As befitting the land of milk and honey, no Israeli breakfast or party would be complete without cheese. And though you can go and buy a selection of briny feta and Bulgarian cheeses, or chop up a good block of Swiss Emmenthaler, to really stay authentic at an Israeli breakfast you need to remember only one recipe: labaneh balls. And when it’s as is as easy to make as this, who needs store-bought cheeses?!
When Faith from An Edible Mosaic and I decided to pair up and make the ultimate Middle Eastern breakfast spreads, I knew that just showing you how to make Green Shakshuka just wouldn’t do the meal justice, no matter how amazing it is. I also had to let you in on the secret to making homemade labaneh balls.
Coated in a selection of spices, seeds and nuts, labaneh balls hide within them a perfectly creamy and tangy centre. They are wonderful spread on challah, toasty pita, or eaten with fresh vegetables. Labaneh balls are also incredibly impressive as an appetizer or as part of a cheese platter, especially when served swimming in a pool of olive oil spiked with chilli flakes. And they will keep in the fridge in a jar of oil for a couple of weeks in the fridge, so you can even make them ahead.
At their base, labaneh balls are just spheres of strained yogurt. They came out of the necessity of nomadic life in the dessert, where tricks for preserving yogurt and making it portable were highly sought-after. Fresh milk cheeses like labaneh and feta were common, but labaneh balls were one of their fanciest and most highly prized presentations.
To be honest, If you’re short on time, you can make like a real badass and avoid the balling and flavouring itself, and just serve labaneh spread on a plate and drizzled with olive oil. Everyone will love you anyway.
But to get the true Middle Eastern flavour, you really must use goat’s or sheep’s milk yogurt – and roll your labaneh into balls.
Homemade labaneh balls
- 500 ml - 1 L yogurt preferably goat's or sheep's milk
- 1/2 tsp of salt
- Spices and flavourings of your choice:
- Chives finely chopped
- Za'atar and sesame
- Paprika smoked or sweet, both are fine; just make sure you're using high-quality paprika
- Black sesame
- Crushed walnuts
- Extra virgin olive oil for serving
- Chilli flakes for serving
Lay out two layers of cheesecloth over a strainer, and pour the yogurt into it. Tie the yogurt in the cheesecloth, creating a little sack that can be hung up. Hang cheesecloth with yogurt to dry over a sink for at least eight hours, and up to 24 hours. On a hot summer's day, transfer draining yogurt to the fridge after the night, and hang it in there to continue draining.
To prepare labaneh balls, lay out each spice or flavouring on a flat plate. With well-oiled hands, roll labaneh into small balls, and then roll each ball in a different spice mixture.
Drizzle olive oil onto a serving platter, and sprinkle with chilli flakes. Serve labaneh balls in the oil, and drizzle with a bit more oil.
If you're short on time, avoid balling the labaneh and just serve it spread out on a plate, drizzled with olive oil, za'atar and sesame and/or sumac.