
-2 packs or 800g unsweetened non-dairy yoghurt (I tried soy and almond yoghurt, both homemade and store-bought, but don’t think coconut yoghurt would work as well because of the coconut taste)
-1 tsp salt (you might need more if you’re using yoghurt with sugar in it)
-Olive oil if you plan to preserve the labneh (I promise you it won’t last long though)
A pinch of zaatar, sumac or Aleppo pepper
In a mixing bowl, mix the yoghurt with the salt, then transfer to a cheesecloth or kitchen towel.
Tie the cheesecloth with a string/twine, making sure you create a bow shape, or leave some loose strings so you can tie them later.
Hang the bow from faucet over the sink or from a cupboard handle. Place a bowl underneath so that it catches the strained liquid.
After 24 hours, check the consistency of the labneh and give it a taste. If it’s firm and has strained all the liquid (refer to the picture below to see what it should ideally look like), you have the option to serve it or store it immediately. Another option is to let it ferment for another day or more. Check to see if it needs more salt, put it in another clean cheesecloth, and let it hang some more. There is a small risk of fungus growing, but I rarely have that problem. I have gotten away with letting the yoghurt ferment at room temperature for up to 5 days, and I found that the longer it ferments, the tangier it becomes.
Once it’s ready, remove the cheesecloth and either serve the labneh immediately in a bowl with a drizzle of olive oil, or form into small balls. You have the option to cover the labneh balls in zaatar, sumac, Aleppo pepper, or all of the above by placing the spices on a plate and rolling the balls on top of them. Line them in a jar. Cover with olive oil and store in the fridge. Serve with toasted pita bread, olive oil and some extra spices, or you know… however you like.
If you’re worried about botulism due to preserving in oil, just serve immediately and don’t store in oil in the fridge. That being said, the yoghurt is acidified and salty, and the fridge is cold, making them both a hostile environment for botulinum. There’s nothing uniquely unsafe about oil, and a lot of Indian pickling methods use oil as a preservative.
You also have the option to add a little bit of lactic acid, citric acid or lemon juice for an extra tang.