The many uses of yoghurt
We’ve been eating yoghurt for a very long time. It’s thought to have been discovered through the accidental fermentation of milk in the saddlebags of nomadic tribes, somewhere in the Near East. The first written use of the word ‘yoghurt’ is attributed to Roman naturalist and philosopher Pliny the Elder.
He remarked that “certain barbarous nations knew how to thicken the milk into a substance with an agreeable acidity”—but given that the Romans thought just about everybody was barbarous, it is difficult to know which nation he was referring to.
Yoghurt is made by adding a number of beneficial bacteria to milk, causing it to ferment. The fermentation process thickens the milk and gives plain yoghurt its smooth, creamy texture and characteristically tangy flavour.
Strained yoghurt, often called ‘Greek-style’ yoghurt, is poured into a filter of muslin cloth, which is then hung up to allow the whey—the more liquid part of the yoghurt—to drain off. This gives it a thicker consistency and distinctive, acidic flavour.
This type of yoghurt is considered ‘live’, because the beneficial bacteria are still alive when you consume it, so they have to be eaten fairly quickly after they’re made. You can create long-life yoghurt by pasteurising it after fermentation. This retains the flavour but kills the friendly bacteria.
You can use pretty much any milk to make yoghurt: cow’s, sheep’s, goat’s, camel’s, yak’s, and each has its own flavour and cooking properties—so it’s no surprise that yoghurt is so versatile. Which is one of the reasons that Christian Honor, Borough Market demonstration chef and owner of Chriskitch restaurant, loves using it in his cooking.
Any time of day
“Yoghurt is such a dynamic food. You can go savoury, you can go sweet, and you can have it at any time of day,” he enthuses. “In the kitchen I use it as a dressing, as a ‘butter’ in lemon and yoghurt cakes, and as an ingredient in its own right. It is great as a vehicle for carrying flavour. We often add mint or garlic before cooking with it.”
One of the dishes in which Chris uses yoghurt is lamb rib cardamom. He makes a marinade out of Greek yoghurt, turmeric, green cardamom, ground cinnamon, cloves, chopped garlic, ground ginger and bay leaves, then marinates the lamb ribs in it overnight.
“Bake the ribs at 120C until they’re cooked how you like them—but please don’t overcook them! The marinade will make them wonderfully moist as well as give them an amazing flavour.” Lay out on a tray and garnish with pistachio nuts, herbs and thinly sliced chilli.
Another dish Chris enjoys is summer melon and marshmallow salad with bio yoghurt. “I love the fact that this accessible, cheap, wonderful food that has been overlooked for so long is now having its time in the sun, breaking away from breakfasts and packed lunches.”
It may have been overlooked in the West, but elsewhere it has enjoyed a much higher profile. “Strained yoghurt is huge for people in Turkey,” says Graham at The Turkish Deli. “It has a higher fat content than non-strained—the more fat, the better. It gives it much more flavour,” he explains.
“Yoghurt is something you’ll find on the table at almost every meal in Turkey, either as a side or in something like a cucumber salad. People also have it with their kebabs, as the acidic edge works well with the richness of the kebab meat.”
Ayran, a cold, yoghurt-based drink that’s incredibly popular all over Turkey, can occasionally be found on Graham’s stall. “It’s made with just strained yoghurt, water and salt and every family makes it to their own taste,” he continues.
“You have to use strained yoghurt as it is thicker, richer and has a deeper flavour. In Turkey it’s almost considered a national drink. It has a savoury flavour which is very refreshing on a hot day.”
For those with a sweeter tooth, mango lassi—which is just one version of the traditional, yoghurt-based drink from the Indian subcontinent—has proved very popular in recent years. Traditionally lassi is savoury, but the more modern sweet lassi can contain sugar or fruits instead of spices. You can pick up some of the sweet stuff from Gujarati Rasoi, or have a go at making your own.
Velvety creamy texture
Neal’s Yard Dairy have many different yoghurts for Borough customers to choose from. “One that’s very popular is Hurdlebrook from Guernsey,” explains Melanie. “It’s a live, natural whole cow’s milk yoghurt with a silky, velvety creamy texture, a mild flavour and very low acidity.”
“We also have Kappacasein yoghurt made in Bermondsey. It’s a light, fresh lemony yoghurt and it’s lovely. I really like the milk they use and this yoghurt expresses the flavours of that milk beautifully.”
They also stock an ewe’s milk yoghurt, which is very much in season at the moment. “It’s really heavy, rich and creamy with a high fat content. A splash on top of raspberries or rhubarb is amazing. All these yoghurts are great to eat, but I also like baking with them. It really brings something different to cakes.”