Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Cooking with Yogurt

Chilled Sweet Pea and Yogurt Soup with Yogurt

Yogurt has been wisely used in cooking for centuries, commonly in the Middle East, Turkey and India, to name a few.

Last week, a representative from Chobani asked if I would be interested in creating and posting a recipe using yogurt, as part of their Hello Summer campaign. For two reasons I immediately said yes.

First, I enjoy writing about products I actually use and feel are worthwhile.  I have 3 containers of Chobani in my refrigerator right now!

Second, from a business perspective, Chobani's start-up story is respectful.

Did you know -- its founder, Hamdi Ulukaya, launched the company (against the advice of those he trusted) during our country's biggest recession, when the market was already flooded with yogurt products, and without venture capital or other outside investors? And after it impressively exploded into a household name, when asked to sell to a large well-known brand, he turned the lucrative offer down. Now, less than 10 years after launching the brand, it is a billion dollar company. Admirable!

So, I went to work on a delicious yogurt recipe.

When cooking with yogurt, I stick with the plain, whole milk variety.  Most organic plain versions do not have evaporated cane sugar, syrups or gelatins.  I prefer Greek yogurt because it is strained, and therefore has less liquid, packing a more powerful flavor punch. It's also a surprisingly tasty substitute for caloric packed condiments such as cream cheese and sour cream --  try it on your fish tacos!

When concocting a dish with yogurt, my first thought was to do something with eggplant. Perhaps I would use some middle eastern seasoning, cumin or saffron would work.   But, while the outcome of my Roasted Eggplant with yogurt, cilantro and cumin (below) was absolutely delicious, it didn't appear as appetizing in photos:

So, next I thought - squash.  But, this time of year, with squash so fresh, I prefer to simply sauté it quickly in olive oil (and some capers and parsley, below):

Finally, recalling a splendid trip many years ago to the impressive health and fitness resort, Canyon Ranch, where cream was substituted for healthier yogurt, I settled on a chilled soup.  It was a great choice and perfect for a hot summer day!

Serving soup in a demitasse cup delivers style, and when presented as an appetizer, is so much easier to handle than a clanky spoon and bowl. It's also practical if serving while guests are standing. 

Here are the ingredients:

4 cups of chicken stock (preferably home made)
4 cups of freshly shelled peas or 2 bags of frozen sweet peas (organic)
4 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped leek
1 shallot
1 large cucumber
1 cup of Chobani Whole Milk Plain Yogurt
1/2 cup of fresh dill, plus some for garnish
1/2 cup of fresh mint

Here is what to do:

Bring the chicken stock to a boil and blanch peas for 4-5 minutes.

Sauté the garlic, onion, leeks and shallot in the olive oil for 2 minutes (above).  When translucent, add in the 15 leaves of fresh mint.

Once the mint softens, place the mix into a food processor or blender.  Cut the cucumber into pieces and add to blender. Add in fresh dill. Pulse these ingredients until smooth.

Once the peas are soft, add them into the blender with the stock.  Blend until all the ingredients are smooth.

Place the soup in a large bowl and add yogurt, salt and pepper.

Chill for at least 6 hours, or overnight is even better.

Once chilled, add chopped cucumber and red onion garnish. Place a sprig (or two) of dill into each bowl. This final flavor construct or layer is SO essential, for both flavor and aesthetics. It's perfect!

This dish is a superb vegetarian starter and since it is chilled, can be made well in advance. I also like it because I have time to play around with the garnish -- and the soup won't lose its cool!

For other delicious recipes using yogurt, check out:

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