Are you obsessed with Greek yogurt like everyone else? Last week it was reported that the founder and owner of Chobani Greek Yogurt, Hamdi Ulukaya, is America’s newest billionaire. Mr. Ulukaya, a Turkish immigrant to the US, bought an old Kraft factory in 2007 and had 5 employees to start; five years later his yogurt brand controls almost 50% share of the Greek yogurt market and 17% of the total US yogurt market.
Before 2007, most Americans had never heard of or tasted Greek yogurt which is strained more than regular yogurt, resulting in a richer, creamy taste. As the daughter of immigrants from the Middle East, this was a staple in my house when I was growing up. My mom used to make yogurt from scratch, hovering over a simmering pot of milk and stirring it for hours, storing it in the refrigerator overnight and then straining it in cheesecloth. As the yogurt strains, it solidifies; the result was our Arabic version of a yogurt cheese called labne. You can spread labne on bread and top with honey, or drizzle it with olive oil and eat with boiled eggs, olives and pita bread.
These days, my mom is a busy retiree, hustling from her volunteering job to lunch with her friends to walks on the beach, visits with grandkids and ending the day with a glass of wine while watching “Celebrity Apprentice.” She doesn’t have time to make labne from scratch. Luckily, you can buy labne at Middle Eastern groceries. This weekend I was in Astoria with a friend and did a little immigrant shopping on my walk back to the train, stopping into get Syrian cheese, labne and Arabic cucumbers.
Once in a while, I make labne myself, and even though it’s not the old-fashioned way that requires blood, sweat and tears, it’s still healthy and cheap. You take a pint of regular plain low-fat or full fat yogurt (be careful not to get vanilla flavored and avoid nonfat yogurt). Pour in a teaspoon or so of salt and stir it. Put a paper towel in a colander and then pour the mixture carefully onto the paper towel (be sure to put a bowl under the colander to collect the draining water). Let the yogurt strain overnight. The result is a creamy yogurt cheese that you can eat for breakfast or snacks–it’s super healthy and super cheap.