Levantine Blue Cheese


September 3rd of 1984, in the afternoon hours, my grandmothers were right there next to my mother when she had me.  According to Teta, it was her that gave me the first shower of my life.  I have been showered with love ever since, unconditional, unimaginable love that runs through my veins today!


Teta in slang Levantine Arabic means grandma.  Teta is what I call my father’s mother, while my other grandma is Nana.  Her name is Nadia, and she didn’t like to be called Teta as she always felt younger than her age, so Nana became her nickname and it suits her very well. 


Nana is an amazing knitter, so she made most of my wool sweaters as a child.  She knitted some of the most intricate designs on the sweaters she made me.  I will never forget my navy blue one with the two little mice on the right shoulder.  If I had it in ‘Large’ I would still wear it today.  I’ll never forget when Nana and I were shopping in the ‘Old City’ in Damascus which is about an hour and a half north of my hometown.  I was around four or five and we went by this little shop that sold tiny handmade chairs that were carved out of wood.  They were about a foot high and I just found it to be the most fascinating thing ever! I whispered in her ear in my preschooler Arabic; “When you’re rich please buy me this, but not now.” She replied with such grace and eloquence “Ya Habeeby (My love), I am going to buy it right now!” She bought me two, a blue one and a red one! Today I realize how rich she was, rich with love and selflessness.  Her world revolved around me -  I hope I can make my world revolve around her some day! She always spoiled me. Even until this day, she continues to do just that.  How do you repay a human that provided you with love and compassion for 27 years? I can write a book about Nana.  I will share a lot more memories in my next posts.


Nana and I ♥ Of course I was eating in the picture! 

Today I want to share with my readers Nana’s Shankleesh recipe! If Blue cheese had an ancestor, this would be it! The reason I like it more than blue cheese is because it doesn’t have the after taste.  Your taste buds tingle when you take a bite and then the tingling turns into a spicy sensation.  This very sensation I would get as a child has made me the foodie I am today.  I might have been the only kid that took Shankleesh sandwiches to school.  I doubt there are kids that ask their mothers to make them blue cheese sandwiches to put in their lunch boxes! Let me know if you are one of them because I would like to meet you!

Shankleesh is essential on the Meze spread of appetizers.  This dish goes so well with the rest of the appetizers. I personally prefer to eat Shankleesh with a little bit of olive oil and baked pita bread, but it is more commonly made into a salad.  It is not crumbled on top of the salad like blue cheese is usually, but is rather the essential ingredient in the salad, and usually complimented by finely chopped tomatoes, onions and cucumbers with olive oil. I will share with you how to make the salad and Shankleesh from scratch! Keep in mind, making Shankleesh from scratch takes around 2 weeks! Are you ready!?


Ingredients:

1 gallon of milk
2 cups of plain yogurt
1 tbs Salt
2 tsp black pepper
1 tbs Sumac
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp cayne pepper
1 tsp Paprika
1 tsp ground anise
1 tsp dried mint
1 tsp black sesame seeds


Preparation:

1- Bring the milk to a boil while stirring occasionally. 
2- After it boils, allow to cool off for about an hour while covered.  It is now safe to add the yogurt. 
3-Whisk the yogurt in to make sure it is fully blended in with the milk. Let it sit for 24 hours.
4-The following day you will see that the milk has turned into yogurt.  Pour the yogurt into the cheesecloth bag and hang for around 4 days. 
5-Three days later you will notice that the yogurt turned into what we call Labneh.  The consistency at this point should be the same as that of cream cheese.  At this point you can add the salt, cumin, Paprika, gound anise, Cayane pepper and 1 tsp of the black pepper. Use your hands to mix the spices in with the Labneh.  Before you add any of the spices however, make sure the Labneh is not moist. The less moisture the better. If it is still moist simply wrap it with a few paper towels and let it sit for an additional day.
6-Now you are ready to make the Shankleesh balls.  Here it is your choice to roll them into tennis balls or golf balls. 
7-On the side and in a small plate mix the rest of the spices as the Shankleesh balls will be rolled/dipped in those spices.
8- After you have all the balls ready, dip them in the spice mix then wrap each ball with cheese cloth.  If you don’t have cheese cloth you can use paper towels.  The Shankleesh balls will have to sit for 10 days before you can do anything with them.  Every other day make sure you check on them because you might need to change the cloth as it keeps soaking out the water from the Shankleesh.  By the time they are ready they need to be totally dry. 
9- Finally place the balls in a glass jar and pour olive oil over them and allow them to sit for another day or two before serving.  I know it is quite a long process, but so worth it! 


Shankleesh Salad:

Ingredients:

2 cups of crumbled Shankleesh
1 tomato
1 cucumber
1 small red onion
A pinch of salt
2 tbs olive oil

1-      Chop the onion, tomato and cucumber finely.
2-      Mix all the ingredients together.
3-      Serve with pita bread on the side.

Comments

  1. This is awesome. I've had this page open for several days, not wanting to close it till I read the whole thing and saved it in my bookmarks. I adore labneh and I can't wait to try this version. I want to make sure - you leave it outside for the 10 days right? (Not in the fridge..) I can't wait to try it, Alan! Thanks for sharing. The story about your Nana is very touching too!!

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  2. Thank you Heba! Yes 10 days is how long it took me until the paper towels I used were completely dry. I changed them once ever two days. No fridge! Just on your kitchen counter or inside your oven while its off of course. Let me know if you have any questions. By the way, if you wanted to skip the Labneh process, you can just buy the yogurt and use that instead of using the milk. Strain the yogurt in a cheese cloth bag for a few days if you wanted to save some time. As for Nana, thank you :) she is a very special person in my life and has always been an inspiration for me in cooking and so much more :)

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  3. Very nice Alaa, and I stand witness to the fact that it's the best version shankleesh I've tasted.

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  4. I remember my Syrian aunts and Sita making this-- they strained/dried the yogurt in cheese cloth for several days, lightly salted. Then they formed tennis sized balls and wrapped them in cheese cloth or paper towel once there was no more moisture. They were put in mason jars and left in the attic to mold for several weeks. Then the mold was scraped/washed off and the balls were rolled in Zatar. It seems you have left out the molding part-- that's what gives it the pungent taste. Any insight into the difference?

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