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April 18, 2015

Yogurt, Greek style

     Don't cry over spilled milk. By this time tomorrow, it'll be free yogurt.

~ Stephen Colbert

As the weather warms up, a conscientious cook's thoughts turn to dishes that require little to no cooking, and can cool and refresh on a muggy day. The humble plain yogurt provides a perfect building block for a range of recipes, both savory and sweet.

I like the dense, lush texture of Greek-style yogurt, and it is simplicity itself to make at home. Straining it yourself has the added advantage of getting the perfect texture every time.

DIY Greek yogurt
Start with some plain whole milk (full fat) yogurt. Check that it does not contain any cornstarch or other thickening agents as they will hinder the process. Not to be pedantic, but whole milk yogurt should really only contain two ingredients - whole milk and active bacterial cultures.
Line a strainer with a coffee filter (a tea towel or even a robust paper towel would work as well). Pour the yogurt into the filter, cover and refrigerate.

The yogurt will immediately start shedding whey (the greenish liquid in the right photo). The whey can replace buttermilk in pancake and waffle recipes. Russian folk wisdom also claims that the whey acts as a tonic if used as a face wash, rejuvenating and refreshing the skin1.
After 3 hours, the yogurt will reach the consistency of Greek yogurt sold in supermarkets. Left overnight, it will become much denser, losing half its mass. The consistency will be similar to that of mascarpone or a soft cream cheese.
It can be served sweet, topped with honey or fruit, replace cream cheese on a lox bagel or in a cress & cucumber sandwich, and, of course, be used to make tzatziki.

Tzatziki is a versatile dish, and one that's perfect in the summer. The cooling combination of cucumber and yogurt is equally fantastic on raw crudites and fried potatoes, and its garlicky tang makes an excellent complement to grilled meats and fish. The best part? It takes about 5 minutes of work to prepare.

Tzatziki-ish dip
Makes 1 Cup - enough to serve 2 as a starter.
  • ½ English (seedless) cucumber, or 1 regular cucumber
  • ½ Cup strained yogurt
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • a handful of dill (and/or mint and/or parsley)
  • a lemon wedge
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Olive oil
Wash the cucumber and herbs, peel the garlic clove.

Coarsly grate the cucumber - it should yield around 1 Cup. If using a regular cucumber, cut in half and scrape out the seeds with a spoon before grating.
Place the grated cucumber in a strainer, salt generously and stir a few times. Set aside for 20 minutes to drain. This step firms up the cucumber flesh and prevents the tzatziki from getting watery.

Finely mince the garlic and chop the herbs. In a bowl, combine with the drained cucumber and yogurt; add freshly grated pepper and a generous squeeze of lemon juice. Mix, taste for seasoning and add salt if needed. If not using immediately, cover and refrigerate.
N. B. The garlic flavor will become more pronounced over time - if it is too mild for your taste, either add more garlic and eat immediately, or let it mellow for an hour or two.

Plate, and drizzle generously with a really good olive oil.
Serve with pretty much anything - pita wedges, barbari bread, crudites, potato chips, grilled lamb, smoked fish, or just eat with a spoon.
It also makes for lovely not-quite-right cucumber tea sandwiches.

1 I am not a dermatologist. I have tried using whey as face wash, with no discernible effect either way. Try it at your own risk!

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