By now you're familiar with thick, protein-rich Greek yogurt (like FAGE), and maybe even Icelandic-style strained yogurt (like Siggi's). But have you heard of Labanese yogurt? Know as Labneh, this thick middle eastern yogurt spread is rich, luscious and has become quite trendy.
Labneh is technically a fresh cheese that is spreadable like cream cheese, but has the characteristic tang of traditional yogurt. Similar to other strained yogurts, Labneh is higher in protein. And good news for the lactose intolerant crowd (me, me!): Labneh, like Greek yogurt, can often be eaten without any tummy troubles or lactaid pills because of the low levels of lactose and gut-friendly bacteria in Labneh.
In the middle east, Labneh is traditionally served like hummus, as part of a mezze spread, on a small plate drizzled with olive oil. Labneh is also used as a sandwich spread, or made into balls and rolled in dried herbs.
I was first introduced to Labneh when I lived in Israel during a term abroad in college. We visited a Druze Village, where we where served lunch on a large copper platter filled with several small plates of dips, spreads and nibbles. The platter included a dish of Labneh that was drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with Za'atar (a middle eastern spice mix typically made with dried sumac, sesame seeds and other herbs). I spread the Labneh on warm, bubbly pita fresh off of a hot cooking stone set over a fire pit. The food was amazing, and I was hooked on Labneh after that first taste.
I like to recreate the Labneh and Za'atar dip spread of pita as a quick appetizer at home using store-bought Labneh and Za'atar from Sahadi's (my favorite middle eastern market in NYC). I cut the Labneh-covered pita into eighths and set it out with bowls of olives, hummus, veggies, spiced nuts and dates for a middle eastern appetizer spread. I also love to mix Labneh with my homemade 5 Spice Chicken Rub and serve it with carrots as a thick dip, or eat dates stuffed with Labneh as an afternoon snack.
Can't find handmade Labneh in your area? There are plenty of recipes for making it at home, like this recipe for Greek Yogurt Labneh from Bon Appetite.