By Jan Roberts-Dominguez
Repeat after me: There is no single food or diet that will shield you from disease, obesity and cranky people.
But that sure doesn’t stop savvy food marketers from trying to convince us otherwise. And so every now and then a food rises to the top of our collective consciousness and before you know it, it’s The Perfect Food.
Right now, Greek yogurt is that darling.
Now, don’t misunderstand. Greek yogurt has plenty of fantastic qualities: It’s lusciously thick, high in protein and low in carbohydrates. But we wouldn’t even be in this conversation if we hadn’t gotten here through our love and respect for regular yogurt.
So don’t forget, both styles of yogurt — regular and Greek — are good for us in a lot of important ways: They’re great sources of gut-friendly probiotics, calcium, bone-building phosophorus, and blood pressure regulating potassium. Both are healthy choices for meals and snacks.
Greek-style yogurts, though, are going to pack almost twice as much protein, which helps curb those mid-day hunger pangs. Plus, there’s that benefit of lower carbohydrates. And it’s actually a satisfying substitution for sour cream (see “Greek Yogurt — a delightful stand-in for sour cream” in my book!).
However, since the term “Greek” is unregulated, imposters abound. How do you tell if the Greek yogurt you’re buying is what it says it is or just an artifically thickened imposter?
The genuine product achieves its thick and creamy character through a process in which the liquid portion in milk called whey is strained off from the solid portion. With the whey removed, there’s less sugar, which reduces the carbohydrate content.
Plus, the concentration of milk solids increases Greek yogurt’s protein content dramatically. Most brands weigh in at almost twice as much protein as regular yogurt, meaning that a typical serving of Greek yogurt packs as much high quality protein as you’ll find in 3 ounces of lean meat, an appealing trait for folks interested in healthy ways to build muscle.
At the commercial level, straining off the whey adds time and expense to the process. So some brands with the word Greek in the label are mimicking the texture of traditionally made Greek yogurt with the addition of thickeners, such as carageenan, locust bean gum, guar gum and corn starch.
You’ll find these ingredients on the label, which is why it’s important to read the fine print. Genuine Greek yogurt should contain only milk, live active cultures, and flavoring agents.
And by the way, if you want to ensure that your yogurt — Greek or regular — contains those live active cultures (which we’ve come to recognize by the term, “probiotics”), make sure the label states that it “contains live active cultures,” and not just “made with live active cultures.”
All yogurts start out with live active cultures, but during the pasteurization process they’re destroyed. So if you want the benefit of probiotics in your yogurt, make sure that those live active cultures have been added back in.
So the next time you’re standing in the yogurt aisle and find yourself overwhelmed by all the “Greek” style choices, take a breath, put on your reading glasses, and check out the fine print.
In this first recipe, we have a melange of fresh, crunchy vegetables, grated cheese, diced egg, sunflower seeds, all tucked into a chewy pocket of bread, then drizzled with a cucumber-laced Greek yogurt raita sauce.
Pocket delight with Greek yogurt raita sauce
1 cup finely chopped or shredded carrots
1 cup finely chopped celery
1 cup finely chopped sweet bell pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped green onion
1/2 cup shredded cheese
3 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
Greek yogurt raita sauce (recipe follows)
Pocket bread (or flour tortillas)
In a bowl, combine the carrots, celery, bell pepper, green onion, shredded cheese, eggs, tomatoes, and sunflower seeds; set aside.
When ready to assemble the pocket sandwiches, spoon a portion of the vegetable mixture into the pocket opening. Drizzle on the raita sauce and serve.
Greek yogurt raita sauce: In a medium bowl, whisk together 1 peeled and chopped cucumber, ½ cup chopped yellow onion, 2 cups plain low-fat Greek yogurt, 1 to 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, 2 teaspoons ground cumin, salt and pepper to taste; refrigerate until ready to use.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
New potato gratin with Greek yogurt, onions and chicken
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken broth, canned or homemade
1 1/2 cups low-fat plain Greek yogurt
1/4 cup minced green onions (all of the white portion and a portion of the pale green)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, cut into ½-inch dice
2 cups diced, shredded or chopped cooked turkey
1 cup freshly grated Gruyere (or a Swiss cheese)
Chopped fresh green onion for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat the butter and olive oil in a skillet and saute the onion and garlic over medium heat until the onion is soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Whisk in the chicken broth and continue stirring and cooking until the mixture is smooth, creamy, and thickened. Whisk in the yogurt and minced green onion. Season to taste with the salt and pepper.
Add the potatoes and chicken and spread the mixture evenly in a 1-quart baking dish (or 9-inch oval gratin dish). Bake for 20 minutes, then spread the grated cheese over the top and continue baking until the potatoes are tender, about another 30 to 40 minutes. Garnish top with the green onions and serve.
Hot artichoke dip with Greek yogurt
2 cups low-fat plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 (6 ounce) jars marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup finely chopped green onions (white portion only; reserve the green for garnish)
Assorted raw vegetables (including broccoli florets, cauliflower florets, carrot sticks, sweet red and green bell pepper strips)
Fresh baguette, thinly sliced
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
In a medium bowl, combine the yogurt, mayonnaise, artichoke hearts, Parmesan cheese, and green onion. Scrape the mixture into a shallow oven-proof dish and bake until the dip is hot and bubbly and lightly golden on top, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, garnish the top with a sprinkling of the green onion tops and serve, surrounded by the vegetables and slices of a fresh baguette.
Makes about 8 servings.
Louis dressing with Greek yogurt
1 cup low-fat Greek yogurt
1/4 cup chili sauce (it’s like ketchup, only spicier)
2 tablespoons finely chopped green or red sweet bell pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped yellow onion
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
1 hard-cooked egg, finely chopped
In a small bowl, stir together the yogurt and chili sauce. Add the peppers, onion, parsley, cayenne, Worcestershire, horseradish, and chopped egg. Blend this mixture thoroughly and then taste to determine if it needs additional chili sauce, Worcestershire sauce, or horseradish.
Use immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week. If the dressing seems a bit thick, you can stir in 1 to 2 tablespoons of milk.
Makes about 1½ cups.
Tomato-pesto sauce for crab
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons minced yellow onion
1 1/4 cups peeled, seeded, and chopped tomato (use Roma style tomatoes, if possible)
2 cups low-fat plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon commercially prepared or homemade pesto (more to taste)
1 tablespoon brandy (optional)
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a small skillet. Add the onion and gently saute until the onion turns a light golden brown and is lightly caramelized. This will take about 10 minutes.
Don’t scorch the onions by cooking over too high of a heat. Add the tomatoes, salt, and pepper, and adjust the temperature up to about medium-high and continue simmering until the tomato mixture has softened, and all of the liquid released by the tomatoes has cooked away, creating a thick mixture, which will take 15 to 20 minutes. Scrape the mixture into a mixing bowl and set aside until cool.
Mix in the yogurt, pesto, and brandy, and adjust seasonings, adding additional pesto, salt and pepper as needed. Chill until ready to serve. May be made and refrigerated up to a week ahead.
Makes about 3¼ cups.
Creamy blue cheese dressing
1 cup non-fat plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 cup crumbled blue cheese
In a bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, buttermilk, sour cream, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. Stir in the cheese, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use.
Makes about 3 cups of dressing.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.