Today's Special: Miami Recipes

Lay it on thick: Yogurt brings a creamy tang to many dishes

Yogurt two ways: In a tomato salad, top, and mixed with purslane.
Yogurt two ways: In a tomato salad, top, and mixed with purslane. David Loftus

Yogurt seems to be taking over the dairy case at supermarkets.

What was once a small selection of fruit flavors plus some nonfat choices, yogurt has been transformed from the 1970s hippie food into a cornucopia of brands and styles and toppings. And consumers are looking beyond yogurt’s fruity, sugar-sweetened incarnations to explore its savory potential.

Yogurt is simply fermented milk. The cooking process combines warmed milk (either cow, sheep or goat) with bacteria to thicken the milk and create that tangy flavor. Thanks to this flavor and its creamy texture, yogurt works well in a lot of cooking applications and can be used when buttermilk, sour cream or crème fraîche is called for in recipes.

From creamy dips to salad dressing and tender fried chicken, yogurt can be easily incorporated into your recipes. Plain, unsweetened yogurt (usually full-fat and Greek-style) is an ingredient I reach for when I cook.

Yogurt is an ancient staple of global cuisines — Greek, Indian, Pakistani, Turkish — and it’s very healthy as a source of protein and calcium and the so-called good bacteria. In the Middle East, yogurt is strained into a super thick, cream-cheese-like spread called labneh. In India, yogurt is eaten mixed with rice and in raita: the classic Indian cucumber condiment. The Turks, from whose language the word yogurt originates, often pair it with kebabs.

It’s time to take yogurt beyond smoothies or fruit and granola for breakfast. Some general yogurt tips:

▪ Mix yogurt with garlic, cucumber and dill for a Greek tzatziki, or add chopped shallots and balsamic vinegar for an onion dip. I like to add fresh herbs or pesto sauce to yogurt for a savory condiment. You can easily turn that yogurt dip into a creamy salad dressing by thinning it out with a little water, lemon juice or olive oil.

▪ For an instantly luxurious soup, top it with a spoon of yogurt. This works particularly well for cold soups, like gazpacho. A dollop of yogurt on hot butternut squash or tomato soup adds texture and color.

▪ Yogurt is great for marinades because it helps break down the enzymes in meat, adding flavor and moisture while tenderizing. This is the reason so many Middle Eastern and Indian dishes depend on yogurt marinades.

▪ Yogurt makes a delicious sauce to be drizzled over steaks and roasts, particularly with chile spice-rubbed meats, where it provides some cooling relief to the heat.

▪ Homemade yogurt is very easy to make. There is no need for special equipment or ingredients. Heat 5 cups organic whole milk to 185 degrees, remove from heat and cool to 110 degrees. Place 1/3 cup plain yogurt with active cultures in a large bowl and gradually whisk in the milk. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and poke a few holes for ventilation. Place in a warm, draft-free place overnight. I like to store it in my turned-off microwave oven. Pour into containers with tight fitting lids and place into the refrigerator until the yogurt thickens. Reserve at least 1/4 cup of this yogurt to begin next batch.

▪ To make Greek-style yogurt, carefully ladle the yogurt into a sieve lined with a double layer of cheesecloth and refrigerate until much of the whey is drained and the yogurt is thick, at least four hours. Transfer the yogurt to a bowl and serve.

Carole Kotkin is manager of the Ocean Reef Club cooking school.

Purslane and Yogurt Salad

Bunch of purslane, washed and trimmed (watercress, parsley, spinach or arugula are good substitutes when purslane is unavailable)

3 tablespoons thick yogurt

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 lemon

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the purslane in a bowl. Add the yogurt and olive oil and season generously with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Squeeze the lemon half over the salad, mix well and serve. Makes four servings.

Per serving: 85 calories (68 percent from fat), 7.1 g fat (1 g saturated, 5 g monounsaturated), 0 mg cholesterol, 2.9 g protein, 4.7 g carbohydrates, 0.6 g fiber, 43 mg sodium.

Source: “Eat Istanbul,” by Andy Harris and David Loftus (Chronicle Books, $29.95).

Tomato and Yogurt Salad

8 small ripe tomatoes, quartered

1/4 cup thick yogurt

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon sumac

Place tomatoes in a bowl. Add the yogurt, olive oil and vinegar and season generously with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Combine well and sprinkle with the sumac just before serving. Makes two servings.

Per serving: 220 calories (83 percent from fat), 20.6 g fat (2.8 g saturated, 14.8 g monounsaturated), 1.4 mg cholesterol, 3.9 g protein, 5.8 g carbohydrates, 1.5 g fiber, 17 mg sodium.

Source: “Eat Istanbul,” Andy Harris and David Loftus (Chronicle Books, $29.95).