Greek yogurt has been a staple in my fridge for about a year now. I’ve eaten Greek yogurt before at restaurants and I’ve purchased it, but I mostly had it as a sweeter dish. I made my own tzatziki about a year ago and realized how versatile Greek yogurt is. This post is an intro to Greek yogurt for those who don’t normally buy it and several of the ways I cook with it.
Although what we normally see in mainstream grocery stores are labeled “Greek,” I am referring to any kind of thick yogurt. Thick yogurt is found far beyond Greece and it’s an everyday staple in many parts of India, Israel, and across the Middle East. Other thick yogurts are made from goat’s milk or have other processes that make them taste slightly different. Of course, if you can get your hands on the real deal, that’s preferred. But the Greek yogurt you find at most grocery stores will work just fine, especially if this is a new ingredient to your fridge.
You maybe more used to “European” yogurt, which is delicious in its own right, but differs in consistency. When you take a spoonful of European yogurt and turn the spoon, it will quickly pour off the spoon. Greek yogurt is thicker and holds its shape better. The two styles of yogurt are used for different dishes, but I’ve just found the texture of Greek yogurt is easier to work with. Plus, you can always thin Greek yogurt to mimic European yogurt, but it’s not easy to do the reverse.
Greek yogurt tends to separate and you will see a thin layer of liquid in the container after your first scoops. Some recipes, like labneh, require a thicker yogurt, so straining your yogurt with a cheesecloth is requested in that recipe while many other dishes do better with a moister yogurt. My best advice is to stir/whisk the yogurt before mixing with other ingredients (as long as the recipe doesn’t call for a thicker yogurt). This gives the yogurt a much better, lighter consistency for dips. Otherwise, you’ll have some drier parts of yogurt with sides of liquid, which isn’t appealing.
Use it as a substitute for:
If you’re try to consolidate your grocery list, Greek yogurt can be used as an alternative to many other common dairy ingredients, like:
- Sour cream: I put Greek yogurt on tacos, chili, nachos and anything else a dollop of sour cream usually goes on. I love the taste of sour cream. Greek yogurt, although has the consistency I want, doesn’t always have the tang that sour cream has. Just add some vinegar or citrus juice, depending on the flavor profile of the rest of the dish, and that usually fixes it.
- Heavy cream: I haven’t tried this in baking, but if an Italian or other European recipe calls for heavy cream in a sauce I’m making, Greek yogurt has always been a suitable sub.
- Mayonnaise: I don’t spread Greek yogurt on my sandwich in place of mayo, but I’ve made several chicken or egg salads with yogurt instead of mayo and love it. Add a little more salt and spices and it’ll taste great.
- Creme Fraiche: Creme fraiche isn’t widely available at mainstream grocery stores, so if a recipe calls for it, Greek yogurt will do. Creme fraiche isn’t as sour as sour cream, but it’s a little thinner than Greek yogurt. Either stir the yogurt a bit or add milk/water to slightly thin out (creme fraiche is still thicker than European yogurt).
Greek Yogurt and Veggie Dips
You might be used to eating tzatziki the same way you eat hummus: with veggies, pita, or crackers. But I’ve really grown to love eating some form of yogurt and cucumber paired with tomato-based or spicy sauces. There are several names and versions of cucumbers and yogurt dishes. Tzatziki is made with cucumbers, yogurt, and fresh herbs. Cacik, from Turkey, is very similar to tzatziki and usually made from cow’s milk, so in America, we probably are eating something that tastes more like cacik, even though it’s labelled as tzatziki. Raita, an Indian side, usually has cucumbers, yogurt, and Indian spices, including some level of heat. You can also make raita with other vegetables, like carrots, which I tried it and loved far more than I thought I would.
The Iranian counterpart is mast-o khiar, but with the introduction of raisins, walnuts, and rose hips, it takes on a different flavor profile. Also, generalizing, Iranian and other Middle Eastern yogurt dishes will use a thicker yogurt (so straining is preferred), while some Indian yogurt dishes I’ve had are the usual Greek yogurt thickness, or even runny like what you maybe used to with “European” style yogurt, except, you know, it’s not from Europe.
Besides the thickness of the yogurt and some of the ingredients, you’ll also see the cucumbers prepared differently. For the most part, you will see thin-skinned cucumbers requested, ranging from Persian, to pickling, to mini, to European, to whatever name someone gives a cucumber that doesn’t have a thick, smooth skin. Some recipes will call for the cucumbers to be diced, some sliced thinly, some grated. Most request the cucumbers to be salted and set aside to drain. I think mixing up how to prep your cucumbers alone can completely change the taste of your dish. I usually prefer mine diced or grated, because the smaller bits make it easier to eat with bread or spooned along a stew.
Ok, you get it, wow what a flexible, international pairing, cucumber and yogurt. But how do you eat it? I’m sure there are other ways, but here’s some stuff I do. Eat it the same way you eat hummus as a dip; with pita chips, crackers, or veggies. Use it as a dressing in a Mediterranean salad (something with olives, feta, etc) or top a gyro or falafel sandwich with it. OR what I’ve been doing the most lately: adding a dollop of it right into a bowl of stew-y Indian dish or on top of heavier, fatty meat mixtures, like meatballs or kaftas. The yogurt adds a nice contrast with rich dishes, especially spicy ones, and amplifies the fattiness (in a wonderful way) of meats.
Enhance recipes you might already be making:
- Spread a layer of Greek yogurt on the a serving plate and sprinkle with salt, spices and a bit of olive oil. Place your roasted sweet potatoes, butternut squash, or carrots on top with some crushed nuts, like pistachios.
- Take your normal tomato pasta sauce and add some yogurt in after you turn off the heat for an elevated pasta dish. This tastes particularly good with summer veggies, like squash and peas.
- Add to dollop on top of cooked beans or chili.
- Instead of your usual oil and seasoning marinade for chicken or lamp chops, also add yogurt. It keeps the meat juicy, without leaving any weird cooked yogurt taste. While you have the yogurt out, you can easily make a dip for the meats and veggies with the yogurt, an acid (like lime juice or red wine vinegar), salt and other spices.
Some of my favorite Greek yogurt recipes
Greek Yogurt Bagels: I’ve never made bagels before because they’re intimidating. Plus we have a nice cafe close to us that has wonderful bagels. So when I saw this recipe, I thought it was too good to be true. Flour, baking powder, Greek yogurt, and eggs are all you need, plus whatever toppings you like. No prep time, no waiting for the dough to rise, no boiling water, nothing that is probably stopping you from making bagels at home. They make smallish bagels and the inside texture reminds me more of an English muffin. But I happen to love English muffins. I sliced and toasted them, added cream cheese, and man they’re good. Plus any excuse to use Trader Joe’s Everything but the Bagel seasoning. A+ recipe
Work-with-what-you-have other-side-of-the-wold yogurt and cucumber: You thought I was done talking about this didn’t you? Well I didn’t quite clarify how I usually make my yogurt and cucumber dip. I mix a bunch of different techniques and throw in my own favorite ingredients, so this is nothing authentic, but it’s good. This recipe varies depending on what I have at home and what I’m cooking, but this is my ideal recipe:
- 1 cup of Greek yogurt
- 1 teaspoon of lemon juice
- 2-3 Persian cucumbers, grated. I like there to be as much cucumber as there is yogurt, but adjust portions as you like
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon of dill, fresh or dried will do
- 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon of red chili flakes (I’ll add more if I’m eating something that’s not spicy)
- 1/8 teaspoon of sesame oil, or just enough to taste it but not overwhelm the dish
- Good olive oil to drizzle
After grating the cucumber, squeeze excess water out using a towel. You want the cucumbers to be pretty dry. Mix cucumbers with half a teaspoon of salt until salt isn’t loose then put in strainer and let sit. Even 15 minutes is better than nothing, but up to an hour is preferred. Whisk 1 cup of Greek yogurt with the remaining half teaspoon of salt and lemon juice. If I wasn’t lazy, I would tell you to strain the yogurt with a cheesecloth before adding the lemon. It does make it taste better. If this is something you’re going to eat most of same day, doesn’t matter that much. If you’re making this for a party that’s tomorrow, there’s going to be a lot more liquid appearing overnight that a good strain would fix.
Now back to the recipe: taste the yogurt. If the yogurt tastes more bitter than salty, add more salt until you can noticeable taste the salt. Add dill, black pepper, and red chili flakes. Taste to see if you want to add more. Pour salted cucumbers into a separate bowl and add sesame oil. You want the cucumbers to be well-seasoned before you add to yogurt. It’ll add a nice pop of flavor. The cucumbers should taste fairly salty and the sesame flavor should be noticeable without completely overwhelming the cucumber taste. Mix cucumbers into yogurt and taste again. Chill before serving if serving with a hot dish. The contrast is really nice, I promise. Add olive oil right before serving and top with spices you like.
Greek Yogurt Pancakes: The same way the Greek yogurt gave my bagels some lightness, adding yogurt to your pancake recipe does the same. They’re not as dense as the pancakes I usually make and the yogurt adds a mild tang that I think balances out the sweetness of the syrup. I got this recipe from Michael Symon when he was on The Chew, I have since made it several times and it is one of our favorites.
- 1 egg
- ⅔ cup Greek yogurt, I use plain but this recipe would work well with flavored yogurt, like strawberry or blueberry. Reduce sugar to 1 tablespoon if using flavored.
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- ¼ cup milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Zest of one lemon (optional but definitely worth it)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- Nonstick spray
- 1 cup blueberries
- Maple syrup for serving
In a mixing bowl whisk together the egg, yogurt, sugar, milk, vanilla and lemon zest. In a separate bowl mix salt, flour, and baking soda. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix. The mixture should be slightly lumpy.
Heat a large pan to medium and put a little butter or non-stick spray down for each pancake. When the pan is hot (check by sprinkling a little water on the pan. It should sizzle), pour some of the mix in the pan, then top with blueberries. Very lightly press the blueberries in place or sometimes they will pop out when you flip. Cook until the batter bubbles then flip and cook the other side until lightly brown. Don’t press down on pancakes or flip too many times or they’ll become too dense.
Stack pancakes on plate, and serve with butter and warmed maple syrup.