Syrian-born chef Mohammed Antabli makes a modern version of this age-old sun-dried cheese of the Levant, using a mixture of yogurt and feta, then rolls the little balls in spices, and serves them at Al Waha, considered one of London’s top Middle Eastern restaurants. I used his recipe, but varied the spices slightly, following his brilliant way of ‘aging’ these wonderful cheese balls.
Crumble them over salads, like the one with beets and arugula, or slice the log-shaped cheese and serve it on its own as an appetizer, drizzled with good, fruity olive oil.
You can also preserve shanklish in jars, submerged in olive oil, in the refrigerator; it will keep for up to 4 months or more.
Adapted from my Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts
Detail from a photo by Penny De Los Santos
Sun-drying laban—a fresh cheese made by straining yogurt—was one means, before the invention of cold storage, to preserve perishable dairy products. The cheese was shaped into balls and then rolled in an aromatic mix of seasonings—za’atar, red pepper flakes, or a mixture of local herbs and spices—and then dried completely until rock-hard, finally ready for extended storage in clay jars.
These fermented, extremely pungent shanklish balls are a multipurpose spice in their own right. Ground with a mortar and pestle, they can be used to provide different dimensions of flavor to salads and vegetable dishes.
For about 32 golf-ball-size pieces, or 2 logs
THE CHEESE BALLS
¾ pound (340 g) feta cheese, crumbled
2 cups (500 g) full-fat Greek-style yogurt
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 teaspoons Maraş pepper, or crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
1 tablespoon dried Greek oregano
THE SPICE MIXTURE
⅓ cup (about 15 g) fresh thyme leaves
⅓ cup (about 35 g) coarsely ground coriander seeds
3 tablespoons coarsely ground pink peppercorns
¼ cup (25 g) dried thyme
2 to 3 teaspoons Maraş pepper, or crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
Olive oil, for preserving
Make the cheese balls: In a bowl, whisk together the feta, yogurt, garlic, Maraş pepper, and oregano.
Line a tray with parchment paper. Scoop out about ⅓ cup (80 ml) of the cheese mixture at a time (use a small ice cream scoop, if you have one) and place dollops on the tray, next to one another but not touching.
Place the tray in the refrigerator, uncovered, and leave for at least 2 days, until the mixture is dry enough to shape into balls.
Make the spice mixture: In a bowl, blend all the spice mixture ingredients well. Then spread the mixture on a plate. Roll the cheese balls in the spices to coat on all sides. Alternatively, you can knead 2 to 3 balls together and shape the mixture into small logs, then roll them in the spice mixture and dry. They can then be sliced and served on bread or drizzled with olive oil.
Place the formed shanklish (either the balls or logs) on a clean parchment paper–lined tray. Let dry in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days more.
Fill a jar with the dried cheese balls and add just enough olive oil to cover.
Keep in the refrigerator but take out an hour before serving and let come to room temperature, as the olive oil solidifies in the fridge.