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Cooking with Yogurt

Healthy plain yogurt is a wonderful addition to many dishes.

The incredible versatility of plain yogurt combined with its healthful properties, makes yogurt a wonder-food in my kitchen.

I'd been away from yogurt from many years, but it returned to my life a few years ago when I wanted to start soaking my grains with it. And I'm so grateful for its return. I now find yogurt absolutely indispensible in the kitchen.

Yogurt is a live food, full of living bacteria, or "beasties", as a friend of mine endearingly calls them, that perform a variety of beneficial functions in the human organism, as do the enzymes they produce. We live in a symbiotic relationship with them. A recent study estimated there are 10,000 different strains of living organisms within a human body that support its various functions, and life itself. We don't exist as a solitary and separate life form, but in an intricate balance with other life forms.

Yogurt and FruitPasteurized milk, from which yogurt is made, has been heated to temperatures sufficient to kill the living bacteria and destroy the enzymes inherent in raw milk. By introducing living yogurt cultures to this "cooked" milk, we return it to a "live" food. Some of the most important organisms we gain in this process are the lactic-acid-producing bacteria, or lactobacilli, which are destructive to pathogenic bacteria and unlike other beneficial organisms, survive in the stomach, the small intestine, and on into the large intestine.

Most "lactose-intolerant" individuals can handle yogurt, as most of the lactose has been broken down into lactic acid by these living bacteria.

The many uses of yogurt in the kitchen

In the kitchen, the uses for plain yogurt are many. With little effort, you can get three distinct consistencies, each with its own specific uses, from one container of yogurt:

  1. the normal purchased state of mixed whey and solids
    • great for eating plain or mixed with berries or another fruit
    • add to salad dressings to make creamy dressings
    • top hot breakfast cereals or porridges with it, such as Breakfast Quinoa
    • use instead of milk in mashed potatoes

  2. the separated whey is watery-thin
    • use to soak grains before cooking
    • make lacto-fermented vegetables and condiments
    • use in meat marinades as a tenderizer
    • add to vinaigrettes just for the health benefits
    • save to use on your face as an astringent
    • and, if nothing else, feed to your pets

  3. the solids without the whey are thick and creamy

When cooking with yogurt, the best nutritional value is maintained if you can avoid killing the live bacteria and destroying the enzymes. This makes cold dishes, such as fruit and vegetable salads, salad dressings, sandwich spreads, dips, toppings, etc, ideal for using yogurt. For hot dishes, whenever possible, add the yogurt last, after removing your dish from the heat source, and the bacteria and enzymes will be left unharmed.

If you do use it in baked or "cooked" dishes, while the benefits of the bacteria and enzymes will be lost, other benefits remain, such as easier digestibility than other milk products. Not only has the milk sugar, lactose, been broken down by the bacteria, but likewise with the milk protein, casein.

Stonyfield Organic YogurtI used to buy Dannon for its easy availability, but my new favorite has become Stonyfield. Not only is Stonyfield yogurt made with milk from organically-fed and hormone-free cows, but they have a variety with a "cream top" - all the better as a sour cream substitute. Your area may have other quality brands of plain yogurt.

Always choose full-fat yogurts. Why? Because milkfat, or butter, is a nutritious natural saturated fat that is burned for energy by the body rather than stored as fat. It's the medium-chain fatty acids that give butter this wonderful characteristic. The label will never say "full-fat", it just won't say "low-fat" or "non-fat".

Update September 2010: Due to a recent yogurt scare, I researched different brands of yogurt. My results are at Choosing the Best Yogurt.

How to get 3 different thicknesses from one container of yogurt

My mom is, as far as I know, the inventor of this system. She's been doing this since the 1980's at least.

  1. Separating yogurt whey, step 1In a new container of yogurt, make a "well" in the center by scooping out about 3 tablespoons or so. Put this back in the fridge to sit....

  2. Separating yogurt whey, step 2....and in a couple hours the "well" will fill with whey. Using a small ladle or spoon, remove the accumulated whey. Don't attempt to pour off the whey, as tipping the container can collapse the sides. (I put the whey in any leftover salad dressing or start a pot of grain to soak or set it out for the cats.)

  3. Separating yogurt whey, step 3 You now have thickened yogurt along the sides of the well, whey will once again accumulate in the middle for your use, and the regular mixed yogurt is always available by scooping out additional yogurt from the bottom of the well. If you're wanting more of the thickened yogurt, just keep removing the whey from the center as it accumulates.

I personally love this system - it's simple and easy and keeps dirty dishes and containers in the fridge to a minimum. But if you want the thickest possible yogurt solids to use as a cheese substitute, called "yogurt cheese" or sometimes "yocheese", you can strain it with cheese cloth or buy a "yogurt cheese maker".

Once you start cooking with yogurt in the kitchen, you'll find endless uses for this probiotic- and enzyme-rich health food.

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