Dried Lebne Balls are SO EASY TO MAKE I'm still shocked and excited at the same time. Gearing up to eat lebne balls for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Lebne is basically strained yogurt also known as Greek yogurt or greek style yogurt in the US. In Damascus and other parts of the Middle East, it is served meze style the same way hummus, baba ghanoush, and muhammara are served. It's spread on a small plate, drizzled with olive oil with warm fresh pita bread handy. The type of yogurt used; sheep or cow and the type of olive oil used will affect the taste. I heard in the Gulf countries they even use camels milk, but I personally have never tried camel anything.
These dried lebne balls, sometimes simply called lebne in olive oil are basically strained even longer than traditional lebne, formed into balls and then stored in jars filled with olive oil. I remember in my grandmothers kitchen in Damascus she would store jars and jars of these in her kitchen attic which is called "s'eefay". Her "s'eefay" was just above her kitchen and wasn't like the east coast attics that required you to pull down a ladder. It was just 6 or 7 steps that led to a pantry type space where you had to duck the entire time because of the low ceiling. That's where she stored all her dried items like lentils, various types of rice, dried mint, dried apricots etc and jars of lebne in olive oil, jam, makdoos ( eggplant stuffed with walnuts in olive oil, more of that later) among other items.
One of my earliest memories as a child visiting Syria from New Jersey was of the kitchen attic. I remember my mother telling us all about our cousins our age that lived in the same building as my grandmother. Damascus is a city so none of the homes in the city are stand alone individual homes like they would have in the suburbs. Very common like what my grandparents arrangement is, my grandparents own the building and they live on one floor and my uncle lived on another floor and my other uncle lived above him on another floor. The homes are not small either. My grandparents home was a full 3,500- 4,000 sq ft home, 4 bedrooms with a separate formal guest room, large dining room and living room and wrap around balconies and kitchen attic =).
I remember our flight arrived late at night and everyone was asleep but we were so excited to meet our cousins for the first time. The first thing we asked our grandmother was where our cousins are and she said upstairs sleeping, implying upstairs in their own home which was completly separate. But we happened to be having this conversation in the kitchen with our eyes locked on the stairs leading to the attic.
We waited for everyone to sleep and then we snuck into the kitchen in search of our cousins. It was dark so I remember starting to get creeped out. When we got upstairs and found all the food and jars we were so confused. We decided to go back to bed and wait for the morning. It still had not occurred to us that our cousins did not sleep in a pantry next to rice and lebne balls in olive oil. For a day or two, I remember feeling so bad that our cousins slept in such conditions and thinking how different and weird the Syrian culture is haha. It wasn’t until we went to play with our cousins dolls in their room that we had realized what happened.
My mom called me the other day and said she made lebne balls and for the first time I asked her how to make them. I made sure I was sitting down ready to write down a long complicated step by step. She said get yogurt, salt and a cheese cloth and strain the yogurt and salt. That was it. And she was right, that literally was it. The only “difficult” part is that you have to wait for a few days for it to be fully strained. Before I went to bed a few days ago, I poured the yogurt in the cheese cloth in a colander on top of tuberware and went to sleep. Literally took two seconds. The next day a ton of water was in the tuber ware (see picture above). I threw that out, put it back in the fridge and waited another day. It actually tasted amazing after day 1 but I waited for the full 2 days. I formed them into balls and laid them out on a paper towel and waited another day. AND THAT WAS IT.
I decided to deconstruct the meze platter and instead of serving the lebne balls and zaatar and olives separate I thought why not put them in one jar. I realized as I was doing this why they make them into balls and not just just a spread. My guess is that more liquid is drained out when they are separated. But anyway, I decided none the less to put them in a jar because the lebne tasted amazing at this point even without the extra straining. So I put zaatar at the bottom, lebne in the middle, and olive oil, lemon and fresh tarragon at the top. It was so cute! Everyone I know is going to get a jar from me for the holidays! You. Are. Welcome!
1. Pour yogurt and salt in cheese cloth and colander
2. Wait for 2 days for it to drain all the liquid
3. Form into balls on kitchen paper towel
4. Put in a jar with olive oil