Yogurt — It’s What’s for Dinner!

Sweet potato with a roasted cumin yogurt sauce

I’m not quite sure why Americans only think of yogurt as a breakfast item or a Jaime Lee Curtis-sponsored snack product, but the history of this dairy wonder is literally over 7,000 years old and thus has far more uses than granola dampener or fruit-on-the-bottom.

Today, we’re going to look at three different uses for yogurt at the dinner table–as a marinade, as a topping, and as a dressing.

Marinated Turkey Thigh

Yogurt marinades are common in many cultures, most notably Indian and Turkish cuisines. By marinating meat (usually chicken), the lactic acid from the yogurt helps to break down the meat (in the same way other acids like lemon juice or vinegar can) to soften it and keep it from drying out when cooked.

When making a marinade, make sure that you’re using non-flavored yogurt. (Trust me. You don’t want to use vanilla by accident. Again, ask me how I know?) Greek yogurt, which is just thickened regular yogurt, is usually called for, but really any is fine, especially since Greek yogurt can sometimes be 3x the cost.

Yogurt marinade with garlic, lemon, salt, and ground pepper.

You can just slather it on and call it a day, but I like to flavor the yogurt a bit with whatever I would usually add into a marinade–minced garlic and onion, a bit of lime zest or juice, dried spices, curry powder, salt and pepper, etc. This is a great way to mess around and try new things. You really can’t mess this one up. For this particular dish, I was marinated a turkey thigh in yogurt, dried garlic, lemon, salt, and black pepper.

From there, you put your marinade and meat into a plastic bag and let it sit in the fridge for a minimum of 3 hours, though longer (no more than 24 hours) is better.

Chicken-fried turkey thigh with wild mushroom gravy.

At this point, my meat was going into a batter to make chicken-fried turkey, so I scraped off most of the yogurt before dipping and frying. (A post for another time.) But at this point you can bread and fry something on the stove top, bake it in the oven, toss it on the grill, whatever!

Baked Sweet Potato With Cumin-Spiced Yogurt

You don’t have to be this bougey with your spices. Regular cumin and dried chives are totes fine.

There’s not much better than a baked potato piled high with cheese and sour cream, but yogurt can be an equally remarkable topping with a little bit of time.

While your potatoes are baking, mix one cup of yogurt with whatever spices you want to flavor it with. If you’re using whole spices, like I was for this particular dish, be sure to toast them first to heat up their natural oils which helps to increase their flavor.

Toasting spices.

Add the toasted spices and/or whatever else you’d like to flavor your yogurt with along with about half teaspoon of salt to your yogurt and mix thoroughly. Then cover and refrigerate while your potato bakes, approximately one hour.

Mixing the topping.

When the potato is done, salt the inside of the potato (I also add a bit of cayenne when working with sweet potatoes because sweet and heat is *chef’s kiss*) and top with a touch of butter (optional) and your yogurt mixture.

If you want to emulate the one shown, I used 1 tsp toasted cumin seed, 1 tsp dried ramps (chives are fine too), a pinch of garlic powder, and salt.

Seriously, you should make this.

A Note on Labneh: Labneh is to Greek yogurt as Greek yogurt is to regular yogurt. It’s been strained even further until it has the consistency of cream cheese. If you have the opportunity to use labneh instead of yogurt in any of these recipes, please do. Make a point to seek it out at your local Middle Eastern grocer because it works as a excellent dip, sandwich spread, etc.

Yogurt Dressing

Much like with the potato topping, yogurt can replace sour cream in many things. Should it? No. Sour cream was brought to us by the gods, and you should fucking eat it. HOWEVER, there are times when there’s one of them in the fridge and not the other while there are also times you want to lighten up a recipe or get some of those probiotics everyone is talking about.

If you like a creamy dressing–and truly, who doesn’t–yogurt can sub in for either sour cream or mayo in most iterations of ranch dressings. (You can also blend it with avocado and olive oil for a lovely green goddess riff.)

The trick to ranch dressing is three things–garlic power, onion powder, and dill. That’s pretty much it. Adding those to something creamy is going to make all things Hidden Valley pale in comparison. But in order for it to work like a dressing, you will need to thin that out a bit. You can use lemon juice or a white wine or apple cider vinegar here along with a little milk or water to cut it.

For one cup of yogurt, you’ll want 2 tablespoons of your acid (lemon juice or vinegar), 2-3 tablespoons of milk or water, and 1 tablespoon of each of your spices. plus a dash of salt and ground black pepper.

Note that for the onion power, you can use the normal iterations or dried chives (which I prefer). You can also use fresh garlic instead of dried if you want to be fancy.

Chef’s salad with kale and yogurt-ranch dressing.

Let the dressing sit in the fridge for an hour before use so all of the flavors can combine. Once you have this basic recipe down, you can change it up as you want. Use lime juice instead of lemon, add smoked paprika or cayenne for a kick, stir in some chopped fresh herbs. Remember, once you’ve learned the basics, play. Make it your own.

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