By Emily Paster
With everyone sheltering in place and spending their days at home, now is the perfect time to tackle a DIY kitchen project that you never seemed to have time for before. This one requires you to find some whole milk and cream, precious commodities for sure. But the end result — tangy, creamy homemade labneh — is so worth it.
Labneh is also known as yogurt cheese because it is as thick and creamy as soft cheese. This unique texture is achieved by straining the liquid out of plain yogurt. Labneh is a staple ingredient throughout the Levant, but especially in Israel where it is served as a sandwich spread, as the base for different mezze, and as part of lavish breakfast buffets. Labneh can also be used in cooking because it does not curdle at high temperatures.
Most labneh recipes begin with store-bought Greek yogurt and instruct you to strain it until thickened. But with the Instant Pot, it is incredibly easy — and inexpensive — to make your own yogurt, and then turn that into labneh. Yes, this process takes time, but most of that time is passive, requiring very little hands-on work. Begin by making plain, unsweetened yogurt in the Instant Pot and once that process is complete, simply allow your homemade yogurt to drain in the refrigerator for a day or so until it is thick and spreadable.
Once you have made the labneh, you can leave it as is. Drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with za’atar or dried mint, labneh makes a delicious dip. Alternatively, you can form the labneh into balls and dry it out even further. You can then place these balls in a jar and cover them with olive oil and preserve them in the refrigerator. Serve these labneh balls as an appetizer, eat one for breakfast or simply spread on crusty bread — perhaps homemade as well — and enjoy.
Recipe note: Do not discard the whey that drains from the yogurt! Whey is extremely nutritious and can be used in place of water or milk in baking — try it in your favorite pancake recipe — as well as soups and stews. You can also add it to smoothies for extra protein, cook pasta in it or use it to soak steel-cut oats. Not only is it useful, but this type of whey is highly acidic and can be harmful to the environment if poured down the drain.
2 quarts whole milk
½ cup cream
2 tablespoons plain yogurt with live and active cultures
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Juice of one lemon
Extra virgin olive oil, za’atar and fresh herbs for serving (optional)
Pour the milk and cream into the inner pot of the Instant Pot and cover. Select the Yogurt function and press the Adjust button until “more” is illuminated. The word “boil” will appear on the display. The Instant Pot will heat the yogurt to 180 degrees to pasteurize it. This can take as long as a half-hour.
When the milk reaches 180 degrees, the machine will beep and the display will read “Yogt” Remove the lid.
Press Yogurt and then Adjust until the display once again reads “boil.” Set a timer for 5 minutes. The Instant Pot will hold the milk at 180 degrees, which will help thicken the yogurt.
When the timer is done, turn off the Instant Pot and remove the inner pot. Cool the milk down to 115 degrees. You can place the pot on a rack and allow it to cool naturally, which can take approximately a half-hour. Alternatively, place the pot in an ice bath, which will speed up this process considerably, and stir the milk until it reaches the target temperature.
When the milk has cooled to 115 degrees — if you don’t have a thermometer, it should feel hot to the touch but not painfully hot — remove ½ cup of milk and whisk it with the plain yogurt in a small bowl to inoculate it with a starter culture.
Return the milk-yogurt mixture to the pot and place the inner pot back in the Instant Pot making sure to dry the bottom of the pot was in an ice bath.
Select the Yogurt function followed again by the “adjust” button until “normal” is illuminated. Set the timer for 10 hours.
At the completion of the yogurt cycle, turn off the Instant Pot and remove the inner pot. You will have a large amount of runny, tangy yogurt.
The next step is to strain the liquid whey out of the yogurt. Place a large, fine-mesh strainer over a deep bowl and line the strainer with a paper towel, coffee filter or several layers of cheesecloth. Depending on the size of your strainer, you may need to use two strainers and two bowls.
Ladle the yogurt into the strainer or strainers. Place the bowl or bowls in the refrigerator. Allow the yogurt to drain for 4-8 hours. At this point, you will have approximately a quart of much thicker yogurt and a substantial amount of clear, yellowish whey in the bowl.
Transfer the yogurt to a small bowl and mix in the salt and lemon juice. Return the yogurt to the sieve. (If you were using cheesecloth to line the sieve, you can reuse the same cloth; if using a coffee filter or paper towel, place a fresh one in the sieve. Also, if you had to use two sieves before, you should now be able to combine the yogurt into one sieve.)
Drain off the whey and set it aside for another use.
Return the bowl to the refrigerator and allow to drain until the yogurt is spreadable and similar in texture to cream cheese. This can take 24 to 48 hours.
Remove the labneh from the sieve and, if not serving right away, place in a covered container and refrigerate. Serves 2 cups.
To make yogurt cheese balls
To make labneh balls, line a dinner plate with a paper towel. With clean hands, form the labneh into eight or 10 equally-sized balls and place them on the plate. Cover with another paper towel. Refrigerate until the balls are firm and dry, approximately eight hours.
Transfer the balls to a clean quart jar. Cover with olive oil. You can also add whole cloves of garlic, sprigs of fresh herbs — such as thyme or oregano — strips of lemon zest, or dried red chiles to the jar. Labneh in oil will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks.
Allow labneh balls and oil to come to room temperature before serving.
Published by The Nosher, a 70 Faces Media brand.