It’s 6:20 PM on a Tuesday night, and I am determined to break my blogging fast and post something healthful and delicious for you! I just got home from work and I am already at the computer, getting down to business…
… OK, so an hour later and I am back in business. (Sorry, had to break for dinner.) So, where was I?
Well, yes. I have been pretty darn busy lately. I spent
last week a few weeks ago traveling between California, New Mexico, and Washington, DC for work, so I hardly cooked at all! Now I am pulling out some photos for a post I’ve had in mind for a while: yogurt.
Who doesn’t love a good, homemade yogurt? As you know, I’ve been making yogurt at home for some time now, and I can practically do it in my sleep at this point. You also know that I almost never stop there, but always strain my yogurt for extra richness. I usually call it Greek yogurt, but as you’ve found, my yogurt is quite a bit thicker than the Greek-style yogurt you’ll find in grocery stores. My yogurt is really more like the Lebanese yogurt cheese called Labneh.
Labneh and Greek yogurt are both extremely healthy, and like most foods, when homemade they are even better because they contain no additives, fillers, sweeteners, or preservatives! Yogurt made at home from live cultures is about as good as you can get. As a bonus, it’s much less expensive than store-bought yogurt – especially the high quality, gourmet varieties.
Cultures (bacteria) in yogurt ferment the lactose in milk producing the lactic acid that gives yogurt its tang. Cultured properly, yogurt is essentially lactose-free and well tolerated by people with lactose sensitivity (even your stepsisters!). It’s rich in protein, calcium, and B vitamins. The cultures in yogurt are also excellent for the digestive system. They have been shown to be effective at preventing diarrhea in patients on antibiotic therapy and minimizing yeast infections. Straining yogurt concentrates all these health benefits, lowers the calorie content, increases the protein to carbohydrate ratio, and results in a rich and creamy consistency. Labneh is so rich that it is sometimes referred to as “Lebanese cream cheese”.
I take Labneh to work almost every day for lunch. I usually top it with blueberries, nuts and/or seeds, and sometimes a drizzle of honey or spoonful of coconut sugar like so:
Labneh with Blueberries, Chia Seeds, Honey, and Pine Nuts
Making Labneh from yogurt is a snap. Making the yogurt itself can be a bit tricky at first. It is a curious mix of science and art, but once you get the hang of it, it quickly becomes second nature. There are some basics concepts to understand – how the culture works to transform the milk and the environment in which it thrives, for example – and I won’t go into excruciating detail here, but there are few hard and fast rules. If you don’t want to make the yogurt at home, you can always “cheat” and start with store-bought yogurt, but I encourage you to go all the way and make the yogurt yourself. It is healthier, better tasting, and incredibly economical in comparison!
Homemade Labneh – Lebanese Yogurt Cheese
Yield: 4 Cups (4-6 servings); Prep time: 15 minutes; Total time: 7+ hours
8 Cups milk
1 Tbs. fresh yogurt (for starter)
Making the Yogurt
- Heat milk to between 170 and 200 degrees F. This can be done carefully in a pot on the stove, or in a large, glass bowl in the microwave. Watch carefully and remove from heat before the milk boils over.
- Let the milk cool to between 105 and 120 degrees F.
- When milk reaches desired temperature and not before, whisk in approximately 1 tablespoon of fresh yogurt with active, live cultures as a starter.
- Cover the container and incubate at a steady temperature (around 100 degrees F) for 6-8 hours. This can be done using a specialty yogurt maker, in an oven on the proofing cycle, or anywhere the temperature can be kept steadily warm.
- When the mixture has thickened and is recognizable as yogurt, it is done.
Remove the yogurt from its incubator and either refrigerate for later or proceed immediately with straining.
Straining the Yogurt
- Line a large sieve or a colander with a flour sack towel, several layers of cheesecloth, or paper coffee filters and place over a deep bowl.
- Carefully pour the yogurt into the lined sieve. Liquid whey will begin to drain immediately. Gather up the sides of the towel or cheese cloth and twist gently to hasten the straining process.
- Continue to strain yogurt, making sure whey stays below the level of the strainer, until the desired consistency is reached. (If whey rises to the level of the strainer during this process, simply pour some out.)
- When mixture has reached desired consistency, spoon into a smaller container and refrigerate.
Practice Makes Perfect!
As for my personal method, I like to start with whole milk from pastured cows. (If you’ve read up on “whole food” diets, you know why, but that is a post for another day.) I heat my milk in the microwave for convenience (you know how busy I am!) and it usually takes 18 minutes on high to come to just under 200 degrees F. Depending on the temperature in the house, it can take anywhere from 15 to 40 minutes to cool back down to my target temperature of 120 degrees F. If I’m in a hurry, I will sometimes attempt to speed the cooling process by placing the bowl in an ice bath in the sink, but I’m not convinced this is really all that effective (and it’s a waste of water). I usually just find something else to do while the milk cools – like cook up some sausage for breakfast. J
It is important to let the milk cool to less than 125 degrees F, however – higher temperatures will kill the all-important culture bacteria. Once the milk has cooled, I add a spoonful of yogurt saved from my last batch. You can also use a spoonful of plain, store-bought yogurt as starter. I never measure, but I usually add about a tablespoon. The amount isn’t critical; you just need enough to get things started. The cultures multiply quickly under favorable conditions. The one time I managed to kill the cultures in my starter (by adding it while the milk was too hot), the incubation failed. I just added more starter and put the mixture back on the warmer before bed. The next morning, I was rewarded with a perfect batch of yogurt.
After I whisk things together, I pop on a lid and set the bowl atop the (preheated) warming bottom of my yogurt maker. I bought the yogurt maker, complete with individual glass jars and lids, several years ago, but I only ever used it to make individual servings of regular yogurt once or twice. Now I just put my big batter bowl on top, pop on the batter bowl lid, and wrap it in towels to retain heat during the incubation stage. (The plastic lid that came with the yogurt maker doesn’t fit over the batter bowl.) I have incubated yogurt in the oven on occasion, but I prefer this method because it is more consistent and it leaves my oven available for other uses. (On a hot, summer day here in California, I could even incubate yogurt outside, where temperatures often stay above 100 degrees F in the shade for hours at a time – but I’d rather not invite any curious cats or insects to feast on it. The point is you can be pretty creative with the incubation process.)
I also don’t time incubation anymore. If I start my batch of yogurt in the morning, incubation is usually complete by dinner time. If I start it in the evening, as I often do, it is done by the time I get up in the morning. The time itself is only one factor, anyway. The amount and health of the cultures in the starter and the ambient temperature also affect how long incubation takes. Fortunately, I’ve never had a problem with over-incubation (I’m not even sure what that would like, to be honest) and only under-incubated once or twice. Then, I just added another spoonful of starter and put the bowl back on the warmer. Several hours later… success!
Straining the yogurt to make Greek yogurt or Labneh requires little more than patience. Straining can take as few as 20 minutes for Greek yogurt to 2 hours or more for Labneh. The time required will vary depending on the type of milk used (skim, low-fat, or whole) as well as the material used to line the sieve. My standard method includes lining a sieve with a flour sack towel and suspending it over a bowl to drain on the counter. After a couple hours, I just spoon the Labneh into a container, cover, and refrigerate. Stored this way, Labneh will usually keep for at least a week, but I usually run out within a few days. Or fewer if all you girls are here!
The strained liquid can be discarded, or you can save it to dress acid-loving plants, tenderize meats, or add to smoothies. As you know, it also makes an excellent treat for dogs! Stumpy now comes running to the kitchen as soon as I open the lid of the incubated yogurt and the warm, sweet scent wafts his way.
So now you know all my yogurt-making secrets. I hope you’ll have the chance to make some of your own soon. And I look forward to your next visit, when I’ll have your help in the kitchen – and at the dining table!
I am sorry it has taken me so long to post this recipe. As you know, I’ve been incredibly busy at work and with my class lately. I’ve also been devoting a good percentage of my time to trying to make some improvements in our personal lives. I’m hoping things will ease up soon. In the meantime, I will do my best to keep in touch to keep cooking!
I hope you are well, and I look forward to talking to you soon…