FULL-FAT yogurt is a game changer.
Thicker, creamier, and more alluring, its luxurious texture and flavor … enables it to masquerade as ice cream or sour cream, the plain unflavored style edging out more complicated savory toppings on dishes such as couscous, pureed soups or spicy braised chicken. Yogurt-based marinades make meat tender, juicy and beautifully browned.
Sales of full-fat yogurt are soaring, with increasing varieties of the whole-milk superstar lining up side by side in dairy aisles. With either Greek-style thick or softer standard yogurt, the milk fat contributes a seductive mouth-feel and butter-like richness.
Janet Fletcher, author of “Yogurt” (Ten Speed, $19.95), specifies that the plain yogurt used in most of her recipes shouldn’t be nonfat. Often she calls for whole-milk yogurt, but a low-fat product can be substituted in many of her recipes.
“Whole-milk yogurt is richer, smoother, and fuller in body,” Fletcher says. “Reduced-fat yogurt tends to be tangier, chalkier and less silky … Milk fat balances yogurt’s acidity in the way that cream softens coffee.
Calorie-wise, no biggie as an ingredient:
“Almost any dish will taste better if made with a whole-milk yogurt, and the calorie difference per serving is minimal. In a recipe that serves four that uses one cup of yogurt, choosing a whole milk product over nonfat raises the calorie count by about 50. When divided four ways that’s a modest investment in better texture and taste.”
Drained or spun, pure or augmented:
Many manufacturers use filtration to concentrate the milk before it is cultured, or they centrifuge it to eliminate the whey after the fermentation process. Some add cornstarch, powdered milk protein or whey protein. Many add stabilizers, such as pectin or tapioca starch. Fletcher says that it isn’t harmful but she doesn’t like the pudding-like texture it renders.
She looks for yogurt labels that list just milk and active cultures.
The best: She often prefers the softer texture of plain standard yogurt rather than Greek-style that she says is too thick. She prefers to cook with home-drained yogurt, especially in salads. Home draining allows her to control the thickness (see recipe).
There is an exception. She sites Straus Family Creamery’s Greek-style organic yogurt as an exception to the “too-thick” categorization. She says that she loves it, explaining that it is made with just milk and cultures. No additives. And as for sugar, she says that most flavored yogurts have it.
Is it alive? Extending shelf life makes sense for manufacturers, but pasteurization after it is cultured to accomplish that extended goodness, kills most of the probiotics. Those health-promoting bacteria benefit digestive heath.
Yes, yogurts with active cultures are made with milk that is pasteurized, but it is cultured after that process. The label will reveal if the yogurt contains live and active cultures.
OC chefs embrace full-fat yogurt as a rising culinary star:
Raj Dixit, executive chef of Stonehill Tavern, Dana Point, uses it in savory and sweet dishes.
He uses it to cut some egg yolks and unnecessary oil from his kale Caesar dressing, advising that it adds nice acidity and helps the body to digest minerals from the kale.
Azmin Ghahreman, executive chef-owner of Sapphire Laguna in Laguna Beach, uses full-fat yogurt at his restaurant, but utilizes nonfat in the school lunches prepared at for Sapphire at School, the school lunch program he orchestrates. For the restaurant he prepares zahtar-dusted lamb sirloin served with a yogurt-tahini sauce. He also makes a dried wild shallot spiked yogurt mixture as a garnish for grilled meats or a dip for lavosh crackers.
Zov Karamardian, executive chef-owner of Zov’s Bistro and Bakery in Tustin (plus eateries in Anaheim, Newport Coast, Irvine and John Wayne Airport) uses full-fat Greek-style yogurt in her mezze platters as an Aleppo pepper-topped dip served with a wide variety of Eastern-Mediterranean appetizers. She also uses it as the base of marinades for her chicken kebobs, and to temper the broth for a dumpling dish called manti.
Harissa-Roasted Chicken with Sweet Peppers
Yield: 6 servings
1/2 cup plain drained yogurt (page 22) or Greek-style yogurt (not nonfat)
1/2 cup coarse harissa paste, see cook’s notes
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, trimmed of excess skin
2 large red bell peppers, halved, seeded, and thinly sliced
2 large gold or yellow bell peppers, halved, seeded, and thinly sliced
1 large red onion, halved and thinly sliced
Cook’s notes: Harissa paste comes in tubes‚ like toothpaste‚ but Fletcher’s favorite brand is a jarred one‚ Les Moulins Mahjoub Organic Traditional Harissa Spread. The recipe includes hot red pepper‚ sun-dried tomato‚ olive oil‚ caraway‚ and garlic. If you can’t find harissa paste‚ purchase dried harissa powder from a spice shop and add enough extra-virgin olive oil to make a paste. Ask the merchant about the ingredients in the powder. If the blend doesn’t contain ground caraway‚ add a good pinch. Look for Les Moulins Mahjoub harissa in specialty foods stores that sell Mediterranean products. It is also available from several online sources‚ including Zabar’s‚ iGourmet‚ Market Hall Foods‚ and Bklyn Larder.
If your menu includes several other dishes, figure one chicken thigh per person. Otherwise, you may want to allow two thighs per person. The roasted chicken benefits from a brief rest to allow the juices to settle.
1. In large bowl, whisk together yogurt, harissa, lemon juice, 1 teaspoon salt, and several grinds of black pepper. Add chicken; use rubber spatula to coat chicken all over with marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 4 to 8 hours. Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before baking.
2. Position rack in upper third of oven and preheat to 425 degrees.
3. Toss sliced peppers and onions together. Season with salt and make a bed of the vegetables in the bottom of a roasting pan large enough to hold the chicken in a single layer. Using rubber spatula redistribute marinade so that it evenly covers both sides of chicken, and then place chicken on top of vegetables. Bake until chicken is well browned on top and the vegetables are tender, about 40 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes.
4. Transfer chicken to a serving platter. Using tongs, toss the vegetables to coat them evenly with the drippings from the chicken, and then place them on the platter with the chicken. Serve immediately.
Source: “Yogurt” by Janet Fletcher (Ten Speed, $19.95)
Fresh Pineapple Lassi
Yield: 1 serving
3/4 cup diced fresh pineapple, preferably chilled
1/2 cup plain drained yogurt or Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 thin slice peeled fresh ginger, about 1/4-inch thick
2 ice cubes
Cook’s notes: Ripe fresh pineapple makes an irresistible lassi, with creamy body, bracing acidity, and natural sweetness. A quarter-size coin of fresh ginger gives it a kick. If you have the pineapple already prepped in the fridge, this lassi takes all of two minutes.
1. Put all ingredients in blender; blend until drink is smooth and frothy and you can no longer hear the rattling of ice. Pour into glass and serve immediately.
Fletcher’s Drained Yogurt
She often drains yogurt, especially homemade yogurt, even if only for an hour (not Greek-style yogurt that is already drained). Draining dramatically improves the texture, making any yogurt thicker, creamier, and mellower by removing whey. Draining also extends the yogurt’s life by removing water and lactose. Reducing the yogurt’s lactose deprives bacteria of their food source. And if you are lactose-sensitive, you should find drained yogurt more digestible.
To drain homemade yogurt, chill it thoroughly first until it is firm. You can drain it as soon as it is cold. Store-bought yogurt has already been chilled, so you can drain it immediately after opening.
Line large sieve or colander with triple thickness of dampened cheesecloth or—her preference—with Plyban, reusable cheesecloth made from a food-grade resin (Plyban’s weave is tighter than cheesecloth, so you don’t need multiple layers, unless yogurt is very thin).
Set sieve or colander over a bowl to collect whey. Gently pour yogurt into the lined sieve or colander. Cover with a plate or cloth—you’re just protecting the yogurt, not pressing it—and refrigerate. Drain yogurt until it has the consistency you like. After an hour, it will be noticeably thicker, and she usually stops at that point. Scrape drained yogurt into a clean container, cover, and refrigerate. (Wash cheesecloth or Plyban well in hot, soapy water; rinse well and air-dry). You can usually get two or three uses out of cheesecloth before it frays. Plyban is much longer-lasting and easier to clean. If you drain the yogurt more than you intended, no problem. Simply whisk some of the whey back in until you have a texture you like. To keep the whey, pour it into a glass jar and refrigerate; it has many potential uses. Source: adapted from “Yogurt” by Janet Fletcher (Ten Speed, $19.95)