“This wins recipe of the year for me! So creative and beautiful and fun to serve” ~Camila
healthy labneh balls are a gloriously healthy appetizer!
Recently I posted How to Make Labneh (Yogurt Cheese.) That post was all about the basics: how to make a gloriously creamy strained yogurt cheese without any special equipment. Homemade labneh is a healthy fresh cheese that’s beloved all over the Middle East, from Iraq to Israel. You just drain plain yogurt until it becomes thick and spreadable. Eat it as a dip, use it as a spread, or roll it into balls and marinated in oil. In that post I promised you a very special Part 2, and now I’m delivering! I’m turning those silky little balls of yogurt cheese into a truly spectacular appetizer.
Let me call out at the top of this post that these are really REALLY good. I even surprised myself today, and that’s hard to do after all these years of food blogging. I highly recommend trying them, they’re not only fun to make and pretty to look at, but when you spread them on good crusty bread they’re absolutely delicious.
labneh balls start with a batch of homemade yogurt cheese
Let’s get down to the nitty gritty ~ you’re going need fresh made labneh balls (here’s the recipe for labneh from my earlier post) and you’re simply going to roll them in different herbs and spices to coat them. The choice of coatings is up to you, but I think the more varied the better. You probably have several of these already in your spice cabinet, and you may want to purchase a few more if you get turned on by this idea like I did.
I chose to use a mix of common spices and more exotic ones, everything from dill and chili flakes to sumac and lavender. I love the variety but I think this would work just as well with one type of coating, if you have a favorite.
The coatings I used for my jewel box labneh balls have a Middle Eastern/Mediterranean theme
- red chili flakes
- dried dill
- cumin seeds
- crushed pistachios
- crushed walnuts
- nigella seeds
- sesame seeds, both regular and black
- rose petals
- dried mint
- dried cilantro
- aleppo pepper
- poppy seeds
Tip: Labneh cheese can be anywhere from soft to firm, depending on how long your drain your yogurt. Make sure your labneh cheese is firm enough so that these balls will hold their shape.
A few of my coatings might not be available in your regular grocery store, so I suggest a gourmet store, or buying them online.
Rose petals ~ this is a culinary grade and you can find them here.
Lavender ~ also specifically culinary grade, here.
Za’atar ~ a Middle Eastern spice blend (also the name of a specific thyme-like herb) that you can find here.
Aleppo pepper, a bright red zesty Syrian pepper, you can find it here.
Sumac ~ one of my favorite Middle Eastern spices, it’s a deep crimson and has a tangy citrusy flavor, find it here.
Nigella seeds ~ a smokey/oniony black seed that look like black sesame seeds, you can find them here.
How to serve labneh cheese balls
Serving couldn’t be simpler…set our a bowl of the labneh balls, and some great bread, then let everyone have fun hunting for their favorites. The cheese spreads beautifully, and each ball is perfectly sized for a single serving.
perfect for gifting
These jewel box labneh balls are such a great idea for host gifts…instead of a bottle of wine bring along a little container of these gems, you’ll get invited back, for sure!
Jewel Box Labneh Balls
- Labneh balls, recipe for homemade labneh here
assorted coatings such as:
- ground pistachios
- ground almonds
- ground wlanuts
- rose petals
- Roll each labneh ball in the coating of your choice. If the coatings don’t adhere well, lightly coat your hands in olive oil and roll the cheese between your palms to leave a thin film of oil behind. The herbs and spices will stick to the cheese more easily.
- Serve the cheese with fresh crusty bread or crackers. You can also serve the balls as a part of a cheese or mezze platter, or on top of a salad.
- To store, put the cheese in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Best used within 24 hours, but the plain cheese will last a week or so.
- Make them ahead ~ the coated balls will keep nicely in the fridge for a day, well wrapped. Put them in a single layer so nothing gets squished.
- Make one large ball or log shape ~ just like an old fashioned cheese ball, you can form the whole batch of labneh into one ball, or a log shape, and coat it as you like. A coating of fresh pomegranate seeds would be nice for the holidays.
- Mix and match the coatings together to make blends, like red pepper and dill, or sesame and sumac.
- Make this with fresh herbs like dill, cilantro, parsley, and chive, very finely chopped (a small food processor comes in handy for this.) In this case plan to serve them asap.
- Make it with goat cheese or cream cheese ~ just roll and coat in the same way.