Today I’m sharing Shanklish, or Herb Cheese Balls.
Shanklish is one of those delicacies that just about every Syrian has fond memories of, usually at the breakfast table of their mother or grandmother’s home. For me, it’s at my paternal grandmother’s house with glasses of sweet tea. I’ve been craving the zesty flavor for awhile now, so I was delighted when I found out Sonia Koht, my mom’s close friend, has a recipe.
Shanklish is made by making a yogurt, separating the curds and then straining the yogurt until it’s thickened. All the water is then squeezed out by placing the cheesecloth on top of a rack and then pressing it with a heavy pot overnight, then squeezing manually and forming into balls. The trick here is to make the cheese bone dry. Otherwise, the balls won’t form.
There are different variations throughout Syria. In Homs, Aleppo pepper, black nigella seeds and sometimes mahlab are combined with the cheese. In Safita in the northwestern part of Syria where my mom’s friend Sonia is from, they roll the balls in za’atar. We decided to combine both recipes and add black seeds and cover the cheese in za’atar. The result is a tangy and herby mixture that’s absolutely delicious, but every version is just as good as the next.
Traditional Shanklish leaves the completed cheese balls in a warm place to allow mold to develop, kind of like blue cheese. We didn’t want the added pungency, or the additional uncertainty of letting cheese mold under the kitchen sink, so we ate the fresh version.
Shanklish is typically served as part of a breakfast spread. It can also be made in a salad by combining it with fresh tomatoes, onions and olive oil and eaten with pita bread. Save extra balls in the freezer for whenever the craving strikes.
I hope you give this recipe a try! If you do, don’t forget to put it in the comments and tag @omayah.atassi and #omayahcooks on Instagram. I love to see your creations!
Shanklish (Herb Cheese Balls)
This recipe comes from my mother's good friend Sonia Koht. It's a very popular cheese made from sheep's or cow's milk that's typically eaten for breakfast. It's also served as an appetizer for lunch or dinner.
Makes: About 10 balls
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
1 gallon whole milk
1 c plain yogurt
1/4 c salt, plus more to taste
1/2 c black nigella seeds
1/2 c za'atar
- Make yogurt by placing the milk in a large stainless steel set pot over high heat. When it boils, set aside to cool until a thermometer reads 125° F/50° C.
- Add the yogurt and stir until combined. Cover with lid and then a blanket and put it in a turned off oven or microwave, away from draft, overnight.
- Return the pot to the stove over low heat. Boil until the curds separate from the liquid and resembles cottage cheese. Remove from heat and add the 1/4 c of salt.
- Transfer the contents to a very large cheesecloth or old pillowcase, suspending it over the pot so the water drains. Leave until water stops draining, about 8 hours.
- Manually squeeze the cheesecloth until it runs very dry. Place the cheese on a rack set over a baking sheet, and place a heavy pot on top and continue to drain overnight.
- The next day, the cheese should be very thick and dry. Squeeze any excess liquid if needed. Add salt until the mixture becomes quite salty. Combine with black seeds.
- Prepare a baking sheet with 2 layers of paper towels. Take about a 1/2 cups of cheese, roll into balls and drain on the paper towels for about 12 hours.
- After the cheese is dry, roll each ball in the za'atar then wrap in plastic. Serve with chopped tomatoes, onions, olive and pita bread. Keep in the fridge up to 4 days and in the freezer for months.