Labneh balls, or fresh shanklish, are a Levantine staple, very popular in Middle Eastern cuisine. This yogurt-based cheese is made by straining Greek yogurt until thickened, then rolling into balls and coating with herbs and spices. They're delicious as a snack or part of a meze!
Since this recipe doesn't need a fermentation or aging period, it's ideal for home cooks and beginners. Serve with crusty bread, Lebanese pita, Taboon (flatbread), homemade naan, Jerusalem bagels, Turkish pide bread, your favourite crackers, or crudité.
Why You Should Try Shanklish
This fresh cheese is so easy to make at home and infinitely customizable. It makes a great gift or part of a spread for guests, and you can control exactly what's used for flavouring.
- Coat with whatever you like: you can go for a spicy cheese with chili flakes, a little more mild with za'atar spice blend, or even fresh herbs if serving immediately.
- It only needs a few ingredients: the base recipe is only 2 ingredients, and you add the herbs and spices if you want to.
- It's a good first step: if you're interested in making your own cheese but not sure where to begin, this is the best place to start. Baby steps!
The two base ingredients here are easy-to-find Greek yogurt and salt. Store the cheese in olive oil and coat with herbs and spices you have on hand (or make your own blends). It could hardly be simpler!
Ingredient Notes and Substitutions
- Yogurt: a good thick Greek yogurt is the best choice, and easiest to get, but Turkish yogurt is also excellent. It should be full-fat and unflavoured.
- Flavorings: while I've given the traditional options in the recipe card, you can use other spice blends or herbs to coat the balls. Za'atar and Sumac are quite traditional and a must in my opinion.
- Olive oil: don't spend the money on expensive olive oil for the oil used to cover the balls in the refrigerator, it's not worth it.
See the recipe card for full information on ingredients and quantities.
How to Make This Recipe
The active time for this recipe is low, essentially only spooning the yogurt into the cheesecloth and then rolling into balls. Otherwise it's a day or two straining in the refrigerator.
1. Mix the yogurt: combine the yogurt and salt in a mixing bowl (Image 1).
2. Prepare the sieve: line a fine mesh sieve with three layers of cheesecloth, then add the yogurt mixture to it (Image 2).
3. Fold it up: fold the cheesecloth over the yogurt mixture, then refrigerate for 24-48 hours (Image 3).
4. Check the cheese: after a day or two, the yogurt should have thickened significantly (Image 4).
5. Roll the balls: lightly oil your hands, then roll the cheese into balls, transferring to a tray as you go (Image 5).
6. Preserve: Optional - place the balls into a wide-mouth jar, then cover fully with olive oil (Image 6).
7. Coat: add herb and spice blends to shallow bowls. Carefully coat the individual balls (Image 7).
8. Serve: once coated, the cheese should be served the same day (Image 8).
Make Ahead, Storage, and Freezing
Make Ahead: the yogurt can be placed in the refrigerator to strain for up to 48 hours, so you can prep it on a Thursday or Friday to make the balls on the weekend. Be sure to drain the water from the dish every 12 hours or so.
Plain Storage: the labneh can be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator until you're ready to form the balls. Store formed balls in the refrigerator, covered in olive oil, before coating with spices, for up to a month.
Spiced Storage: if rolled in herbs and spices, store in a sealed container in the refrigerator, but the balls should be consumed within 12 hours. Storing them in olive oil can cause separation of the spices and result in faster spoilage, so I don't recommend this.
Freezing: labneh doesn't freeze well and will separate when thawed. I don't recommend freezing this recipe.
What to Serve with Fresh Labneh Balls
You don't need to go wild with serving these, they're excellent as is with crackers or just about any type of bread. To take it up a notch, though, you can serve the balls as part of a larger spread.
- Create a meze with mutabal, homemade hummus, blistered shishito peppers, crackers or homemade naan, and vegetables like cherry tomatoes and pickled (refrigerator pickles, pickled cauliflower, and pickled turnips).
- Serve it for brunch along some Turkish Eggs.
- Serve it as part of a Middle Eastern Breakfast spread
Homemade Labneh is perhaps the easiest cheese for beginners to make at home, and it's a treat to have on hand for very low effort. There are some things to keep in mind for perfect labneh balls, though.
- Leave them plain: the labneh balls can also be served without coating in any herbs and spices if you'd like. This might be preferable if serving to children.
- Store them in oil: this is a great way to extend the life of yogurt, as the balls will keep for up to a month when stored in olive oil. Coat in spice just before serving and you'll always have a good snack on hand.
- Seek out cheesecloth: while a tea towel can be used in a pinch, it's not nearly as effective as real cheesecloth. You can find it at most grocery stores and any kitchen supply store.
- Use the whey: you don't need to pour the whey down the drain (the liquid from straining the yogurt). It can be used for baking bread, making pancakes, and many baking recipes that call for water or milk.
Alternative Names and Spelling
Labneh may also be spelled labaneh, labne, labni, or lebni, depending on the region and dialect. The English spelling sometimes varies, but labneh is most commonly seen.
On the same note, shanklish, the traditional name for this type of cheese, also has a variety of names and spellings, like chancliche and shankleesh. This term typically refers to a yogurt cheese that has been aged, which might be a bit complicated for the home cook. They're just as good fresh.
Labneh is essentially a yogurt cheese, and is made from yogurt. It's thickened by straining almost all of the whey out and is a high-protein fresh cheese.
It has a slightly stronger, tangier flavour than plain cream cheese and is slightly more savoury. Labneh is just as creamy, though!
Any thick, creamy yogurt in a Greek style. Sheep, cow, goat, buffalo — whatever type you prefer, as long as it's a thicker type.
If you make these Labneh Balls or any other side dishes on Urban Farm and Kitchen, please take a moment to rate the recipe and leave a comment below. It’s such a help to others who want to try the recipe.
- 3 cups Greek yogurt
- ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
- Extra virgin olive oil - As needed
- Za'atar, Aleppo chili flakes, dried mint, sumac
- In a bowl, combine the yogurt and salt. Mix well.
- Line a fine-mesh sieve with 3 layers of cheesecloth, so that it overhangs on the sides. Place the sieve over a large bowl. Transfer the salted yogurt to the cheesecloth-lined sieve.
- Take the overhanging edges of the cheesecloth and fold them over the yogurt. Place the bowl in your refrigerator for 24-48 hours to drain. Check on your yogurt every 12 hours and discard the liquid in the bowl.
- When your yogurt has thickened (transformed into labneh), it is time to make the labneh balls.
- Lightly oil your hands with olive oil. Using a spoon or your fingers, take 2-3 tablespoons of labneh and roll into a ball. Transfer the ball to a plate or tray. Repeat with remaining labneh. Refrigerate covered with plastic wrap overnight so that the balls can firm up even further.
- Optional - At this point, you can preserve your labneh balls in oil for future use. In a wide mouth jar, carefully place the formed labneh balls and cover with olive oil. Don't use expensive olive oil for this. Refrigerate for up to 1 month.
- Place your desired herb blends and spices in small, shallow bowls. Working with one labneh ball at a time, carefully coat with the desired flavoring. If the spice or herb blends don't adhere to the labneh balls, coat them with a small amount of olive oil first.
- Serve labneh balls with pita, crackers, crudite. They can be served for breakfast, for a quick snack or as part of a charcuterie board.
- Store the labneh as is in a bowl or container with a lid until you are ready to form the balls.
- Store the labneh balls in a jar with olive oil until you are ready to coat them with the herb blends and spices. Note: The labneh balls can be consumed as is without the flavorings (more kid-friendly this way). They will keep this way for up to a month, in the fridge.
- Spiced labneh balls should be consumed within 12 hours.