- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Take a look at the refrigerator case in the market, and you’ll find plenty of drinkable yogurts. Sweet, fruity and filling, they come in such flavors as strawberry, peach and tropical fruit.

They can be quite rich. One company, which touts its fluid yogurt as resembling creme anglaise (French custard sauce), recommends the beverage as a dessert sauce.

These cultured drinks help feed our ever-increasing appetite for yogurt. In the past 30 years, consumption of yogurt among Americans has quadrupled.

At our stores such dairy drinks might be new, but in some parts of the world beverages made from yogurt have been known since ancient times. They have long been important to the daily diet in the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East and the Caucasus. In contrast to the yogurt drinks in our supermarkets, which imitate thick smoothies, in other regions of the globe many are designed not as desserts but as savory thirst quenchers for hot weather.

Popular in areas where people enjoy yogurt’s natural taste, they are often tart rather than sweet.

If you’re feeling adventurous, stroll through an Iranian grocery store and try the Persian yogurt soda called “doogh.” The first time my husband and I tasted it, we reacted differently.

Being from the Middle East, Yakir liked it immediately. Since I grew up in the United States where sweet drinks are the norm, the fizzy, tangy, slightly salty beverage seemed odd to me. However, I quickly acquired a taste for the cooling drink.

On trips to Turkey and Israel, we enjoyed the popular Turkish ayran, which some call Turkish buttermilk. Smooth, creamy and rich tasting, it went down easily in the sultry late summer weather.

Like the Persian version, it was tangy and slightly salty, but it wasn’t carbonated. We loved it as an energy-restoring snack and soon discovered that the Turks don’t limit it to between-meal pick-me-ups. Ayran is frequently served with kebabs, other meat dishes and rice pilaf as an accompanying beverage.

Then we found tahn, which is similar to ayran, at an Armenian market. Sonia Uvezian, author of “The Cuisine of Armenia” (Hippocrene), notes that it is the best-loved drink for serving with meals. “An Armenian will offer his guest a tall glass of ice-cold tahn just as one would offer a soft drink here” in the United States.

Recipes for these three yogurt drinks are as simple as can be. They are just yogurt diluted with ice-cold water, with salt to taste. For a bubbly beverage, add sparkling water.

Frequently they are made from cows’ milk yogurt, but depending on regional preferences, goats’ or sheep’s milk yogurt might be used instead.

Blend the ingredients in a bowl or blender.

Make the drink light or luscious, depending upon the ratio of yogurt to water. As a basic recipe, many mix yogurt with an equal amount of water. Others prefer twice as much water as yogurt, especially for serving with a meal. For a satisfying milkshake-like drink use more yogurt.

For a sweeter taste, add milk instead of part of the yogurt, but the drink is always served cold, often over ice. Garnish with a sprinkling of dried or chopped fresh mint, a common Middle Eastern yogurt partner. Afghans enhance the cooling effect by adding a little grated cucumber.

At a Russian deli we discovered kefir, a related beverage with a creamy consistency and a slightly sour taste. It is made from milk fermented with kefir cultures, which are different from yogurt cultures. Like doogh, kefir sometimes has a slight carbonation. Legend has it that the people of the northern Caucasus Mountains, where kefir is thought to have originated, received the starter from the prophet Mohammed and kept it a secret for centuries. The Russians popularized kefir. It now comes in sweetened fruit flavors.

Many consider tart, liquid yogurt to be the best way to refresh yourself on a sizzling summer day. “On a hot summer’s day it is incomparable. It succeeds in quenching the thirst without immediately creating a new one,” writes Margaret Shaida in “The Legendary Cuisine of Persia” (Interlink). Miss Shaida stirs in lemon juice and sour cream “to give a hint of the rich sour yogurt drink of Persia.”

Cooks in India have developed a great number of yogurt beverages called “lassi.” For savory versions, they spice the yogurt with toasted ground cumin and black pepper. They make slightly sweet yogurt drinks, as well, adding nutmeg, cardamom or fruit and sugar.

In her award-winning volume, “1,000 Indian Recipes” (Wiley), my friend Neelam Batra offers a simple version by combining sweetened yogurt with water, crushed ice and a sprinkling of mint, and notes that you can add rose water or saffron. In addition to the well-known mango lassi, which often appears on Indian restaurant menus, she prepares variations from nectarines, peaches, bananas and berries.

Mango yogurt cooler (Mango lassi)

This refreshing drink can be served over ice cubes. You can substitute 4 sliced fresh peaches or nectarines (about 1 cups) or 10 to 16 ounces frozen peaches or other frozen fruit for the mango. If using fresh peaches, increase the sugar to 5 tablespoons, or to taste. If using frozen fruit in syrup, you can use the syrup instead of sugar.

1 large or 2 medium mangoes (1 to 1 pounds) or 10 to 16 ounces frozen mango, thawed but still cold, or 1 to 1 cups canned mango pulp

2 cups nonfat plain yogurt or 1 cup yogurt and 1 cup milk

4 tablespoons sugar or 3 tablespoons honey or to taste

If using fresh mango, hold it with one end pointing toward you. Cut downward on either side of the flat pit, as near to pit as possible, cutting the mango into two halves. (A ring of mango meat will adhere to the pit.) On each mango half, score mango into cubes in a crisscross pattern without piercing the skin. Then press from the skin side upward. The cubes of mango can then be removed easily with a spoon. Cut remaining mango from around the pit and remove peel.

In a blender, puree mango with yogurt, 1 cup ice-cold water and sugar until smooth. Taste and add more yogurt, water or sugar, according to desired consistency and sweetness. Serve in glasses. Makes 4 servings.


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