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Greek Yogurt

is a cultured milk product which is beneficial to gut health.  Cultured milk helps the digestive system with healthy microorganisms that protect gut flora from organisms that can cause infection.  The process of culturing can restore digestive enzymes that help the body absorb calcium and other minerals and elevate levels of vitamins B and C.  This process is beneficial for bone health as it can slow down bone deterioration and loss.  Regular use of cultured dairy products can also help lower cholesterol.  

Greek yogurt is as essential to the Mediterranean kitchen as olives and feta cheese.  It is always on hand in my home and kitchens, in the way that every American refrigerator is never without mayonnaise or butter.  The thick Greek yogurt that I snacked on as a kid, it turns out opened culinary doors for me when I began to incorporate it into dishes I made in fine restaurants.  It makes a wonderful bright substitute for ingredients from cream cheese, heavy cream, mayonnaise, butter, sour cream and crème fraiche.  Back then I was more taken with the flavor and texture of Greek Yogurt than its health benefit.  But now it’s inherently healthful benefits makes it a staple in my cooking. Keep it in your refrigerator at all times so that you can use it to replace fatty, sugary ingredients like butter, ketchup and mayonnaise.  Skip mayonnaise to bind your egg salad and use Greek yogurt instead, do the same on a tuna melt.  Spread it onto your burger and skip the ketchup altogether.  Add a little garlic and vinegar to make a briny garlic yogurt sauce for drizzling over beets.  When you add cucumbers, garlic, vinegar and dill you get the delightful multi-tasking yogurt dip...TZATZIKI.  This is great for spreading on sandwiches, dipping vegetables into or spooning onto meats and poultry.  You can even add a little heat with chipotle peppers to create a chipotle yogurt sauce that stands up to grilled fish and meat.  

Straight Up

It could not be more straightforward whenever you find yourself reaching for cream cheese, packaged fruited yogurt or frozen yogurt...catch yourself and grab the full-fat plain Greek yogurt instead.  Good quality Greek yogurt is delicious straight off the spoon, which makes it ideal for topping with granola, fresh berries, nuts & seeds.  But if you mix it with sugar-loaded pre-packaged granola, it defeats the point.  Most granola - despite its healthy reputation - is loaded with sugar because it helps hold the stuff together and makes it crunchy, which is, of course, the best part.  Read labels scrupulously; if there is high-fructose corn syrup and/or the second ingredient is sugar, move on.  I go for flax seed granola and drizzle my own honey over it.  Think of Greek yogurt as you might frozen yogurt; top it with fresh berries and you have a far healthier treat or breakfast or dessert.  And that’s the point, Greek yogurt, all on its own, is a culinary chameleon - and my hope is that it becomes as natural a choice for you as it is for me.  

Chef Note:

The homemade yogurt I grew up on tasted like no other, but these days, there is no need to make your own.  I highly recommend the full-fat form (reduced fat versions won’t satisfy the same way) making sure that it has the consistency of cream cheese.  If a spoon won’t stand straight up then it’s not the real Greek yogurt.  The next best thing to good Greek Yogurt is to strain regular plain full-fat yogurt.  Line a colander with cheesecloth and set it over a bowl.  Spoon the yogurt into it, tie the cheesecloth tight, and refrigerate overnight.  The next morning, the yogurt should be thick enough to stand a spoon up in.