The Undiscovered Superfood

Fall 2010 CSANews Issue 76  |  Posted date : Sep 17, 2010.Back to list

I eat yogurt every day because it's good for me and I love it; I keep a tub of fat-free, plain yogurt in the refrigerator because I have yet to master making homemade fat-free yogurt. After every meal, I combine a cup of frozen berries (raspberries and blueberries) with 1/4 cup of plain, fat-free yogurt in my chopper. It grinds away at the frozen berries and out comes delicious frozen, fat-free raspberry yogurt.

I once purchased a styrofoam yogurt-maker from my local health-food store to make mesophilic (room temperature) yogurt. The process failed... I am still unsure as to what I did wrong. 

I tried making yogurt in a jar as well, placing the jar in the oven with the heat on very low. This process failed, too. I even tried making yogurt in the oven with the heat off and the light on. Another failure. 

I finally stumbled upon an electric yogurt-maker at my local Value Village. It cost me $8.00. I highly suggest that you invest in an electric model if you're interested in making yogurt at home for the first time.

Homemade yogurt is a probiotic food containing live beneficial bacteria that colonize the stomach with microbiota. Microbiota are essential to the proper functioning of your immune system and digestion and support your body's ability to digest critical nutrients.

In winemaking, yeast comes into contact with sugar and starts the fermentation, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide evaporates, leaving wine - yogurt works in much the same way. The beneficial bacteria come into contact with the sugar in milk, called lactose. This starts the fermentation.

What all yogurts have in common is that they are made from fermented milk. Yogurt can be made from cow's, sheep's or goat's milk and you can use skim to whole milks. Soy and rice milks need a specialized culture to get the fermentation started. Yogurt is lower in carbohydrates than milk and is high in protein, calcium, riboflavin, B6 and 12 vitamins and folic acid. It also contains strains of L. acidophilus (friendly bacteria), a probiotic. 

Probiotic means "pro life." Yogurt is believed to support the health of the digestive system, reduce constipation, alleviate vaginal yeast infections and boost the immune system. Homemade yogurt is also believed to be the best food to ingest after a bout of antibiotics. No wonder yogurt has been a staple in the human diet for 4,500 years. 

Scientific studies suggest that the L. acidophilus in pill form contains dead bacteria, and is therefore useless in producing any healthful benefits. Many sources also reveal that cold, store-bought yogurt in tubs is low in L. acidophilus as well... especially the versions containing sugar and fruit. So homemade yogurt is an important food to add to your diet. The key is to find a store-bought version that you like, so that you can use 1/4 cup of that one as your starter culture. This way, you'll be able to make homemade yogurt with a taste profile that you enjoy.

Yogurt has many cultural names. Piimä is a homemade Scandinavian version with a runny texture and almost cheesy flavour. My girlfriend Dina's mother makes Lebenah, a fresh Middle Eastern cheese made from homemade yogurt. Fresh yogurt is placed in a strainer lined with cheesecloth (I use paper towel) and set on top of a bowl. The whey (water-soluble liquid) drains from the curds (fat-soluble part) of the yogurt, leaving the thick, fresh cheese. The cheese is seasoned with salt and pepper, coated in olive oil, covered and refrigerated. Yogurt cheese can be used in a whole plethora of recipes and is a healthy substitute for other cheeses, such as cottage and ricotta. 

Besides enjoying frozen yogurt, I also use my plain, homemade yogurt in salad dressings, dips and sauces. It acts as a fabulous marinade, with its acidity breaking down the fibre in chicken and pork.

How about a citrus salad with ginger-yogurt dressing? Or grilled salmon with a citrus-yogurt sauce? 

Yogurt's predominant taste sensation is tanginess; this makes it a great match for wines possessing that same taste sensation. Dishes highlighting yogurt (such as tzatziki, a Greek and Turkish appetizer) partner extremely well with crisp, dry white wines, such as Pinot Gris (B.C.), Sauvignon Blanc (B.C. or Ontario), dry Riesling (Ontario), Viura (Spain), Cortese di Gavi (Italy), Orvieto (Italy), Gruner Veltliner (Austria) and more. Tzatziki is traditionally made from sheep's or goat's milk (along with cucumbers, lemon juice, olive oil and garlic), which has this predominant zesty, tangy taste. 

My best girlfriend is Armenian. I used to go to her house almost every day after school to indulge in her mom's homemade chicken fetteh. I've always been in love with this Middle Eastern dish - it, too, should be paired with a crisp, dry white wine. 

Here are my recipes for homemade yogurt and Armenian Chicken Fetteh:

Homemade Yogurt (Makes 1 quart)
  • 1 quart whole milk
  • 1 tbsp. plain gelatin (from bulk food store or supermarket)*
  • 1/4 cup favourite plain yogurt from supermarket
*You'll only need to use the gelatin for your first, and maybe second, batch of homemade yogurt. (Always reserve 1/4 cup of fresh yogurt to be used as the starter culture for your next batch.) By the time you get to making your third batch of homemade yogurt, using 1/4 cup of the culture from the batch before, you won't need the gelatin.

Turn on your electric yogurt-maker. Pour milk into a large pot on the stove. Heat on high until milk starts to steam. Reduce heat to low... do not let the milk boil. Leave milk to simmer on low for 30 minutes. Skim off the milk skin from the milk. Pour milk into your yogurt-maker container and let cool to room temperature. Remove about 1/2 cup of milk from the container. Add gelatin to this 1/4 cup of milk and whisk until smooth. Whisk this 1/2 cup of "gelatinized" milk back into the larger container of milk. Now whisk your 1/4 cup of your favourite store-bought plain yogurt into the container as well. 

Place the lid on the container and set inside the yogurt-maker. Let the milk ferment for eight to 12 hours. The longer the milk ferments, the higher the acidity level in the resulting yogurt. (If you like tangy yogurt, leave the mixture to ferment for 12 hours.) Once fermented, transfer the container of fermented milk to the refrigerator - the cold stops the fermentation process. Let the yogurt set for six to eight hours. 

Armenian Fetteh (Serves 4 to 6)
  • 1 cooked and cooled chicken 
  • 2 cups plain, fat-free yogurt 
  • 2 or more cloves garlic, minced 
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste 
  • 2 cups cooked basmati rice
  • 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts 
  • 1 pita, broken into 1-inch pieces
Remove the chicken meat from the bones and shred it into bite-sized pieces, placing them in a bowl. Set aside.

In another bowl, combine yogurt, garlic, lemon juice and sea salt to taste. Fold in chicken pieces.

In a casserole, lay the rice on the bottom. Top with yogurt-and-chicken mixture. Sprinkle with pine nuts and pita pieces. Set mixture under broiler and cook until pita pieces are toasted. Serve hot.