It’s love at first sight: a lightly toasted olive oil-drizzled baguette topped with caramelized roasted tomatoes, and finished with a schmear of, not cream cheese, but a tangy protein-rich, fermented yogurt cheese. There are a hundred and one ways in which we can imagine enjoying this recipe from Janet Fletcher’s aptly named cookbook Yogurt.
To be fair, labneh is a strained yogurt dish made in Lebanese culture for centuries, but we’re struck how rarely we come across it — especially with home cooks. Far lighter and more nutrient-dense than cream cheese and most other dairy-based dips, ‘yogurt cheese’ isn’t really cheese at all. This recipe simply thickens store-bought or homemade yogurt into a soft, cream cheese-like consistency that deserves to be a staple in your fridge. Make it with coconut yogurt for a vegan version, if you prefer!
Make at home and try it spread on this warm roasted tomato toast…
How To Make Yogurt Cheese
From the author: I often drain yogurt, especially homemade yogurt, even if only for an hour. Draining dramatically improves the texture, making any yogurt thicker, creamier, and more mellow by removing whey. Draining also extends the yogurt’s life by removing water and lactose. Reducing the yogurt’s lactose deprives bacteria of their food source. And if you are lactose-sensitive, you should find drained yogurt more digestible. This creates a “yogurt cheese” that can be used in countless recipes, like the bruschetta below. Enjoy!
INGREDIENTS + SUPPLIES
Store-bought yogurt has already been chilled, so you can drain it immediately after opening. To drain homemade yogurt, chill it thoroughly first until it is firm. You can drain it as soon as it is cold.
Line a large sieve or colander with a triple thickness of dampened cheesecloth or—my preference—with Plyban, a reusable cheesecloth made from a food-grade resin. Plyban’s weave is tighter than cheesecloth, so you don’t need multiple layers, although with very thin yogurt I might use a double thickness.
Set the sieve or colander over a bowl to collect the whey. Gently pour the yogurt into the lined sieve or colander.
Cover with a plate or cloth – you’re just protecting the yogurt, not pressing it – and refrigerate. Drain the yogurt until it has the consistency you like. After an hour, it will be noticeably thicker, and I usually stop at that point. Scrape the drained yogurt into a clean container, cover, and refrigerate.
Wash the cheesecloth well in hot, soapy water; rinse well and air-dry. You can usually get two or three uses out of cheesecloth before it frays.
If you drain the yogurt more than you intended, no problem. Simply whisk some of the whey back in until you have a texture you like. To keep the whey, pour it into a glass jar and refrigerate. It has many potential uses.
After 2 hours of draining, stir in 1 ⁄ 2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt for every quart of yogurt that you started with. Return to the refrigerator and continue draining until the yogurt is as thick as cream cheese, about 24 hours total. From a quart of milk, you should yield 1 1 ⁄ 2 to 1 3 ⁄ 4 cups of yogurt cheese.
Roasted Tomato Bruschetta With Yogurt Cheese
For the bruschetta:
6 plum (Roma) tomatoes, about 1 lb, halved lengthwise
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
11 ⁄ 2 tsp dried oregano
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
kosher or sea salt
12 baguette slices, cut on the diagonal about 1 ⁄ 2 inch thick
3 ⁄ 4 cup yogurt cheese (directions below
fresh basil leaves, for garnish
Preheat oven to 300°F. Put the tomatoes cut side up in a shallow baking dish just large enough to hold them in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil. Season with oregano, crumbling the dried herb between your fingers to release its fragrance. Dot the tomatoes with minced garlic and season with salt. Bake until the tomatoes are very soft and beginning to caramelize but still hold their shape, 2 to 3 hours, depending on their size and ripeness. Using a pastry brush, baste the tomatoes with any pan juices – the tomatoes may not release much – every 45 minutes or so.
Let cool slightly. The tomatoes are best warm, not hot.
Preheat a broiler or toaster oven. Place the baguette slices on a baking sheet and toast on both sides until golden brown.
Spread one side of each toast with 1 tablespoon yogurt cheese.
Top with a warm roasted tomato half. (You can halve the tomatoes lengthwise first so they cover more of the toast surface.) Garnish with the basil leaves and serve immediately.
Reprinted with permission from Yogurt, by Janet Fletcher, copyright © 2015, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Photographs copyright © 2015 by Eva Kolenko