- ½ gallon / 2 L whole milk
- 2 tablespoons plain, unsweetened yogurt
- 2 cups / 460 g labneh or substitute Greek yogurt
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon crushed dried mint
- A few fresh mint leaves, cut in chiffonade
- Few sprigs fresh mint, for garnish
- Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
- Rinse a large heavy pot (3-quart / 3 L or larger) with cool water. Every Lebanese woman I know does this to help prevent scorching; I don’t question it.
- Add the milk, and if you’re using a thermometer, clip it to the side of the pan without letting it touch the bottom.
- Heat the milk slowly over medium-low heat to just below a boil (210°F / 98°C), about 30 minutes, depending on how cold the milk is to start. Heating the milk too quickly can result in grainy yogurt. Stay nearby, because the milk will froth up, and as it begins to boil it will rise swiftly in the pan and can overflow.
- Move the pot off of the heat immediately when it hits 210°F / 98°C, or when the milk froths and starts to rise.
- To speed it up place the pot in an ice bath in the sink, stirring the milk regularly to release the heat.
- Temper and loosen the starter by stirring some of the warm milk into it, a tablespoon at a time, about 6 tablespoons total. Stir the warmed starter yogurt thoroughly into the milk. You will notice a skin formed on the surface of the milk while it was heating up; that can be stirred right in with the starter.
- Remove the thermometer if you’ve used one, and cover the pot with its lid.
- Drape a clean kitchen towel over the pot and set it aside, undisturbed, in a warm spot up to 110°F / 43°C for 6 to 12 hours. The longer the yogurt incubates, the more developed the flavor will be. I like to make yogurt in the evening and let it rest overnight and well into the next day. An ideal incubator is the oven, turned off (the oven can be heated on the lowest setting for a minute before placing the pan in, just to encourage warmth, but don’t forget to turn it off!).
- Remove the lid from the pot. The milk will have thickened into yogurt, which you can tell by lightly jiggling the pot.
- Chill the pot of yogurt, undisturbed as of yet, for a day or so before eating it or straining to thicken it for labneh.
- Note: If the milk cools below 110°F / 43°C (or your pinkie can stand it longer than ten seconds) before you introduce the starter, slowly warm the milk up again to 110 to 115°F / 43°C to 46°C. If in this process of reheating, the temperature goes above 115°F / 46°C, wait again until it comes back down to 110°F to 115°F / 43°C to 46°C.
1. In a small mixing bowl, whisk the labneh, salt, and a teaspoon of cold water until it is smooth and creamy.
2. Using the back of a large metal spoon, spread the labneh on a 6- to 8-inch / 15 to 20 cm serving plate, making a swirl on top of the labneh with the back of the spoon.
3. Sprinkle the red pepper flakes over the entire surface of the labneh.
4. Crush the dried mint between your palms and dust the labneh with it, along with the chiffonade of fresh mint.
5. Garnish with the tops of the mint sprigs in the center of the labneh, and finish with a drizzle of olive oil.
This is my all-time favorite way to eat labneh for breakfast. The heat level of the crushed red pepper is completely up to you, but the combination of the hot pepper with the creamy labneh and mint… wow, time to wake up and taste the day. The labneh is delicious spread onto za’atar flatbread, for a classic Lebanese breakfast that includes olives, tomato wedges, and cucumber slices. Of course, labneh dip is great served anytime with vegetables, crostini, breads, or pita chips, or anything you can think of to dip in.
More from Rose Water and Orange Blossoms:
Reprinted with permission from Rose Water & Orange Blossoms © 2015 by Maureen Abood, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group.
In her debut cookbook, Rose Water & Orange Blossoms: Fresh & Classic Recipes from My Lebanese Kitchen, author Maureen Abood brings together evocative flavors to create delicious, healthy dishes that showcase exquisite Lebanese cuisine–and Maureen’s authoritative presence as a new expert in modern Middle Eastern cooking. Featuring both traditional Lebanese recipes and fresh ideas using Maureen’s inventive blend of Middle Eastern flavors, this book takes an ingredient-focused approach using what’s in season. Everyday cooks will find easy access and great success with this exotic cuisine through Maureen’s knowing, inviting voice and her ability to simplify even the more complex Lebanese recipes.