Labneh, or strained yoghurt cheese, is a traditional Middle Eastern condiment used to prepare a number of both sweet and savoury foods. Also eaten on its own or with bread, this easy to make cheese is achieved by leaving full fat yogurt to hang in a muslin or cheesecloth sack for several hours or overnight. In my pre-vegan days, this was a favourite addition to one of my favourite meals: a gigantic mezze spread.
Ah, but how to achieve labneh without dairy?
I knew I could do this, somehow, even if not an exact replication, but how?
Miyoko Schinner’s Vegan Yoghurt
I didn’t want to simply strain soy yogurt for two major reasons: plain soy yogurt is too sweet (and is much more akin to flavourless American style “Greek” yogurts, in my opinion, than the real thing), and it’s usually far too thin.
It was this video, a cooking tutorial by Miyoko Schinner, that inspired my own endeavour. The addition of cashews thickens the yoghurt and the minimal use of store sweetened soygurts allows the bacterial to multiply and coagulate to milk sans all the other crap. It’s a fuller soy yoghurt that can be strained easily.
Recipe notes and applications
Please note that all of my suggestions and yield sizes are based on the use of homemade soy milk. That’s not to say you can’t make it with store bought milk, but if you try it I suggest buying the one with the most basic of ingredient lists. No sweeteners or artificial flavourings, por favor.
In the process of straining, you can add salt if you’d like. I usually add it after, but that’s usually out of forgetfulness rather than by preference of method. A splash of lemon juice added post-production will also add an extra tang that’s a bit more reminiscent of the original dish this is trying to mimic.
As far as other flavours go, be creative! You can add all sorts of goodies, even mixes of other non dairy cheeses, to create delicious spreads and cheeseballs. One of my favourite ways to eat this, as directed below, is with some garlic and lemon, topped with quality extra virgin olive oil and za’atar.
Stay tuned for more recipes in which to use this strained yoghurt!
Cashew Yoghurt and Garlic Vegan Labneh Spread
- Blend half of the soy milk with the cashews into a creamy purée. If you rely on a coffee mill, you can do this in smaller batches. Mix the purée with the remaining soy milk in a medium heavy bottomed saucepan.
- Turn the heat on under the milk, and stir constantly, testing very frequently for temperature. You’re basically looking for a temperature that’s equivalent of that to which you’d heat a baby’s milk, or around 100 degrees F or 40 C. Remove from the heat and quickly whisk in the soy yoghurt, ensuring all lumps are blended in.
- I make my yoghurts using my old easiyo kit, but a sterilised glass jar works just as well. Just wrap it in a towel and stick it in a warm place, such as an airing cupboard. Leave it for at least four hours, but I’d recommend at least eight in order to achieve a tangier yogurt flavour.
- To make the soy labneh, you’ll need either some muslin fabric (or sack) or a few sheets of cheesecloth. If you’re using muslin a single layer will be fine, but if using cheesecloth then I’d suggest two or three layers. Lay the muslin/cheesecloth in a mesh colander over a large bowl and pour the yoghurt in. For the sake of health and safety I’m going to tell you to pop this in the refrigerator and leave it overnight to strain, but know in reality this is the point at which you’d traditionally bundle the edges up, tie them, and hang the sack over a bowl or your sink for several hours or overnight. I haven’t died of food poisoning yet.
- To make a garlic labneh spread, simply pound 2 teaspoons of lemon juice and a clove or two of garlic in a pestle and mortar along with a large pinch of salt. Mix with the soy yogurt cheese and serve with olive oil and za’atar.