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In Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries, cooks have cherished the tangy and spicy yogurt cheese known as labne for generations. It is a distinctive feta-like cheese rolled in olive oil and seasonings like cloves, chili powder, rosemary, bay leaf and oregano. Some go a few steps farther though, to make shanklish, which takes the labne and crumbles it with more oil, tomatoes, onions and garlic for a stand-alone salad suitable for many types of meals.
Some start shanklish from scratch by making their own yogurt from fresh cow's or goat's milk. According to a simple yogurt recipe from David Fankhauser, a professor of biology at the University of Cincinnati, all that is needed is 1 gallon (about 3.78 liters) of milk and 1 cup (about 226.8 grams) of yogurt, which contains the necessary bacterial starter. After the milk is heated to about 190°F (about 87.8°C), it is cooled and combined with the yogurt. This is then divided among several sealed and sterilized jars, which continue to cook over low heat until the yogurt has formed in each jar.
Either at-home or store-bought yogurt is then used to make labne, a marinated cheese prized on its own throughout Lebanese culture. After being combined with some salt, the yogurt is heaped into small muslin bags and allowed to drain into bowls in the refrigerator for as long as three days. When dried, the cheese is rolled into small balls that are submerged by olive oil in refrigerated jars for another full day. The oil is seasoned with spices like bay leaf, oregano, cloves and rosemary to give the cheese balls a distinctive, salad-ready texture and flavor.
After the labne is fully marinated, it can be used for shanklish. Though ingredients may vary, shanklish is often created by just chopping tomato, onion and garlic. The labne can then be crumbled and tossed with the vegetables, adding a little extra olive oil to coat the vegetables. Some also add other types of vegetables like chopped cucumbers and radishes as well as more fresh herbs for a more colorful dish with more well-rounded flavor.
Shanklish is one of the simpler dishes in which labne is prominently featured. Some dip pita or pita chips into the cheese, while others prefer the more complete shanklish as a dip. The cheese also makes its way into several other dishes, from omelets to soups.
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