Greek yogurt has been all the rage for a while now, with more and more people choosing the thick, creamy yogurt to the more traditional plain or Balkan style. Greek yogurt is basically plain yogurt that has been strained of much of its whey, resulting in a thicker product that is slightly lower in lactose as some of it is in the whey that is strained. But you can make your own Greek yogurt at home quite easily; all you have to do is let it strain in your fridge for a day or even two; the longer it sits and strains, the thicker it gets.
The protein in yogurt, casein, is not in the whey, so the yogurt that is left after straining has a slightly higher protein density too. In some commercial brands of Greek yogurt some of the water content is boiled off, and sometimes thickeners are added as well as butterfat or modified milk products to smooth and enhance the texture. When you strain your own yogurt there are no additives, no carrageenan and no thickeners, so you know exactly what you’re getting. People in Syria and other countries of the Middle East, Central Asia and The Balkans have known this for centuries, as strained yogurt, under many different names is a staple food there as well as all of the countries of the Levant where it is known as labneh. If you want to make your own labneh at home, full-fat yogurt gives you the best result, a creamy, rich tangy yogurt that is great on toast or as a dip. Even just letting it strain overnight will result in a delicious spread that you can add finely diced herbs to, or fresh chopped chives, preserved lemon , or perhaps just a drizzle of good olive oil and a sprinkling of aromatic, sumac-based za’atar
Our friend Melissa is a teacher in Beirut and sent us some photos of how she enjoys labneh almost daily, pictured above with olives, cucumber, tomato, and mint, drizzled with local olive oil and pita to scoop, or below, smeared on Lebanese toast with walnuts and cedar forest honey.
And if you want to go the extra mile- and if you can hold out that long,- let your yogurt strain in your fridge even longer, 3 or 4 days. The yogurt will be like soft cheese that you can roll into balls; place them in a mason jar with fresh herbs like parsley or tarragon, or a little za’atar and or preserved lemon; cover with good olive oil and keep in the fridge. When you want, just pop a few of these little beauties on a meze platter with other cheese or preserved meats, maybe some hummus and babaganoush,…add fresh bread and veggies and fruit and nuts and you have a feast fit for prince. Or princess.