“Healthy.” “Impressive.” “Easy.” “Delicious.”

If you’re looking for something new to bring to your holiday gatherings this year and don’t want to relegate your Google recipe search to just one of these adjectives, we’ve got you covered with a rare dish that hits all marks. Enter: labneh, cream cheese’s Middle Eastern cousin that is so good you’ll be hearing more than a few positive words about its placement at the table. 

Originating in the Levant, a region of the world spanning Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Israel, labneh has been a popular mainstay at family gatherings across the Middle East for years. Gracing tables for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or as a snack, skating effortlessly between savory pairings and sweet counterparts, this versatile wonder recipe needs to make its way into your kitchen. 

Labneh takes various names as it moves throughout the world, appearing in cookbooks as labne, lebni, and even zebedi, all of which refer to a creamy treat made from two ingredients: yogurt and salt. Once combined, all the mixture requires is a cheese cloth and time before it makes its debut at dinner. 

It is made simply, minimally processed, packed with protein, low in carbohydrates, light on lactose, full of probiotics, and topped off with generous servings of calcium and Vitamin A, making it a guilt-free choice when watching your waistline. 

A clear bowl of whole milk yogurt, a lemon, a salt shaker and cheese cloth prepared on a cutting board.

Step 1: Pour 32 ounces of whole milk yogurt (or Greek yogurt for a thicker consistency) into a large bowl. 

Pink himalayan salt in a 1/4 teaspoon measuring spoon.

Step 2: Add 3/4 teaspoon of salt to the yogurt and stir.

Image of hands cutting cheese cloth into rectangular pieces.

Step 3: Prepare cheese cloth by cutting into four rectangular pieces.

A hand flattening alternating pieces of cheese cloth into a large bowl.

Step 4: Layer the pieces of cheese cloth on top of each other: Imagine you are creating a starburst, or a sack that a stork would carry. 

Salted yogurt pouring into the bowl with the layered cheese cloth in it.

Step 5: Pour the salted yogurt into the cheesecloth.

Two hands gathering the ends of the cheese cloth above the bowl.

Step 6: Gather the ends of the cheesecloth together above the mixture, creating a pouch that the mixture sits in. 

A silver plated kitchen sink faucet with the cheese cloth knotted at the top of the faucet. The pouch of mixture is suspended above the sink.

Step 7: Suspend the pouch from a secure, elevated place so the whey can drain out. A kitchen faucet works well here because the excess liquid can fall directly into the drain. You could also hang from a rack in your refrigerator with a bowl underneath. 

A white bowl of Labneh topped with pomegranate seeds, honey and lettuce. The bowl is sitting on a cutting board with a sliced pomegranate off to the side on top of a piece of lettuce.

Step 8:  Wait. Let the mixture hang, slowly draining its liquid for 12 to 24 hours. The longer it drains, the thicker the consistency will be. Unwrap and pair with your favorite toppings!

Serving suggestions:

  • As a dip with vegetables and pita crackers
  • On toast with sliced fruit for breakfast
  • With garbanzo beans, greens, and eggs for brunch
  • As a cheese spread for sandwiches
  • Paired with grilled kebabs as a cooling accompaniment 
  • Preserved in olive oil and herbs and given as a gift

Topping suggestions:

  • Honey, hazelnuts, and cinnamon 
  • Pomegranate, olive oil, and mint 
  • Olive oil, garlic, and lemon
  • Balsamic vinegar and fresh figs
  • Olive tapenade
  • Apples, cinnamon, and butter

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Leslie Fischer
Leslie Fischer

Leslie Fischer is a Jefferson City native fascinated by the world, its landscapes, its food, and the people who call it home. Her pursuit of each has taken her to 35 countries and back again.