Black Olive and Yogurt Cheese Spread

No, we are not sponsored by the Canadian Dairy Board, but by this point we really ought to be considering how saturated the site has become with cheese and dairy recipes.  Here I go with yet another Ode to Yogurt, in all it’s majesty.  I promise that this will be the last yogurt post for a little while though (you know, a day or two…) because you’re likely getting bunged up just reading through the last week’s worth of posts.

Let’s start by talking about labneh, which is also known as labaneh, leban, dahi or “yogurt cheese” to the Western world.  And yes, I totally manipulated you with the title.  I admit it and I feel no shame.   Foreign words like “labneh” are enough to make the meek quiver with apprehension, but if you whitewash the ingredient and call it “yogurt cheese”, all of a sudden the intimidation factor is gone.  I mean, we all know yogurt, right?  And who doesn’t like cheese?  Okay, no, don’t answer that.  I like you, I really do, but it’s best not to test the depths of my affection with a wrinkled nose or pained grimace at the mention of dairy fat.

You can buy ready made labneh/yogurt cheese in the refrigerator section of some supermarkets or Middle Eastern food stores, but I promise that it’s easy to make it yourself.  The process is exactly the same as straining yogurt to make tzatziki, but with a longer draining time and a bit more physical pressing.  And I like a bit more physical pressing, if you know what I mean…nudge nudge wink wink. If you have yogurt, cheesecloth and a strainer, you can make labneh.  Really, it’s that simple.

As a side confession, I feel almost guilty calling this a recipe, considering how easy it is.  I always have a strange back handed guilt when I make something that’s just too easy, or has five or less ingredients.  I feel like I’m cheating the system or something.  Not that there is a system, mind you, and if there was one I promise you that I wouldn’t have the foggiest idea of how to cheat it.  I still BUY MOVIES, guys.  Yeah.  I know, what a chump.  Even so, I would prefer for you to think of this as more of a guideline, or a jumping point than a recipe.  Although it is one of my favorite spreads.  And I make it the same way every time.  EVERY TIME.  And I’ve served it to guests on multiple occasions and it always gets gobbled down with garlicky abandon.  But even so — GUIDELINE.  I won’t scold if you choose to make yours with green olives and add lemon zest and dill.  It could be that you’re craving roasted red peppers and a healthy hunk of feta, deepening the flavor with a hit of smoked paprika in the mix.  Or, maybe you want to take it easy and just add garlic and black olives to strained yogurt, because that’s just fine by me.

Black Olive and Yogurt Cheese Spread

Makes a scant 1.5 cups

  • 1.25 cups firm labneh (made from 2-3 cups of fresh plain yogurt)*
  • 1/2 cup black olives (1/3 cup pitted and finely chopped)
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/8 tsp red chili flakes, optional

* If you don’t have a hankering to make your own labneh, or you’re still on the fence about yogurt in general, you can substitute 1 heaping cup (1 cup plus about 2 tbsp) of light cream cheese with 2 tbsp of yogurt and beat these together well until they are smooth and combined.  The flavor will be richer and creamier, with less of a yogurt-y twang, but delicious nonetheless.

Line a fairly large wire mesh strainer with a double thickness of cheesecloth.  Drape the excess cheesecloth over the edges and set the strainer over a bowl which is deep enough that the strainer has at least an inch of room from the bottom.  Dollop your yogurt into the center and leave it to drain for 4 hours.

The amount of fresh yogurt that you will need to make a bit over one cup of labneh is determined by the texture of your yogurt.   To make labneh, all that you do is strain out enough of the liquid from your yogurt so that the remaining solids are thick and spreadable.   If you have a thin and almost pourable yogurt there is obviously a higher liquid ratio than if you have a thick Greek style yogurt.  For a thicker yogurt, 2 cups is plenty to make this recipe.  If your yogurt is thinner or questionable, opt for a good three cups.  You will be amazed by how much fluid drains off and is discarded.

After four hours there should be quite a lot of fluid collected in your bowl.  Carefully tip the bowl and discard this.  Fold the hanging edges of your cheesecloth in to the center, covering the surface of your yogurt.  Place a small plate on top.  It should be small enough to fit comfortably inside your strainer.

Weight the plate with a full can of whatever happens to be close by, and tuck the whole contraption in the fridge to continue draining for another 24 hours.

Discard the liquid that collected during this second drain.  Lift off the weight and the plate, and peel back the cheesecloth to reveal your firm yogurt cheese spread underneath.  At this point I strongly recommend that you scoop out a small spoonful for “Quality Control”.  Fresh labneh is an absolute weakness of mine, with it’s creamy texture and appealingly tart taste.  Oh, I feel a contented sigh coming on.

Scrape the labneh into a medium sized bowl. If you have more than you need, consider yourself lucky.  Labneh is delicious smeared on a whole wheat pita for breakfast, either savory with a few slices of cucumber and a sprinkle of salt, or sweet with a mere sheen of strawberry jam.  Think of it as the Middle East’s answer to a bagel with cream cheese.

Use a garlic press to pulverize a wee small clove of garlic into the yogurt (or mash it to a paste) and drizzle on the extra virgin olive oil.  Sprinkle with the hot chili flakes, if you feel the yen.

Pit the olives.  I find that pressing down on each with the flat side of my knife makes short work of this task.  Finely (and I mean FINELY! Be lazy when you sloth out with a bowl of this spread balanced precariously on your tummy for easy access) chop the olives.  There should be roughly 1/3 cup, or just slightly more, when they are pitted and chopped.

Add the olives to the labneh and stir everything well to combine.  Serve this spread with pita wedges or cruddité.  You won’t be disappointed.  It’s so simple, but So.  Very.  Good.

This is one of those dips that are so simple, and so quick to prepare, and yet I could gorge myself and eat nothing but this with pita and vegetables for an entire day and be happy as a clam.  A well fed clam with high sodium, but a happy clam nonetheless.

Hey, this isn’t really a first date dip (that small clove of garlic goes a long way towards warding off a surprise vampire attack), but it is surprisingly addictive.  The best part, of course, is that you don’t need to feel quite so guilty when you’re licking the bowl clean, because unlike a fatty mayonnaise laden store bought dip or spread, this is lower fat with twice the flavor.

If you haven’t tried labneh yet, do so.  Get addicted, and never look back.  And you’ll also be one step closer to using up those three liters of yogurt in your fridge.

  • Kristie

    Remember how a couple of weeks ago I said I wanted an elitist yogurt maker? Well, my brother ended up getting me one for my birthday (without even knowing about our blog interchange). So now I can MAKE this. Without even trying very hard! Also probably baby food. But still, awesome. Am I lebanese yet?

  • Drew

    This looks great! I think I will have to make it this weekend. Have you ever made pita chips before? This is a pretty cheap way to do it: 1 stick of butter, melted, with 1 packet of instant french onion soup (yes, I know…) stirred into it. Brush a fine layer of this mixture on your split pita wedges (inside-up, if that makes sense), and bake at 375 until golden. Also, again, we are on the same page ingredient-wise…because I just posted a yogurt-marinated, hazelnut crusted lamb chop recipe. Have a good weekend! -LeChef

  • tasteofbeirut

    Fun,fun,fun! Love your website! I too make and eat labneh all the time but then I grew up on the stuff. Great idea you have got here. Will do.

  • _ts of [eatingclub] vancouver

    I still buy CDs. 😉

    • Mike

      Oh, so you’re the one.

  • Umme Kulsum

    We SO buy CDs 😉 love labneh too !

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  • Ivy

    This sounds like tzatziki with olives. Love the idea.

  • margarita

    I’ve been meaning to tell you this for ages…love your website, your recipes and your style of explaining and expressing yourself. Fun place to come to, Bettina.

    I’m a friend of your mom and dad and we’re trying your yogurt tonight.
    Then I’m trying the cheese!!\

    Have I spelled your name correctly?

  • Jason

    A good dollop of this next to some chicken kabobs worked wonders. Some sweet and sour onions with cucumbers on the side and some pita complimented the blooming spring at my home perfectly.

  • MAG

    Labneh on toasted bread and olives is my favorite all time breakfast 🙂 Of course with a good cup of coffee 😉 Love your post!

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  • Shreela Sen

    Wanted to do something with my already cloth-strained dahi … This sounds perfect!