For thousands of years in cultures around the world, yogurt has been an irreplaceable food source. It’s easy to make, simple to serve, loaded with nutrients and adaptable to virtually any cuisine. Yogurt can be a super snack food, a sumptuous spread or dip, or a mouth-watering marinade. Plain yogurt can be used in cooking as a healthier substitute for cream, sour cream, mayonnaise or butter.
My yogurt experience started modestly decades ago, with cups of commercial yogurt for snacks, usually during one of my “I have to lose 10 pounds” diet frenzies. Back then when choices were limited, eating yogurt seemed more like a job than an adventure.
My, how times have changed. The quality, selection and varieties of yogurt available at chain grocery stores, independent grocers, health food stores and farmers’ markets are vast. From huge dairy companies to artisanal, small batch creameries, there is a yogurt out there for any palate and any pocketbook.
My refrigerator always contains a tub of plain yogurt. I use it when I whip up a smoothie after a workout. I use it in salad dressing. Yogurt is my secret ingredient in so many dishes, from potato salad to deviled eggs. It can even add tang and protein to baked goods.
Here are three of my favorite yogurt recipes.
⇓ ORANGE MANGO DREAMSICLE SMOOTHIE
I work out almost every day so it’s important that before I hit the gym, I fuel up. Smoothies do the trick for me and yogurt is the foundation of all my smoothie concoctions. Here’s one that’s light, refreshing and slightly sweet without any added sugar.
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup frozen mango chunks
1/2 cup milk
Zest from one orange
Blend all ingredients thoroughly and enjoy. (I love my Magic Bullet for this. They are inexpensive, compact and efficient.)
Serve for breakfast or anytime you need a satisfying, protein-packed pick-me-up.
⇓ YOGURT SOUP (YAYLA ÇORBASI)
I’m told that this soup is practically a national dish in Turkey, a comfort food that will cure what ails you. A handful of straightforward ingredients finished by rich, mint-infused butter make this an unforgettable change of pace from the ordinary.
1/4 cup white rice
5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 cups plain yogurt
2 tablespoons warm water
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
In a saucepan, bring stock to a boil and add rice. Reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook until rice is very soft, about 20 minutes. Not all the stock will be absorbed.
In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and flour. While whisking, add the yogurt until combined. Whisk in warm water to temper the egg.
Put the mixture into a saucepan and cook on very low heat, making sure not to curdle the yogurt. Continue cooking on low heat, while stirring constantly for 10–15 minutes.
Pour the rice and stock into the yogurt mixture and continue stirring.
Over medium heat bring the soup to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cook for another 5–10 minutes.
In a small sauté pan over medium-low heat, melt the butter and add mint. Do not let the butter brown.
Drizzle butter and mint over the soup and serve immediately.
⇓ CREAMY AVOCADO CILANTRO SPREAD
This yummy spread is a workhorse in my kitchen. It takes a plain burger from ordinary to swoonworthy. It makes a standout dip when served with veggies, chips or toasted pita bread. And don’t get me started on how great it is on fish tacos!
2 medium avocados, ripe
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1/2 cup yogurt
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/2–3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Dash of Sriracha or other hot sauce (optional)
Slice avocados in half, remove pit and skin and slice into a mixing bowl. Gently mash avocados until they are still a bit chunky.
Mix in yogurt, cilantro, onion, lime juice, hot sauce (if using) and salt.
Serve as a dip for veggies or chips, a spread on burgers or sandwiches, a garnish on tacos or anywhere your hungry heart desires.
YOGURT SUBSTITUTION CHART
You can cut fat and calories and boost the protein in many foods by using yogurt as a substitute for many common ingredients. Here are just a few:
USE THIS ⇒ NOT THAT
1 cup Greek yogurt ⇒ 1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup yogurt ⇒ 1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup yogurt + 2/3 cup oil ⇒ 1 cup oil
1/2 cup yogurt + 1/2 heavy cream ⇒ 1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup yogurt + 1/2 cup butter ⇒ 1 cup butter
Candace Karu makes her living writing about food, fitness and travel. Follow her on Instagram: @candacekaru or at candacekaru.com.