The other night I made a version of the Persian dish borani esfanaj (spinach in yoghurt) by tossing fresh spinach which I briefly sautéed with garlic in shallot yoghurt (mast-o-musir) that I brought from a Persian restaurant. It occurred to me that I probably use more yogurt than most, and that’s almost never making a smoothie. A good whole yogurt is a workhorse in my kitchen and can also be in yours.
On the sweet side of the yogurt world, there are jam and granola parfaits, and overnight oats, but yogurt is also a wonderful team player when it comes to cooking. . Its acidity reacts with the baking soda, causing greater lift. Adding yogurt to a batter also balances out the sweetness and makes the crumb of your baked goods more tender. I often use it instead of milk to make pancakes. They rise beautifully and end so light. And there’s Ottolenghi’s truly fabulous Roasted Sumac Strawberries with Yogurt Cream recipe that’s perfect for the early spring strawberries that are popping up now.
But where I really rely on the magic ingredient is in salty applications. Of course, there are all the dips of Balkan and Middle Eastern origin, from Greek tzatziki to Persian yogurt dishes mast-o-khiar (made with cucumbers, walnuts and rose petals) and mast-o- musir (which combines yoghurt with or dried shallots). And often I make a meal of Indian raita and rice. The repertoire of different raitas is vast and goes beyond cucumber.
But you don’t just need to use yogurt for side dishes. It makes a wonderful tenderizing marinade for meat without the risk of the mushy result from over-marinating that you get with lemon or vinegar marinades. I’ve marinated beef, lamb, and chicken in a layer of yogurt, turmeric, cumin, ginger, onions, garlic, and cilantro dozens of times over the years. If you want to learn more about how and why yogurt works so well, cookbook author Nik Sharma dives deep into the science of yogurt marinades.
If you’ve already tried making the crispy rice bottom and failed, next time try mixing a little yogurt into just enough rice to cover the bottom. I think you will find this helps.
I don’t think it’s possible to talk about yoghurt and not mention all the Ottolenghi drizzles he uses wonderfully on salads and pickled vegetables. It uses yogurt as a carrier for all sorts of spices and herbs and maybe the addition of tahini to customize the drizzle. Garnish is more than decoration. Embellishment brings richness and an extra layer of flavor to a particular dish.
And finally, have you ever done finger painting with yogurt? Just add a little food coloring or kool-aid, and let the little ones go wild without worrying about what ends up in their mouths.
Like most things, making your own yogurt is a journey that yields the best product once you gain some experience, but we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to high-quality versions made from pastured cows. without any additions other than the probiotic starter.
Aris Natural Food makes an amazing product in Inglewood. You can find them at many farmers markets. For a real treat, try their lemon yogurt, which is rich and although it looks like foam, it’s also incredibly smooth and dense.
California-based company Strauss makes both a pourable European-style yogurt and a strained Greek version. I use the finest for making overnight oats and the Greek version for everything else. This is exceptional. I asked our Instagram audience what they used, and for those beyond Fage or Trader Joe’s, Strauss was a favorite.
I would also shout out Maple Hill, which uses milk from 100% grass-fed cows, and White Mustache. Both companies are based in New York, but White Mustache has an outpost at Eataly in Century City, where the yogurt is made in-house.