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Yogurt Plain and Simple

Plain Yogurt is an Important Staple in the Turkish Diet

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Turkish full-fat yogurt in a clay pot.

Photo © TekinT - Fotolia.com
Yogurt Plain and Simple
Photo © kristina rütten - Fotolia.com

I'm sure you've heard many a story of old folks in central Asia who live well into their hundreds. Their longevity is often connected to their diet, and more specifically with their regular consumption of yogurt.

A staple in the diets of historically nomadic, herding peoples, yogurt is an important component in the modern Turkish diet as well. Plain yogurt is one of the most common ingredients in Turkish cuisine and consumed nearly every day. In fact, an average family of four can consume up to ten pounds or five kilograms of yogurt per week.

It's no wonder. Yogurt is present at nearly every meal, as a snack, dessert and even as a drink. For example, it's used as a topping or a side dish with many hot main courses, such as Turkish spinach and tomato stew and stuffed summer squash.

Children and young babies are encouraged to eat yogurt mixed with honey, sugar or fruit preserves. Yogurt is also used as a base and thickener for Turkish soups such as 'yayla çorbası' (YAI'-lah chor-BAH'-suh) or 'highland meadow soup.'

Strained yogurt, similar to Greek yogurt is often mixed with assorted vegetables and greens as others might use mayonnaise. A good Turkish appetizer or 'meze' dish is purslane leaves with yogurt and garlic. Yogurt and fruit, along with oats or meuslix have also become popular at breakfast in recent years.

'Ayran' (ai-RAHN'), a refreshing drink made with plain yogurt, ice-cold water and salt is truly refreshing on a hot summer day and is a delicious, nutritious alternative to cola when eating fast food like grilled meatballs, or 'köfte' (kuf-TAY'). Pre-packaged ayran is sold right next to the carbonated soft drinks in most restaurants and stores.

Traditional ayran is served from a wooden 'yayık' (yai-UK'), a narrow barrel tap hung horizontally. Here, the ingredients are shaken together by swinging the yayık briskly back and forth until the ayran becomes frothy.

Traditional yogurt is made in red clay pots, and many families still make their own daily using yogurt culture and fresh milk. All supermarkets carry manufactured brands in contemporary plastic tubs up to 5 kilograms.

I have cultivated such an appreciation for plain yogurt that I now have a hard time eating the sweet, fruity varieties, although they too are available in most urban areas. Turkish yogurt is so rich and creamy it more resembles sour cream.

Some varieties are sold with a thick layer of cream or skin on top, called 'kaymak'.

What To Do With Plain Yogurt

Do you cringe when someone even mentions plain yogurt, or do you just simply not know what to do with it? If either is the case, it's time to reconsider.

There are so many delicious things you can make with plain yogurt, you'll be truly surprised. I've taken my inspiration from Turkish regional cuisine and have found many delicious, interesting ways to eat plain yogurt (without cringing!), as well as many ways to incorporate it into other dishes to make them tastier and more nutritious than ever.

Easy Yogurt Dip Ideas

Forget the heavy, high calorie dips you know! Plain yogurt is a great base to make dips for chips and veggies. It is much lower in fat and calories than anything with mayonnaise or sour cream, but just as creamy and flavorful when you add different herbs and spices.

Use low or non-fat plain yogurt and substitute veggie sticks for chips and you have a truly healthy, low fat and calorie snack! Your family, friends and guests will love you for it!

Here are some suggestions for yogurt dip:

  1. The quickest, easiest way to make dip using yogurt is simply to mix powdered salad dressing with strained or Greek yogurt. Italian and garlic & herb varieties work very well.

    Just wisk in the powder with a wire wisk to taste. You can make it as strong or bland as you like, just adjust the amount of powder you mix in.

    The salad dressing has all the salt and spices you need, so you don't have to add anything else. Let the dip sit for a few minutes in the fridge before you serve it to give the flavors time to blend.
  2. The next way is to prepare dip with yogurt is to blend in the spices and herbs yourself. Dry spices are the easiest. Garlic powder, onion flakes, parsely flakes, oregano, basil, dill, paprika, celery salt - anything you like.

    Experiment to find what works best for you. If you feel the dip needs more body, wisk in a teaspoon or two of olive oil! Don't forget the salt and pepper to taste.
  3. If you have a food processor or blender that can puree, you can get even more creative. I mix in things like fresh garlic, red or green peppers (these make wonderfully colored dips, feta cheese and fresh herbs like dill, mint, parsely and chives. Just puree away!

    When adding fresh vegetables, remember -- a little bit goes a long way. If you add too much, your dip will be too watery. One or two strips of pepper, a clove of garlic or a sprig of herbs per cup of yogurt is plenty. Again, don't forget the salt & pepper to taste.

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