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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ode to the Middle East: Part 1- Shanklish

As we prepare to leave the Middle East, I find myself reflecting on our last five years here.

The people, the culture and traditions, the history and sights, and of course, the food. Our first 3 years in Dubai saw a great plethora of food choices, and we found ourselves eating very similarly to how we would anywhere else in the world. Japanese, Chinese, Western, Grills, Indian and of course, a dabble into Arabic cuisine. However, the last two years in Syria have introduced us to new tastes and great cuisine, and I would like to take this time to share just a little with you.

Let's start with my favorite....Shanklish (or Shangleesh).

Shanklish is like the blue cheese of Syria. Pungent, flavorful and really a "love it or hate it" kind of cheese. It is made out of cow or sheep milk and although you find manufactured varieties everywhere, the best ones are homemade.

Now, I have never actually made Shanklish, however, the basic method is as follows:
  1. Make yogurt by boiling milk, cooling it and fermenting it into yogurt. 
  2. Churn the yogurt and occasionally skim off the butter that forms on top until the yogurt is partially skimmed.
  3. Heat the partially skimmed yogurt until it breaks down into liquid and white residue. Cool and hang in cheese cloth.
  4. Salt the drained cheese and roll it into balls and dry in the sun (about 1 week or more).
  5. Scrape the balls of cheese clean (since they may have a little rot) and roll in thyme or other spices.
  6. Wrap in cloth or put in air tight container and let age in the dark for a week or longer.
When the cheese is ready to eat, you eat it with diced fresh tomatoes, onions, tons of olive oil, and Arabic bread. I like to add some diced cucumber too because it's nice and fresh and crunchy.

I can't really explain the taste profile except to say that it is savory, flavorful and so so delicious. It should definitely be on your "must try" list if you are in Syria!

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