Yoghurt, the Key to Middle Eastern Cuisine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn their cookbook, Saha, Greg and Lucy Malouf travel to Lebanon and the food of Beirut. The book is a treasure, a coffee table book and useful cookbook all in one, although my copy comes from the library and I may need to part with it soon. In Saha, as in all their other cookbooks, they discuss the centrality of yoghurt to the Middle Eastern diet,

‘Middle Easterners eat vast quantities of the stuff, although not the over-sweetened and artificially flavoured varieties that westerners tend to prefer. Sourness is a virtue in the Arab world, and yoghurt makes an appearance at just about every minute. It is consumed as a refreshing drink, served as a dip or accompaniment to all kinds of savoury dishes, and is also used as a cooking medium in soups and casseroles.’

Throughout this seductive book, yoghurt pops up in all sorts of recipes: there are at least 10 listed in the index.  The dairy chapter uses yoghurt in a hot soup, and two different labneh: yoghurt is included as an ingredient elsewhere throughout the book, in salads, as a marinade and so on.  As this one ingredient is vital to the middle eastern diet, and more importantly, so easy to make, I am including this recipe in the Cookbook Guru’s discussion of Saha this month.  Another actual  Malouf recipe will follow. This one is my old recipe and relies on a few simple bits of equipment.

You will need:

  • a wide necked thermos, or similar thermal food container. (I use a vintage Chinese thermos because I love them!)
  • a strainer or old plastic ricotta basket
  • some muslin or an unused Chux wipe.

    Youghurt equipment
    Yoghurt equipment


  • Two tablespoons of full cream plain yoghurt.  This may be the last one you buy so make it a good one, read the labels and make sure there are no flavours. I can’t see the point in low fat yoghurt. Full cream yoghurt contains only 3.5% fat.
  • one litre of full cream milk.

You may need to double this amount if proceeding on to make Labneh.


  • place the milk in a saucepan and heat till it just reaches boiling point. Remove from heat.
  • When cool enough to put your finger in, holding it comfortably for 5 seconds, remove any milk skin on top, then add the yoghurt.  Mix well, using a whisk.
  • Add to the thermos which has been rinsed with hot water and drained just before using. Close lids and leave for four or so hours.
  • Put the lovely warm yoghurt into a container. It will thicken further in the fridge.
  • Just remember to save some yoghurt for your next batch. I make this weekly.

    a weekly supply of home made yoghurt.
    A weekly supply of home made yoghurt.

If needing Greek style yoghurt, strain the cooled yoghurt for an hour or more, using muslin and a fine strainer ( I use a plastic ricotta strainer) placed over a bowl. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Save the whey to add to curry gravy, an old Indian trick.

If making Labneh, continue straining the yoghurt, knotting the muslin over the bowl, and place in the fridge for 24- 48 hours.

labne kept under oil in a mason jar.
labne kept under oil in a mason jar.

Greg Malouf adds salt before making labneh: other additions he suggests are mint and garlic. In one of his other cookbooks, Arabesque, he adds 10 roasted and crushed saffron threads, along with 1 clove of garlic crushed with a teaspoon of salt. The latter sounds very appealing.


It is hard to write about the Middle East, its exotic cuisine and long history without expressing concern over the tragedy of war and the effects on lives, homes and families. At the same time, it is heartening to see how neighbouring countries, such as Turkey and Italy, humanely accept the flood of refugees into their own countries, knowing that humanitarian issues come first in this struggle.

I commend the following documentary to you which looks at Italian shipping rescue of refugee boats at sea.


39 thoughts on “Yoghurt, the Key to Middle Eastern Cuisine.”

  1. I have just read this post with great and salivating interest from my hotel room as I not so patiently await the appointed time for dinner. I love good plain yogurt and am very likely to try this. Keep well Francesca.


  2. Before we went outback last year I was determined to perfect the making of lactose free yoghurt. As there is no natural lactose free yoghurt, I made my starter with the contents of a dairy free acidophillus capsule. All went well at home in temperate Melbourne! The lid exploded off the thermos like a gunshot, at night, with my first (and last) effort while we were camping. Thanks for reminding me of the glories of labneh. Good reason to make yoghurt again


  3. Yum! I make yoghurt regularly, but don’t often strain it – this is a good reminder to do that as it does make for a beautiful texture. The whey is also fantastic added to bread by the way…


  4. Reblogged this on The Cookbook Guru and commented:
    Francesca has shared with us a beautiful recipe for making yoghurt, one of the key ingredients in so much of the food shared in this month’s book, Saha by Greg and Lucy Malouf. A definite read if you love yoghurt as it sounds like its not as difficult to make as you might think.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I last made labneh when I was living in Fairfield, many moons ago. It was successful! As I look at my hands with grease soaked into them from farming I wonder if I’ll ever cook again. Nice reminder Francesca.


  6. I’ve been wanting to make yoghurt… and labneh would be a bonus. This method sounds very do-able. I’m now in the market for a suitable size wide mouth thermos or two! and a plastic ricotta strainer.
    Everyday I ask the Universe to protect & keep safe all the beings of this world, and help us be the best we can be. There is just too much violence and tragedy.


    1. Very wise thoughts Ella- the Universe is easy to talk to and saves us from gettin cross with things.
      The ricotta strainer is a plastic thing they sell in woolworths( I know! the dreaded duopoly strikes again) ) when they sell it in kilo lots. x


  7. This must be the simplest and clearest lesson on the progression of making yogurt, Greek yogurt and labneh I have seen! As I’m just reaching for my last envelope of New Zealand’s ‘Easy’Yo’ ‘self-made’ product methinks it is time to move over and begin making the real stuff for the summer! Well, the appropriate thermoses are already there . . .


    1. I have tried making it with a ( second hand) Easy-Yo container and it didn’t work. I am prepared to give it another try, but not using those internal gadgets. Let me know if you get the thing to work. It didn’t seem to be ‘thermal’ enough for setting the yoghurt,so I had have been using my beloved Chinese thermos with great success. ( one of many).


      1. I wonder why you had bad luck! I began making ‘Easy-Yo’ when it was first sold on ‘Golden Glow’ [Qld vitamins/supplements firm] honestly about ten years ago – there has hardly been a week when I haven’t had at least one container ‘on the go’ . . . actually I was thrilled when so many different kinds came on the market and one could get it at more outlets. I have never ever had one what I would call ‘failure’ BUT the yogurt, not having the commercial gelatine and whatever in the mix, IS a little thinner and using it over a week, one may have to stir it as some whey can come to the top. Love all the different kinds and it is way cheaper than the supermarket and the taste is a lot more ‘Middle Eastern’, but making my own and going onto labneh would be fun!!!! I wish I could give you a tip but . . . Actually two ‘Easy-Yo’ thermoses have lasted me all this time [I also have some of the 1/2 sized ones . . .


        1. I have never used their product. I found the container in an op shop and attempted to use it making my simple yoghurt recipe, not thier mixes- using their container. The container looked like it was thermal enough, similar to my Chinese thermos, but I don’t think it is.


    1. My apologies, but have just walked out of a meeting to put this down: temperatures were the problem. The yogurt being prepared inside the plastic container has to be cool/cold – the water inside the thermos surrounding said container boiling water which you immediately cap and then leave 8 – 10 hours!! You may not have had the plastic yogurt container or the instructions . . . over and out . . . .


  8. I haven’t made yoghurt in years. Perhaps your inspiring post will….well, inspire! Often if we go out to one of our favourite Turkish restaurants, over indulgence if often referred to (by us) as “death by yoghurt”. Yes, you are right – heart warming that refugees are treated humanely, but terrible that they should have to flee their war torn homes.


    1. The kitchen sways between being a panetteria and a latteria, the benches often strewn with equipment, bowls, strainers, and so on. Mr T is a reasonable kitchen hand- he cleans up this stuff.
      Refugees are not treated humanely in Australia. They are treated as criminals.


  9. Hi Francesca, it makes me sick to think of the way we treat refugees in this country. Other countries are accommodating millions of people and we turn back a few thousand.


  10. Such a great post Francesca! I always strain my yoghurt – nothing worse than a watery tzatiki! I love that you can buy it pre strained a ready to go in Greece – such a shame we don’t have anything similar here. I love the link to the documentary – it was such a heartening story.


    1. We do have strained yoghurt here in Melbourne. All the Greek delis sell it- thick and luscious and not like the supermarket fake Greek stuff. There are a few Greek delis in Preston Market near Melbourne. I am sure there would be a few alos in the Prahran Market.
      I’m glad you like the link Mrs Mulberry. I was quite surprsied by the Italian response.


  11. WE have overnight oats almost every day for breakfast so I really should have a go at making it myself. I totally agree with – low fat/skimmed yoghurt is a waste of money and fridge space. Utterly tasteless and pointless!!


  12. In Sweden, there are several kinds of thick, sour milk that can be prepared in the way you describe. Myself, I am a yoghurt lover.


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