Saturday, May 23, 2009

Yogurt - the miracle food (masterclass)

It seems the subject for today almost literally landed in my lap. Firstly a health-food book toppled off the table and fell open at the page dealing with yogurt, while picking it up my elbow knocked a pile of books over, revealing another book all about yogurt, and opening a page at random in my encyclopedia - what do I see? Yogurt! Twice may be a coincidence, thrice seems that something is pushing me in the direction it wishes to go.

However the spelling- yogurt (my favourite), yoghurt or yurt (there are other ways to spell it), most of us use the 'g' when naming it, even though the correct pronunciation is "yort". This milk product has been eaten for so many centuries by the Turks and Bulgars that its origin is lost in the mists of time, and not commonly known in other areas of the world until about 60 years ago. Initially not much liked until it was proved that it really is good for us, and the manufacturers began adding various fruit flavours. Now it seems we all eat yogurt, and quite a number of readers of this site have told us they make their own.
At the turn of the last century (1900) a famous Russian microbiologist proclaimed yogurt to be "almost the elixir of life", his theory based partly on the fact "that yogurt-eating Bulgarians seemed to live very long lives, and partly on the proved scientific fact that the lactic acid in yogurt discourages putrefactive bacteria".
Yogurt is such an important 'health-food' that every hospital in Turkey today serves it to the patients daily as a matter of course (but NEVER with sugar unless part of a dessert), and worth knowing, purely from the cost-cutting aspect, that 23 million Turks eat yogurt every day, and no Turkish housewife worth her salt would dream of buying something that can be made three or four times cheaper at home and so very easily.

Yogurt has its own natural bacillus (aka bacteria) that will go on breeding for ever, so having bought your first 'live' yogurt, you can use some of that as a 'starter' added to warm milk to make a fresh batch, and from there on continue using home-made yogurt to start a new batch, although to keep it as 'sour' as possible it is recommended that after some weeks a new starter is bought, and the whole process begun again.

In the Balkans, sheep's milk is regarded as the best milk to make yogurt, although this is slightly more indigestible than made with cow's milk. Yogurt can even be made with goat's milk but not - even in part - from reconstituted dried milk. Yet many of us do prefer to make it this way. But it is not the correct way. Adding dried milk is a modern way of giving more body to the yogurt, but then as the manufactured yogurt sold in supermarkets has not much similarity to the good thick yogurt eaten in Turkey (being thick,able to be cut with a spoon, smooth, and even called 'sweet', even though it contains lactic acid) we are not likely to appreciate the difference. If wishing to make a good yogurt, cream - due to the high butter fat content - is the ideal medium, although expensive and certainly in Turkey yogurt is made with fresh cream only on festive occasions. For general use, full-cream cow's milk is best.

Yogurt contains calcium and phosphorus (good for healthy bones), Vitamin B2 (helps to release energy from foods) and Vitamin B12 for a healthy nervous system. People who have lactic intolerance, so avoid milk, may find they can tolerate yogurt. Another interesting fact is that yogurt is much more rapidly digested than raw milk (in one hour only 32% of raw milk being digested as against 91% of yogurt), so particularly good to serve to invalids.

My 'yogurt book' (more than one in fact) claims that "as a medicine it might be called a miracle worker" being so powerful that it fights and destroys the harmful germs that breed in the intestines - the cause of many of our diseases, and remarkably efficient in all intestinal troubles.
In Turkey pregnant women are recommended to eat or drink yogurt in preference to fresh milk, and also when breast-feeding their offspring.

In the east of Turkey, where people are very strong, it is considered that yogurt, eaten with garlic, is a sure preventative against tuberculosis. The peasants believe their longevity and resistance to diseases are due to the daily eating of yogurt and outside every hut - when the temperature is in the hundreds - there will be seen a large vessel covered by sacking where the family yogurt is setting.

Yogurt being a natural food, and the bacillus not fussy about breeding conditions, only the simplest equipment is needed to make it. The only important thing is that the bacillus is fresh. It really is simple to make yogurt using only basic kitchen equipment, but - as ever - there are now many electrical gadgets that 'help to make the work easier', but who needs to pay for electricity when all that is traditionally needed is a bowl (to hold 2 - 3 pints of milk), something to cover it (a plate, cork tile or clingfilm), and some blanket to keep it warm (or use a tin lined with cushions, a haybox, a box lined with expanded polystyrene etc)? A vacuum flask is not recommended unless the yogurt is to be turned out and drained in muslin after it has 'clabbered' (set).

to make good yogurt:
It is not necessary to buy a 'starter' as a little taken from a pot of live yogurt will work just as well. Do not use too much - no more than 1 teaspoon per pint, preferably half that - as too much makes a grainy yogurt. The starter should contain Lactobacillus bulgaris and Streptococcus thermophilus, which both grow well at 40 - 45C (104 -113F), a higher temperature than the normal 'luke-warm' recommended. The temperature should be measured with a thermometer (first stirring the milk to make sure the warmth is evenly distributed), akthough the traditional way of dipping in the knuckle of the little finger to test the heat works almost as well, and much depends upon your pain threshold as the recommendation is to dip in the knuckle, slowly count to ten, feeling some discomfort but without coming to screaming pitch and having to snatch out the finger. Then the temperature should be just about right. It is worth having a practice with various degrees of warm water and seeing how hot you can stand it, then take its temperature.

The milk should be brought to the boil, or if you wish for a creamier flavour, boil the milk for several minutes to reduce and concentrate the flavour. The milk should then be poured into the bowl - which like the spoon used, should have first been scalded with boiling water - then left to get cool until it reaches 45C (113F) - some books go as low as 110F. Mix a teaspoon or so of the milk with the starter, then pour this back into the bowl of milk and stir to distribute evenly. Cover and immediately surround with the chosen insulation. Place in a room (or airing cupboard) - a room temperature of not less than 65F is essential and a kitchen (or airing cupboard) higher than that is all to the good. Take a look after about 6 - 8 hours, and quickly wrap again if the yogurt has not begun to set. Overnight can sometimes be too long. When clotted, removed the wraps and keep in a cold place, or when cold in the lower half of a fridge.
If reluctant to set firmly, the yogurt can be drained through a bag of muslin, hanging it up to drip until as thick as you want it. Long draining turns it into yogurt cheese. An alternative is to press a ladle in the surface of the yogurt to make a well, which - after a time - will fill with waterey whey that can then be spooned out. Repeat until the thickness required.

There are three main reasons for failure, the first is failing to keep the pot warm enough, this usually happens if the yogurt is made in too small a quantity. Another reason is using a 'dud' yogurt - one that contains no living bacteria. Or the bacteria may have been killed by adding the starter to milk that was too hot.
A failed yogurt can be made to set if the bowl is put into a pan of warm water, letting the water come up two-thirds up the bowl, and leave for a few hours, replacing the water as soon as it cools below blood heat. As with anything, practice makes perfect.

To obtain a thicker yogurt by using too much 'starter' is not recommended as it will not be as creamy because the bacillus has no room to expand, and the finished product will be a mass of tiny globules. The best yogurt is that made with the smaller amount of bacillus.
The bacillus lives indefinitely, so the next batch can be made from yogurt made a day or two previously. Best made daily (but not essential), and after several weeks the home-made yogurt will begin to get sweeter, but will not sour again unless the starter comes from a fresh bought live yogurtm or a sour (old) yogurt starts off the next batch. Fresh is best.

cooking with yogurt:
Yogurt made with goat's milk can be boiled (but carefully) without it separating, but yogurt made with cow's milk needs to be stabilized. To do this add a teaspoon of cornflour or chickpea flour and the white of an egg to every litre (1.75pts) of yogurt, then bring to the boil slowly, stirring it in one direction only. Once it comes to the simmer, and thickened, remove from heat and it can be cooled and kept in the fridge and used as needed. Remember to label it as 'stablilized.

Now we come to some recipes. The first makes good use of the chicken flesh removed from the carcase after the bones and vegetables have made stock.
Chicken Soup with Yogurt: serves 4
1.75 pints (1 ltr) chicken stock
cooked chicken, torn into pieces
8 fl oz (250ml) yogurt
2 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
1 tsp fresh fennel
1 tsp fresh marjoram
salt and pepper
Put the stock in a pan and bring to the simmer. Add the cooked chicken.
Whisk the yogurt with the whole eggs and the egg yolks, thinning down with a little of the stock, adding seasoning to taste, then pour this into the pan and heat but do not allow to boil. Serve hot, garnished with the herbs.

This next dish also uses shredded chicken, and as this is virtually 'free' when picked from the carcase bones, this is really cheap to make. Because the recipe was originally in cup measurements, have used an average size mug as a convenient measure as a little more or less doesn't really make that much difference.
Lebanese Chicken: serves 4
4 tblsp minced onion
2 mugs finely shredded cooked chicken
1 mug chicken stock
half a mug of water
1 rounded tablespoon cornflour
3 tblsp butter, melted
1 mug button mushrooms
1 mug diced celery
2 fl oz (50ml) yogurt
salt and pepper
cooked noodles for serving
Put the butter in a saucepan and gently fry the onions and mushrooms until very lightly browned. Stir in the celery, stock, and half the water beaten with the yogurt, and simmer for 20 minutes. Add seasoning to taste.
Blend the cornflour with the remaining water and stir this into the pan, keeping stirring until the slightly thickened. Serve over a bed of cooked noodles.

Another easy one recipe to make especially if you have the minced lamb in the freezer (use thawed), the breadcrumbs and stock also ready and waiting in the freezer, your own home-grown mustard and cress, and a jar of home-made redcurrant jelly. This truly will be as near to self sufficient cooking as we get these days.
Turkish Rissoles: serves 4
1 lb (450g) minced lamb
2 tblsp minced shallots
1 small clove garlic, crushed (opt)
1 egg, lightly beaten
pinch cinnamon
1 slice toasting bread, crumbed
4 fl oz (100ml) beef stock
2 good tblsp yogurt
4 fl oz (100ml) redcurrant jelly
4 tblsp butter, melted
salt and pepper
punnet of mustard and cress
Set the stock, butter, mustard and cress to one side, then mix the remaining ingredients together, adding seasoning to taste. Form into fattish 'sausages' (aka rissoles). Put the butter in a pan and when hot, add the rissoles and turn until browned on all sides. Place in a single layer in a baking dish, pour over the stock, cover and bake at 180C, 350F, as 4 for a good hour. Serve hot, garnished with mustard and cress.

Yet again this dish uses cooked chicken scraps, preferably minced (or given a quick, and I do mean quick, blitz in a food processor). A good recipe for those who grow their own beef tomatoes. For British tastes there may be too many olives, but as ever, use an amount according to your taste - or don't bother with them at all. Remember that freshly poached eggs can be slipped into a bowl of cold water, kept in the fridge overnight, and reheated the next day by putting into a pan of hot water and leaving for a minute to warm up before serving (this is the way hotels and restaurants manage to serve hundreds of guests with poached eggs at any one time).
Palas Eggs: makes 6
3 very large tomatoes (skinned)
6 eggs, poached but cold
half pint minced cooked chicken
1 tblsp finely chopped parsley
8 fl oz (250ml) yogurt dressing (see below)
30 black olives
Cut the prepared tomatoes in half and remove the pulp and seeds. Put a cold poached egg inside each halved tomato, then arrange on a serving dish. Pile the minced chicken on top of the eggs, then chill for half an hour before masking the top with the yogurt dressing and garnishing with parsley. Scatter the olives around the tomatoes. If not using olives (or even with) good served with a crisp green salad.
yogurt dressing:
1 rounded tblsp plain flour, sifted
half tsp sugar
half tsp salt
half tsp dry mustard
5 fl oz (150ml) water
2 fl oz (50ml) tarragon vinegar
2 egg yolks
4 fl oz (100ml) olive oil
2 fl oz (50ml) yogurt
2 tblsp minced chives
Set aside the egg yolks, olive oil, yogurt and herbs, and put the remaining ingredients into a saucepan, and - stirring all the time - simmer until the sauce thickens. Boil for one minute then remove from heat. Beat in the egg yolks and continue beating while VERY GRADUALLY adding the olive oil, then chill thoroughly and an hour before serving, stir in the yogurt and chives, then beat together for half a minute before using.

This next recipe is included as it has an interesting ingredient: Bovril (in a jar not a stock cube), and this then led me to think that Marmite might be a vegetarian substitute. Some people prefer not to fry mushrooms, but flavour them by steeping them in a good 'stock' and this word I use loosely as recently spoke to someone who always flavoured her mushrooms by soaking them in tea (wouldn't do them any other way). So whether on a low-fat diet or not, this recipe could easily be adapted to suit needs and tastes. Just for the sake of speed, suggest using microwave '2 minute' pilau rice. If making it from scratch flavour the water with a Bovil stock cube.
Mushroom Pilau: servss 3 - 4
ready made pilau rice
4 oz (100g) button mushrooms
3 tblsp butter
9 fl oz (250ml) yogurt
half tsp Bovril
2 tblsp finely chopped parsley
1 large tomato, thinly sliced
salt and pepper
Cook the mushrooms in the butter for a 10 minutes, then add the Bovril and stir well. Beat the yogurt a few times with a fork, then add this to the mushrooms. Do not boil or the yogurt may split. Add seasoning to taste, then serve the mushrooms on a bed of pilau rice, garnishing with the parsley and slices of tomato. Serve hot.

Yogurt adds much to a salad, and here are a few easy ones to make:
Little Gem Salad:
2 Little Gem lettuce
2 - 3 tblsp chopped gherkins
8 fl oz (250g) yogurt dressing (recipe above)
1 red bell pepper, deseeded and chopped
salt and pepper
Cut each lettuce through from top to bottom, and then each piece in half again, making a total of 8 quarters. Place in a serving dish. Mix the gherkins with the red pepper, adding seasoning to taste and scatter these over the lettuce, pouring the yogurt dressing over the top. Chill well before serving.

Cucumber Salad:
1 cucumber, sliced
1 tblsp minced or very finely chopped chives
half a small white cabbage, grated or finely shredded
3 hard-boiled eggs, quartered
half pint (300ml) yogurt dressing (recipe above)
2 tblsp chopped red bell pepper
Put the grated cabbage into a bowl and toss with half the yogurt dressing. Place into a serving bowl and top with the cucumber slices. Arrange the eggs round the sides, and garnish with the chives and pepper. Chill well before serving with remaining yogurt dressing.

Cheese Salad:
Iceberg lettuce
1 pint measure grated cheese
4 hardboiled eggs
1 tsp horseradish cream
8 fl oz (250ml) yogurt dressing (above)
2 tblsp finely chopped gherkins
1 tsp poppy seed
asparagus tips
salt and pepper
Take a serving bowl and make a bed of shredded lettuce, then sprinkle over the cheese. Slice the eggs in half, remove yolk and push this through a sieve. Mix the sieved yolk with the horseradish cream and a little yogurt dressing, then use this to fill the hollow left in the egg whites. Place on top of the cheese, pour over the remaining dressing and garnish with cooked asparagus.
tip: being modestly mercenary tend to use canned asparagus, the tips going into a dish such as the above, or for garnishing. The stalks blitzed with milk to use for flavouring a soup or quiche.