If they survive the pasteurization process, you should find the bacteria -- usually Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria -- listed on the container among the ingredients, right after milk. Both types have long reputations as probiotics, bacteria that are beneficial to the intestinal tract and immune system. Beyond that, yogurt is a terrific source of protein and calcium. Many people who are otherwise lactose-intolerant can digest it.
Still, health isn’t the reason that yogurt is a staple of cuisines in the Caucasus, Balkans, Mediterranean and India. Yogurt is wonderful to cook with, much more than a breakfast food, and this week’s recipes will showcase a variety of dishes made with it.
Look for plain, minimally processed brands with no added gums, stabilizers or sweeteners. I prefer low-fat to nonfat, which can be watery and sour, and may contain fewer fat-soluble vitamins.
Yogurt is a great way to get calcium, and it’s also rich in immune-boosting bacteria. But next time you hit the yogurt aisle, pick up the Greek kind—compared with regular yogurt, it has twice the protein (and 25% of women over 40 don’t get enough). Look for fat-free varieties like Oikos Organic Greek Yogurt (90 calories and 15 g of protein per 5.3-ounce serving).
Drained of much of its water content, yogurt becomes a thick, creamy product known in the Middle East as labna or labne. Drained yogurt is like a moist, fresh, tangy cheese, and it makes a great spread or dip. In Turkey and in the Middle East, a number of dips and salad dressings are based on drained yogurt combined with pureed garlic and chopped fresh herbs. Drained yogurt can be mixed with chopped cucumbers for salads or with chopped dried apricots for a sweet and tangy dip.
2 cups low-fat yogurt
Line a strainer with a double thickness of cheesecloth and set it over a bowl. Place the yogurt in the strainer, and refrigerate for at least two hours (preferably four hours or longer). Transfer to a covered container and refrigerate again. Serve as a spread, dip, or topping for rice, or use as the base for a salad dressing.
Variations: Mix in any of the following:
1 to 2 plump garlic cloves, cut in half, green shoots removed, and mashed to a paste with 1/4 teaspoon salt in a mortar and pestle
1 to 2 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh peppermint or dill (or other fresh herbs of your choice)
1/2 cup finely chopped dried apricots
1/2 teaspoon or more ground toasted cumin seeds, curry powder or other spices
Yield: 1 cup
Advance preparation: Drained yogurt will last as long as the regular kind, so check the sell-by date on the container. The yogurt will continue to give up water, which you should simply pour away.