My father’s mother is one of 14 children, of whom eight are women—all killer cooks. I am in the fourth generation of Syrian-Lebanese Trinidadians, so eating the creamy, smooth strained Greek yogurt known as labne for breakfast is my birthright. A few years ago, my grandmother and her sisters with their daughters, their granddaughters, and other women belonging to the Syrian-Lebanese community, wrote the cookbook Ah'len to share our families’ cultural and culinary journeys with the world. The founders of our present-day community fled the religious persecution and economic hardship of the Middle East around the early 1900s. Upon arriving in the Caribbean, although everything changed, the recipes handed down through generations kept my family grounded.
Each dish in the cookbook lends itself to countless variations. Who makes what best is a constant dispute between distant families. I always claim that taita (grandma) Emily makes the best warak enab (stuffed grape leaves), auntie Roxan makes the best pita, and taita Annie makes the best raw kibbeh, but that’s all up for argument. One thing’s for certain: Auntie Linda makes the best damn labne.
Tart yogurt is present in most Arab homes—never the store-bought kind loaded with fruit and sugar. Unlike the majority of yogurt stocked on the shelves of American grocery stores, labne is never sweetened or flavored. My family always opts for savory strained Greek yogurt, which is a traditional Arab breakfast.
Labne is a staple before any meal, offered as an essential component of mezze. It’s most commonly dressed with a drizzle of olive oil on top, but I take it to a whole new level by adding a sprinkle (or two, or three) of za’atar spice and a mint leaf for garnish. Labne is served like hummus over a bed of vegetables and lapped up with freshly baked pita. In my opinion, whole milk yogurt is the only way to go, but 2 percent and low-fat yogurt can also be used for a healthier alternative.
As Linda always shouts after saying grace before our first meal of the day, “Sahtein!” (which translates to “eat up”).
Note: Labne needs to strain for 24 hours, so prep and let sit a few days before eating.
- Yields: 2 ¼ cups
Place a large strainer over a container and line with two layers of cheesecloth.
Pour the yogurt into the cheesecloth and fold the four corners in tightly.
Let sit in the fridge to strain for 24 hours.
When water accumulates at the bottom of the container, remove your strained yogurt from the fridge.
Empty the labne into a bowl, add salt to taste and mix. For a creamier texture, blend in a food processor or whip with a hand mixer.
Drizzle olive oil and sprinkle za'atar on top. Scoop with pita and wipe the bowl clean, or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.