Yogurt “Cheese” Balls with Za’atar and Sumac

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Credit: The Essential Mediterranean by Nancy Harmon Jenkins
The National Culinary Review, November 2003


4 cups whole milk yogurt
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons za’atar
1 tablespoon sumac
1 teaspoon ground red Middle Eastern pepper (Aleppo pepper, Turkish pepper), optional


Method: Put yogurt to drain in a fine-mesh sieve or a special yogurt strainer for at least 24 hours. When yogurt is very thick and has reduced to about half the original quantity, remove from strainer, discarding the whey. Transfer yogurt to a bowl and add salt, mixing in very well. Have a tray ready or baking sheet spread with clean dish towels. Dip your hands in water, then take a small amount of yogurt and shape it into a ball the size of a walnut. Set ball on tray and continue with remaining yogurt. When all yogurt is shaped, set another dish towel lightly on top of them and put them aside to dry for at least 24 hours. In a small bowl, mix together the za’atar and sumac, with the red pepper if you wish. Take a ball and roll it gently in mixture to coat it lightly. Continue with other yogurt balls. When all balls are coated, set them in a single layer on a tray. Refrigerate until you are ready to serve.

Variation: Instead of rolling yogurt balls in herb mixture, transfer them to a clean glass jar and fill jar with extra virgin olive oil, to which you could add a couple of whole, dried, red chile peppers and a few bay leaves. Submerged in oil, they will keep for a week to 10 days. If refrigerated, however, they must be brought back to room temperature before serving.


35 to 40 small yogurt balls


Appetizer, The National Culinary Review

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