Originating in the Balkan mountains thousands of years ago, yogurt is nothing more than milk whose proteins have been rearranged by special bacteria, a process that can happen naturally in the right conditions.
Regular yogurt can be on the thin side, but straining it to remove some of the whey produces a thicker, creamier yogurt with more fat, protein, and calcium. The higher fat content makes strained yogurt less likely to curdle when heated, so it works well in soups, sauces, and other cooked dishes like Spinach with Yogurt & Chickpeas. In uncooked foods, like dips, spreads, and the tangy whipped cream in Melissa Clark's Mango Lassi Parfait, its thicker consistency is what counts.
There are a few styles of strained yogurt, and they offer great diversity in their flavors, textures, and consistencies. The type of milk, the length of culturing, and the amount of straining are just a few factors that affect the outcome.
Greek yogurt is by definition strained yogurt. Traditionally made with sheep’s milk, most commercial Greek yogurt in the United States is made with cow’s milk. We use the widely available Fage Total brand in our test kitchen. Greek-style yogurt is strained, but it’s not necessarily from Greece. Some, especially domestic ones, may have added thickeners or stabilizers.
For an easy dessert, try Greek yogurt drizzled with a little honey and sprinkled with chopped pistachios or walnuts.
Middle Eastern in origin, labne runs the gamut from a sour cream-like consistency (akin to Greek yogurt) to a cream cheese-like consistency (which is also called “yogurt cheese”). Labne is also strained, but it often has salt added prior to straining, and in the case of yogurt cheese, it’s strained for much longer. Some labne, like the one shown at left, is made from kefir, a yogurt-like dairy product that also contains yeast.
For an appetizer, form 1-inch yogurt cheese balls, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with fresh herbs, and serve with flatbread.