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.
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.