Middle Eastern Yogurt Cheese Recipe -The history of yogurt goes back perhaps 8,000 years, to the dawn of civilization. It is believed to have been discovered by the Bedouins of the Arabian Peninsula. The story goes that when a family of nomads had stored milk in bags made from goat stomachs in preparation for a long journey, the hot sun, the movements from the pack animal, and the bacteria from the goat's stomach combined to ferment the milk, producing yogurt.
The yogurt is drained and solidifies into a cheese similar to cream cheese. To serve this simple cheese it should be spread in a thin layer on a plate. Drizzle olive oil on top of the cheese. Now sprinkle on zaatar and salt. Serve with pita bread.
Heat milk in a saucepan over medium heat until it begins to rise and bubbles form around the edges; then allow milk to cool to the point at which you can insert your little finger and count to ten (110 degrees F.)
Pour into an earthenware jar/pyrex bowl with a tight-fitting lid. Stir in the yogurt until thoroughly mixed; then place in a warm spot away from drafts.
Cover with a wool blanket to keep warm. Alternatively, place container in an oven heated to 150 degrees F. After five minutes, turn the heat off, and let the container sit for 6 hours undisturbed; then uncover and remove from oven, and refrigerate until the following day.
Remove about 2 tablespoons of yogurt and place in a small, covered glass jar; then store in refrigerator. This will be your starter (or rawba) for the next yogurt preparation. Cover the remaining yogurt and keep in refrigerator. Yogurt Cheese
Pour a quart of yogurt (see preceding recipe) into a bag made of fine white cotton. Stir in 1 teaspoon of salt. Suspend the tied bag from a faucet over a sink, allowing the water to drip out, overnight or until contents are firm.
When the yogurt is firm, remove contents from the bag and place in a deep bowl. Taste to see if labneh requires more salt; then stir. Cover, refrigerate, and use as needed
To serve, remove required amount and spread it evenly on a small plate. Sprinkle with a little olive oil just before serving. Yogurt Cheese Balls (Zanakeel Laban)
To preserve the labana or yogurt cheese for long periods, follow these steps;
Place 1 heaping tablespoon of labana in the palm of the hand; roll into a ball and place on a tray. Repeat, using as much as you wish to preserve.
Allow to stand overnight, then place in sterilized jars and cover with olive oil Seal and store for future use. This will keep indefinitely, stored in the refrigerator. Serve balls with a little of the olive oil.
Both forms, labana and zanakeel laban, are excellent for appetizers, sandwiches, and as a toast spread.