How to Harness the Power of Yogurt for Every Meal of the Day
From soups and marinades to drinks and desserts, yogurt is your ticket to all kinds of recipes.
One of my earliest memories involves my father coming home from the grocery store in our neighborhood in Phoenix, Arizona, with a pint of what he assumed was plain, full-fat yogurt for our family to enjoy alongside meat and vegetable stew. After opening the tub at the table, the three of us exchanged sideways glances: This doesn’t smell right. Once we determined that it wasn’t expired or damaged in some way, we quickly realized what had happened: My father, assuming that American grocery stores (like those in Turkey, where we’re from) carried unflavored yogurt in the large white tubs that filled the dairy aisle, had purchased vanilla yogurt. It quickly became a running joke in our family, asking one another if vanilla-flavored yogurt soup was on the menu.
My father’s simple error highlighted how different cuisines interact with this simple, foundational ingredient — one that Homa Dashtaki, founder of The White Moustache yogurt products and the author of Yogurt & Whey: Recipes of an Iranian Immigrant Life, calls “absolutely exquisite.” Like me, Dashtaki grew up enjoying yogurt in a savory capacity, as a sauce for vegetables, rice, and lentils. “What I think is so fascinating is that in its simplest, fullest form, yogurt is so full of possibility,” she says. “I douse all of my food in it. My plate is one-third rice, one-third whatever the stew is, and one-third yogurt.”
Having a good tub of yogurt in your fridge (see our favorites here) also puts a super-powered ingredient in easy reach. Thanks to its calcium content, yogurt is a terrific marinade. In her book about the science of cooking, CookWise, Shirley O. Corriher explains that the calcium in yogurt activates enzymes in meat that tenderize it without the risk of denaturing it and toughening meat as more acidic marinades do, making it an excellent choice for a long, flavor-enhancing soak for everything from turkey breast to pork chops. The same lactic acid that gives yogurt its signature, gentle tang also makes yogurt handy for baking — when yogurt is combined with an alkaline ingredient like baking soda, the reaction that takes place releases carbon dioxide, which helps give rise to cakes and other baked goods.
Related:19 of Our Favorite Recipes Using Greek-Style Yogurt
So what can’t yogurt do? From binding together a Turkish carrot slaw called Havuç Tarator to serving as a creamy base for a cooling beverage made with cardamom, citrus, and labneh, just about anything. Join us as we explore the many different, delicious ways yogurt is used in cuisines around the world.
Five easy ways to get more out of your next tub of yogurt
Pudra Sekerli Yogurt
Kanlıca, a small village on the Bosporus in Turkey, is famous for its especially creamy, decadent yogurt, which is typically served topped with a spoonful (or two — who are we to judge?) of fluffy powdered sugar. It couldn’t be easier to re-create at home using Cabot’s Greek yogurt, and it plays nicely with a cup of Turkish coffee.
Combining 2 cups Greek yogurt, 1 cup powdered sugar, and vanilla extract makes for a tangy twist on frosting — perfect for Bundt cakes and cupcakes.
Whisk plain yogurt in a bowl with finely chopped parsley, oregano, mint, lemon juice, grated garlic, salt, and pepper to jazz up your salad greens.
For those summer afternoons when it’s too hot to even think about cooking, whip up a refreshing batch of Turkish ayran. This thirst-quencher is made by adding 2 cups ice water, 1 cup plain yogurt, and a pinch of salt to a blender and mixing until frothy.
This iconic Iranian condiment calls for just three ingredients: whole-milk yogurt, sliced dry moosir (dried Persian shallots, available at sadaf.com), and a pinch of salt. Dashtaki says to soak the dried shallots for at least four hours and refrigerate overnight, but the active time needed to make this sauce-meets-dip is less than five minutes, and it lasts for a whole month in the fridge. Use it as a dip, or even drizzle it on pizza.
Cardamom and Yogurt Cooler
The backbone of this refreshing beverage comes from labneh, a tangy staple yogurt in the Middle East that is strained twice, lending it a thicker texture. Black cardamom rounds out the drink with an earthy, floral flavor and smoky aroma that is balanced by sweet honey and bright citrus.
Çilbir (Turkish Eggs)
A contemporary homage to çilbir, a Turkish classic traditionally made with poached eggs, yogurt, and paprika butter, this version simplifies the technique by using a sunny-side-up egg while retaining the dish’s stunning visual appeal. A harissa-influenced take on the popular condiment chile crisp stands in for the paprika butter for an extra-lively twist. Use the versatile leftover chile crisp to punch up everything from eggs to fish, vegetables, and meat.
Havuç Tarator (Turkish-Style Carrot Salad with Yogurt)
The beauty of this dish, which is popular at Turkish meze, a collection of small plates served as appetizers, lies in its effortlessness. Naturally sweet carrots are intertwined with cooling and refreshing yogurt in this dish worthy of sharing. It’s important the carrots are cooked to al dente to maintain some of their integrity and texture for a fulfilling bite each time.
Cardamom Yogurt Cake with Mango Lassi Icing
With yogurt as a moistening agent in the batter, this cake boasts a light, tender crumb infused with warm cardamom. Mango jelly brushed on the cake before the yogurt icing glaze offers a layer of fruity sweetness, while a pistachio garnish adds a satisfying texture. Top the cake with a crowning layer of mango slices just before serving to ensure the fruit’s moisture does not affect the glaze.
Yogurt-Marinated Pork Chops with White Wine–Shallot Sauce
A creamy yogurt marinade infused with mustard and warm celery seeds tenderizes pork chops to keep them juicy while cooking. If marinated overnight, the pork chops will have time to absorb more of the yogurt’s natural sugars. To prevent the marinade from charring due to the sugar content, turn down the heat when cooking, if necessary.
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