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In the U.S., most yogurt is eaten sweet, with fruit, honey or jam, either mixed in by the producer or in home kitchens. That’s not so much the case in other parts of the world, where you find yogurt in a wide array of savory dishes.

Here in Sonoma County, we have excellent yogurts made from local milk, which is known as some of the best and cleanest milk in the country. Winter, especially a stormy winter like this one has been, is a great time to spend leisurely hours cooking and one way to do that is to explore recipes from India and the Middle East that call for significant amounts of yogurt.

The techniques are not difficult and the results are always delicious. The most difficult part — and it’s not difficult at all — is to make sure your pantry is stocked with the necessary spices, including ground turmeric, ground cumin, and ground cayenne, and a good curry powder. (You can, of course, make your own curry powder but that is a topic for another time.)

Some of the best yogurt dishes barely need a recipe. To make yogurt cheese, for example, all you need to do is line a strainer with a few layers of cheese cloth and set it over a deep bowl. Stir a bit of salt (a teaspoon for every 2 cups) into the yogurt, pour it into the strainer, and let it drain until it reaches a consistency of cream cheese. The whey that has drained off can be used to make sauerkraut.

You can also substitute yogurt for sour cream in many recipes, such as sour cream coffee cake, which is good to know when you find yourself with the former but not the latter.

When you buy yogurt, be sure to read the ingredient list. The best yogurt contains only milk, live yogurt cultures, and, sometimes, cream. Whole milk yogurt is your best option, as it contains the most nutrients; it also functions properly in recipes. You can make your own Greek-style yogurt by using the same technique as you use for making yogurt cheese; simply stop draining when the yogurt has reached the consistency you prefer. Some commercial Greek-style yogurts lack the bright acidity that makes yogurt so wonderful.

For links to savory yogurt recipes from the Seasonal Pantry archives, visit “Eat This Now” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

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For the best flavor, use local chicken with its bone and skin intact. The chicken needs to be marinated overnight or at least 8 hours.

Chicken with Yogurt and Curry Spices
Serves 4 to 8

8 chicken thighs (bone in, skin on)
— Kosher salt
— Black pepper in a mill
2 cups plain whole milk yogurt
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1/2-1 teaspoon ground cayenne, to taste
3 tablespoons clarified butter (ghee), peanut oil or mild olive oil
1 onion, cut into small dice
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 serrano chilies, roasted, peeled, and minced
1 tablespoon hot curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 cups chicken stock
31/2 cups steamed Jasmine or Basmati rice (from 1 cup raw)
1/2 cup fresh chopped cilantro leaves
— Commercial or homemade chutney
— Toasted peanuts, optional
— Toasted coconut, optional
— Raisins, optional

Set the chicken on a clean work surface and season it all over with salt and pepper.

Put half the yogurt into a wide bowl, add half the ginger, half the turmeric, and the cayenne and mix well. Put the chicken into the yogurt and turn each thigh to coat it thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours and as long as overnight.

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator. Put the butter or oil into a heavy saucepan set over medium heat, Add the onion, and sauté until it is soft and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and serranos and sauté two minutes more.

Add the chicken, skin side down, increase the heat to high, and cook until the skin is lightly browned. Turn the chicken over, add the remaining ginger and turmeric, the curry powder, and the cumin and pour in the stock. When the liquid boils, reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and cook for about 20 to 25 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Uncover, increase the heat to medium, and cook until the juices thicken a bit. Taste and correct for salt and pepper.

Mound the rice in the center of a large platter and arrange the chicken on top of it. Spoon the pan juices over everything and scatter half the cilantro on top.

Serve right away, with the remaining yogurt, cilantro, chutney, peanuts, coconut, and raisins alongside as condiments.

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The Main Street Deli in Sebastopol, which made a extraordinary lamb shawarma, closed a while ago so the best place to enjoy this classic Syrian dish may be in your own kitchen.

Lamb Shawarma with Tahini and Chickpeas
Serves 6

— Tahini Sauce (recipe follows)
2 pounds lamb
— Kosher salt
— Black pepper in a mill
2 cups plain whole milk yogurt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 lemon, juiced
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
— Pinch of ground clove
1 cup cooked chickpeas
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, very thinly sliced
2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley
2 tablespoons minced cilantro
2 tablespoons minced mint leaves
3 sheets fresh lavosh, cut in half, or 6 whole pitas
— Oregano sprigs or mint sprigs

First, make the sauce and set it aside.

Set the lamb on a clean work surface, and cut it into very thin slices; cut the slices into 1/2-wide strips. Put the sliced lamb into a bowl, season with salt and pepper and toss. Pack the lamb into a freezer bag.

In a small bowl, combine 1 cup of the yogurt with the olive oil, the lemon juice and the oregano, bay leaf, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove. Season with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning; the flavors should be bright and bold.

Pour the sauce into the bag with the lamb. Press out the air, seal the bag and massage it a bit to thoroughly coat the lamb with the marinade. Refrigerate overnight or for at least 8 hours.

To finish the dish, preheat the oven to 300 degrees and transfer the lamb and marinade to a medium saute pan set over medium heat and cook for about 7 or 8 minutes or a little longer if you prefer it well done. Taste and when it is to your liking, remove it from the heat, cover and keep hot. Heat the lavosh or pita in the oven, until they are heated through but tender, not toasted.

Working quickly, put the cooked chickpeas into a small bowl, season with salt and pepper, add the extra virgin olive oil and toss. Set aside briefly.

Set the bread on a clean work surface and divide the meat among them. Season with salt and pepper, top with red onion and drizzle with tahini sauce. Scatter chickpeas on top of the sauce. Sprinkle the parsley, cilantro and mint on top and add a generous dollop of the remaining yogurt.

Fold or wrap the bread and transfer to warm plates. Garnish with herb sprigs and serve immediately, with the remaining yogurt alongside to use as a condiment.

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Tahini Sauce
Makes about 1 cup

2 garlic cloves, crushed
— Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed, toasted and crushed
— Black pepper in a mill
— Juice of 1/2 lemon, plus more as needed
1/2 cup raw tahini, stirred
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Put the garlic into a mortar or suribachi, sprinkle with salt and grind with a wooden pestle until it has been reduced to a smooth paste. Add the cumin, several turns of black pepper and the lemon juice; mix well. Stir in the tahini and olive oil. Thin the sauce with water, about 1 tablespoon at a time, until it reaches a pourable consistency, not too thin and not too thick. Taste and correct for salt, pepper and acid, adding a little more lemon juice if it is a bit bland. Transfer to a small bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Michele Anna Jordan is author of the new “Good Cook’s” series. E-mail her at michele@micheleannajordan.com and viist her blog at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

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