Until two Saturday’s ago I knew nothing about whey and nothing about yoghurt cheese. An all day workshop on fermentation changed that. I’ve now made three batches of creamy yoghurt cheese, and thus about 3 cups of whey. The tartness of the first batch left me questioning the whole idea. Once I reread my notes, I saw that I had left out the salt. What a difference a small amount of salt made. From overly sour to perfectly balanced. Update: I no longer use salt 😉 Consider it optional.
In the Middle East, cheese made from straining yoghurt goes by the name “labneh” which of all things means “strained yoghurt.” Click to hear how to pronounce labneh.
Labneh—a Holiday Hors d’Oeuvre
Dried mint and za’atar are commonly mixed in labneh or sprinkled on top along with a drizzle of olive oil. While usually served with pita bread, I prefer it with lettuce leaves, cucumber rounds and even jicama. These crunchy, clean-tasting vegetables make the perfect contrast to this thick, tangy and spreadable cheese. I’m serving labneh this year as a great beginning to our Thanksgiving dinner and other holiday parties.
Here’s how to serve it according to Sawsan of the blog Chef in Disguise. Spread labneh over a medium-sized plate. Sprinkle it with za’atar and mint or dill. Then place a few black and/or green olives in the middle or around the plate. Drizzle “a thread of olive oil over all.”
Whey to go
Tangy and nutritious whey comes as a byproduct of the yoghurt cheese process. Use organic yoghurt that contains a number of live probiotic cultures. Then add the whey to smoothies or use as an inoculant in preparing fermented beverages, vegetables and fruits. In order to retain whey’s beneficial bacteria and lactic acid, don’t heat it. Whey lasts about 6 months stored in the fridge.
I’m currently on a roll with fermenting vegetables. Am loving homemade sauerkraut, giardiniera and kimchi. So, my focus during the month of January will be on lactic acid fermentation. I look forward to sharing this process and these crisp, tangy, flavorful blends with you—especially if you are unfamiliar with how tasty, nutritious and important they are for our digestive system and our overall health.
Thanksgiving recipes a coming
Labneh is the first of this year’s Thanksgiving recipes. I’ll share my Thanksgiving Guide and Checklist with you this coming weekend. It’s especially for those of you not able to join me in Bozeman this Saturday. Then more vegetarian recipes will be on their way.
As a holiday hors d’oeuvre, serve the yoghurt cheese or labneh as they do in Lebanon with pita bread and vegetables. Spread the labneh on a plate.
Sprinkle it with *za’atar (zahtar), mint and a drizzle of olive oil. Decorate it with olives. Yoghurt cheese also makes a great light lunch, breakfast and spread for wraps and sandwiches.
- 4 cups organic, plain whole milk yogurt
- ½ teaspoon fine, mineral-rich salt (i.e., Celtic, Himalayan) (optional)
- Line a strainer with four layers of damp cheesecloth. Place the strainer over a glass or ceramic bowl or measuring cup.
- Stir the salt into the yoghurt. Transfer the yoghurt into the cheesecloth-lined strainer.
- Gather together and tie up the ends of the cheesecloth.
- If it is cool in your kitchen, let the yoghurt drain for 4-8 hours sitting on a kitchen counter. Otherwise place everything in the refrigerator and let it drain overnight. The consistency will be similar to cream cheese—thick yet spreadable.
- Remove from the cheesecloth and store your yoghurt cheese in the fridge for up to two weeks.
- Store the liquid whey in a clean jar in the fridge. Add the whey to smoothies, bread doughs and/or any number of recipes for fermented beverages, vegetables and fruits.
Note: The longer the yoghurt drains, the thicker and denser the yoghurt cheese becomes. After 24 hours of draining, you can make Labneh Korat—yoghurt cheese balls. Make walnut-size balls (I like to use a small scoop) and drop them into a clean glass jar filled with olive oil. Storing them in olive oil increases their life to about 6 months.
* Perhaps you remember reading about the Middle Eastern herbal blend za’atar from my trip to Sahadi’s in Brooklyn in September. You can make your own according to the recipe below from Fine Cooking Magazine or order it online from Penzey’s.
Homemade Substitute for Za’atar
3 tablespoons dried thyme
1 tablespoon lightly toasted sesame seeds
1 tablespoon ground sumac
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano or marjoram
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Put everything in a spice grinder. Pulse a few times to mix and break up some of the seeds—there should still be many whole seeds visible. Store the za’atar in a cool, dark place for up to six months.
When sumac is unavailable, substitute 2 tablespoons dried lemon peel.