- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 8, 2003

CONCORD, N.H. — Sure, yogurt goes great with granola and fruit. It’s also nice sweetened and frozen. If you’re particularly daring, it even can be tasty in baked goods.

But have you tried it in entrees and appetizers?

If not, you should. Yogurt is a great way to add a creamy taste and texture to starters and main courses without resorting to higher-fat items such as sour cream, mayonnaise and even some soft cheeses.

First, a primer on yogurt.

When shopping for yogurt, whether for cooking or eating straight up, stick with the real thing, not yogurtlike products. Natural yogurt will be labeled to indicate it contains live cultures.

It is these live cultures, also called probiotics, that create yogurt from milk by digesting the sugars in it and in the process give natural yogurts their signature tangy, creamy taste.

This process isn’t reserved for dairy milk. Several companies also use the same live cultures to turn soy milk into a dairy-free yogurt. But don’t call it soy yogurt; in the trade, it is cultured soy.

Regardless of whether your tastes tend to dairy or soy, it is important to select the right flavor of yogurt for the task. For baking, vanilla yogurts are nice, imparting a delicate, creamy taste.

For dips, marinades, sauces (such as Greek tzatziki) and other more savory uses, it’s best to stick to plain so the flavor of the yogurt doesn’t compete with other ingredients.

“Yogurt is kind of like tofu in that in many ways it takes on the flavors of whatever it is prepared with,” Stephan Hengst, chef for yogurt maker Stonyfield Farm in Londonderry, said during a recent interview.

“A lot of people don’t realize how flexible it is,” he said. “But we’ve made everything from cheesecakes to guacamole.”

Mr. Hengst, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., said consumers are just beginning to appreciate the versatility of yogurt beyond breakfast and snacks. In baking, for example, yogurt is a great lowfat substitute for oil. He said yogurt substituted equally for oil works especially well in brownies and quick breads, such as banana.

Mr. Hengst said yogurt also is good for cutting the fat in dishes calling for mayonnaise and sour cream, such as potato salad and guacamole. He suggests initially substituting half of the sour cream or mayonnaise to retain more of the original flavor.

Or do a complete substitution and boost the yogurt’s flavor with a bit of mustard or Worcestershire sauce, both of which are delicious in potato salads, he said.

There also is yogurt “cheese,” which is made by slowly draining the liquid, or whey, from yogurt using cheesecloth. Letting it drain overnight in the refrigerator is best. The draining leaves behind a thick, creamy yogurt that can be substituted for cream and ricotta cheeses.

This thickened yogurt is wonderful when combined with a pinch of salt and diced fresh herbs, such as scallions, dill or mint. Drizzle the “cheese” spread with a bit of olive oil and serve with thick slabs of fresh bread.

Try adding a bit of crushed garlic to the herbed spread and slathering it on a baked potato, or place a hearty scoop of it in the middle of a tray of nachos, sour cream-style.

For an easy summer meal that’s a little cool and a little hot, try Mr. Hengst’s creamy gazpacho, a chilled, no-cook soup. His version has creamy yogurt to tame the spicy warm-weather treat.

This dish is best with very fresh ingredients. It also is best to make and serve the same day. Cultured soy can be substituted for the dairy yogurt.

Creamy gazpacho

This recipe is from Mr. Hengst. The preparation time is 15 minutes.

2 cups cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely diced

3 scallions, chopped

1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped

1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped

2 cloves garlic

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 cups tomato-based vegetable juice

1 cup plain yogurt

1 orange bell pepper, seeded and finely diced

1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and finely diced

2 medium tomatoes, seeded and finely diced

Additional plain yogurt and parsley sprigs for garnish

Combine 1 cup cucumber, scallions, parsley, jalapeno pepper, garlic, salt, pepper and lemon juice in a food processor and pulse until well-chopped.

Add the vegetable juice and yogurt, then pulse until ingredients are well-blended. Take care not to overprocess.

There still should be small bits of vegetable in the soup.

Transfer the mixture to a large soup bowl and add remaining ingredients.

Stir well and season to taste with additional salt and pepper. Chill for 1 hour.

To serve, garnish with a dollop of plain yogurt and fresh parsley. Makes 4 servings.

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