About 500ml olive oil
3 sprigs of thyme or oregano, or a mixture of both
1½ tbsp chilli flakes (enough to coat 10 balls)
2½ tbsp za’atar (enough to coat 10 balls)
For the Labneh (Makes about 500gm)
900gm Greek-style yoghurt (or a combination of 450gm goat’s yoghurt and 450gm Greek-style yoghurt)
Olive oil, to seal
1. Labneh: Line a deep bowl with a piece of cheesecloth or muslin (a clean J-cloth is also fine, as an alternative) and set aside. In a separate bowl, mix the yoghurt(s) with 1 teaspoon of salt. Pour into the cloth-lined bowl, then bring the edges of the cloth together and wrap tightly to form a bundle. Tie firmly with a piece of string. Hang the bundle over a bowl (or attached to the handle of a tall jug so that the bundle can hang free – and drip – inside the jug) and leave in the fridge for 24 to 36 hours, until much of the liquid is lost and the yoghurt is thick and fairly dry.
Another method is to put the bundle into a sieve placed over a bowl, with the weight of a plate, for example, or a couple of tins, sitting on top: this weight speeds up the draining process.
(To make labneh balls, skip this step and see below.) To just make labneh, transfer the labneh to an airtight sterilised container or jar: just pour over enough olive oil so that the labneh is covered and sealed. Once covered with (and therefore preserved by) oil, labneh keeps in the fridge for up to 2 months. Without the oil it keeps for up to 2 weeks.
2. To make the labneh balls, follow the instructions in the previous recipe to the point before it gets transferred to an airtight sterilised container or jar. With lightly oiled hands, spoon a small amount – about 20gm – of the labneh into the palm of one hand. Roll it around to shape it into a 3cm-wide ball, and transfer it to a tray lined with a damp (but clean) J-cloth. Continue with the remaining labneh until all the balls are rolled. Transfer to the fridge for a couple of hours (or overnight) to firm up.
3. Half fill a jar (large enough to fit all the rolled labneh: about 10cm wide and 12cm high) or airtight container with olive oil and drop in the balls. Top with more oil, if necessary – you want the balls to be completely covered with oil – and add the thyme or oregano. Seal the jar and store in the fridge.
4. When ready to coat – you can do this up to a day before serving – remove the jar from the fridge and bring to room temperature, so that the oil becomes unset. Lift the balls out of the oil and roll them in the chilli flakes or za’atar: an easy way to do this is to spread your chosen coating on a plate, place a few balls at a time on top and shake the plate: the balls will be coated in seconds.
5. If not eating at once, return them to the fridge on a plate (but not in the oil). Bring back to room temperature before serving: you don’t want them to be cold.
Keeping notes: The balls keep for up to 2 months in the fridge. The oil will set in the fridge, so you’ll have to bring it back to room temperature before being able to remove the balls and coat them. Save the oil: it can be used again to preserve future batches of labneh.
Playing around: Play around with coatings and combinations here. This recipe is for a combination of chilli flakes and za’atar, but all sorts of coatings work. Nigella seeds, sesame seeds, other chilli flakes (smoky Urfa or sweet Aleppo look great), sumac, chopped pistachios, for example, or a combination of crushed garlic, chopped walnuts and finely diced red chilli.
Play around with the size of the balls as well: Large balls work well as a snack or as part of a mezzeh spread; smaller balls work well for nibbles with drinks.
- Recipe extracted from Falastin: A Cookbook by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley
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