Shanklish: Spicy Levantine Cheese

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 (more…)


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A Spicy, Versatile Meat Sauce

Spicy Ground Meat is one of the latest all-purpose sauces I try to have in my fridge or freezer, divided into cups.

Ground meat, from the local free-range veal of the island, is something that I use a lot. The dark red meat is delicious, but quite tough and stringy, and for that reason I prefer to choose a nice piece, usually soon after my butcher has slaughtered an animal, and mince the meat somewhat coarsely. Unlike most of our neighbors, I rarely make Keftedes, but sometimes I do make my kind of burger, mixing the minced meat with bacon, onion, herbs and plenty of breadcrumbs or ground rolled oats.



It makes no sense to cook less than one, or better two pounds of ground meat, as I did the other day. I mince the onions, garlic and add either grated carrots or mashed corn kernels, then the spices and flavorings, as well as the herbs. It only needs to briefly simmer with wine and lemon juice, and it is ready for many uses. It is insane to go to all the trouble and prepare just 2 cups of Spicy Ground Meat.

The resulting, pre-cooked Meat Sauce can be used simply with pasta, to make my kind of Eastern Mediterranean Bolognese with penne, tortiglioni, or any other large, hollow pasta shapes: Boil the pasta 1 min. less than the package suggests, reserving 1 cup of the water. Then warm the meat sauce over medium heat, toss with the pasta (3-4 cups meat sauce for 1 pound of pasta) and if it is too dry, pour in ½-1 cup of the pasta cooking water. Just before serving, I love to fold in coarsely chopped cilantro from the garden that makes everything more delicious. The sauce is flavorful enough, so you can omit the cheese; at least we do. (more…)


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