Cooking

Savory Yogurt Is Pretty Sweet

Give your morning routine a new look by leaving the sugar out of it
Photos: Rachel Vanni/Tasting Table

There are rules in life: Wash your hands before eating; don’t talk with your mouth full. But there’s no rule that states yogurt has to be sweet.

In both restaurants and supermarkets around the country, the morning staple is undergoing a savory face-lift. Decades of fruit on the bottom have turned yogurt into a snack that’s cowering behind a mask of added sugars and women laughing in commercials over their “tastes like cheesecake” secrets. By definition, yogurt is milk that’s undergoing fermentation. That doesn’t sound sweet. In fact, it’s naturally sour.

Chances are, you’re already enjoying savory yogurt. Did you put tzatziki on the chicken shawarma you had for lunch? That’s nothing but glorified yogurt like its dip relative baba ghanoush or traditional Indian raita.

Inspired by Mediterranean flavors, we take the stratified yogurt-fruit-granola morning staple and give it a Greek salad twist for a parfait that truly does border on perfect (see the recipe).

Stick with us. Maybe you’re wary of yogurt that’s not covered in fruit and a honey drizzle—but we could argue that a tomato is a fruit, and the cooked-down compote would really give commercial actors something to smile about. Our granola proves you don’t need sticky-sweet flavors to be downright addictive, and the eggplant caponata makes it more filling.

Greek is generally the way to go due to its can’t-beat thickness, but all types of yogurt are fair game—even the plant-based ones that are growing in popularity. But even beyond the breakfast table, there are plenty of ways you can give savory yogurt a place on your plate. Here are three reasons why savory yogurt is a dairy good idea.

Meat yogurt’s true match.
Outside of the breakfast world, you’re likely to see yogurt listed on a menu next to a meat-forward dish. Take the grilled lamb belly you might find at Terrine in L.A. or the sesame-crusted lamb leg at Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis: Both feature yogurt as a complement. Chef Ricardo Jarquin of Travelle Kitchen + Bar in Chicago likes yogurt on braised dishes that tend to be particularly “meaty.” He likes to mix fresh herbs, lemon zest and salt into Greek yogurt, and use a spoonful to finish meats like short ribs or oxtail. “It brightens up the dish and makes it a little less rich and heavy.”

The lactic acid nature of yogurt means it can also be used in marinades, where it tenderizes meat, breaking down proteins to make the final result juicier. Chicken tikka masala would be nothing without its stint bathing in yogurt, and lamb is clearly a popular recipient for yogurt marinades. Todd Kelly, chef at Orchids at Palm Court in Cincinnati, marinates lamb loin in yogurt and harissa, and finishes it with mint yogurt.

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Dress to the nines.
Jarquin likes to mix Greek yogurt with lemon juice, honey and toasted spices, which he says is particularly good with vegetable-heavy salads. Yogurt dressing can round out the edges of bitter greens in a salad while adding a pleasant tang. It’s similar to using buttermilk, but the extra thickness lets it coat your ingredients better. At popular lunch spot Cava Grill around the country, you can top your falafel grain bowl with Sriracha Greek yogurt, and Kelly mixes yogurt with Chartreuse for his compressed watermelon salad.

Walk down the aisle.
It’s not just on restaurant menus that yogurt is shedding its sugary veneer. Look in the refrigerated section of a supermarket, and you’ll find Noosa’s latest line, which adds heat to the fruit purées of the ultra-velvety yogurt. Raspberries mingle with fiery habaneros, there’s jalapeño mixed into the pineapple flavor and serrano peppers hang out with blackberry. Dairy is widely considered to be the antidote to a peppery bite, so eating these flavors jump-starts a roller coaster of reactions: The first taste is creamy as normal, then the spice hits the back of your throat a second later, so all you’re left to do is keep eating it for the soothing feeling.

Blue Hill, of Dan Barber’s restaurant with the same name, launched a line of vegetable-forward yogurts a few years back. Milk from the farm’s 100-percent grass-fed cows is used to make flavors like parsnip, beet and sweet potato. Dip a spoon into the butternut squash yogurt when you’re missing fall, or when tomato season is a distant memory in the winter, peel back the lid of the vegetal tomato. When you do, you’ll find pairing suggestions, so you don’t feel helpless in your quest of navigating a cup of root vegetable-turned-yogurt.

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