Here’s the easiest cheese recipe I know: Dump a quart of plain yogurt into a cheesecloth-lined colander or a sieve set over a bowl. Put a plate on top and refrigerate. After a couple of hours, stir in salt to taste. Continue draining until the yogurt is as thick as cream cheese, about 24 hours.
Now you can scrape the yogurt cheese into a bowl or onto a plate and serve it with rye toast or bagel chips. But I like to dress it up a little. Scroll down to find a recipe for Yogurt Cheese with Feta, Pumpkin Seeds and Za’atar from my new book, Yogurt: Sweet and Savory Recipes for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner.
People know me as a cheese writer and educator, but the truth is that I loved yogurt first. As a teenager, I would freeze half-pint cartons of fruit yogurt and take them to school for lunch; they would be slushy by noon. (Maybe this wasn’t the smartest idea in steamy Texas, but I’m still here.) Today, I’m not the only one with a yogurt habit. The space devoted to yogurt at my local Whole Foods seems to grow by the week. But I have noticed shoppers stymied by that wall of choices, which made me wonder if yogurt newcomers could use a little advice.
With Yogurt: Sweet & Savory Recipes for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner, I’m hoping to guide you toward the better choices in store-bought yogurt and, when you’re ready, to help you make great yogurt at home. I’m also advocating for plain yogurt—the traditional, tangy cultured milk that has nourished people and inspired cooks from Baghdad to Bangalore. And finally, I want people who enjoy yogurt mostly as a breakfast or snack to explore it as an ingredient. I hope that recipes like Lamb Meatballs in Warm Yogurt Sauce with Sizzling Red-Pepper Butter, Turkish Spiced Green Beans with Yogurt, and Yogurt Mousse with Orange Marmalade and Toasted Almonds will show why I consider yogurt a kitchen staple.
For Sunset Magazine, I recently did a quick video lesson in making yogurt at home. The May issue has more details on my yogurt procedure. And the book has even more guidance and trouble-shooting tips to help you make perfect thick and creamy yogurt every time.
I’ve just posted several spring recipes on my website, including two favorites from Yogurt. I hope they’ll inspire you to broaden your use of this ancient, delicious and wholesome food.
Yogurt Cheese with Feta, Pumpkin Seeds, and Za’atar
This communal Middle Eastern meze is more about arranging ingredients than about cooking them. A bed of creamy yogurt cheese topped with feta, olive oil, pumpkin seeds, and za’atar—a Middle Eastern spice blend—makes an exotic dip for vegetables. I’ve suggested a few possibilities, but feel free to embellish with green onions, fennel, or roasted beets. Tear off some flatbread, scoop up some cheese, and wrap around a sprig of mint and a cucumber spear. From Yogurt: Sweet and Savory Recipes for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner.
- 2 dozen Niçoise olives or other unpitted black olives
- 1-1/2 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling on the olives
- 1 cup Yogurt Cheese
- 1 small clove garlic, grated or finely minced
- Kosher or sea salt
- 1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
- 1 teaspoon za’atar (available at spice shops)
- 1 tablespoon toasted salted pumpkin seeds
- Medium-hot coarse red pepper, such as Aleppo or Maraş pepper or hot paprika
- Persian or English hothouse cucumbers, in thin spears
- Radishes, preferably several varieties, any ragged leaves trimmed
- Sprigs of mint or dill
- Flatbread or pita
Preheat an oven to 325°F. Put the olives in a shallow baking dish, drizzle lightly with olive oil, and toss to coat. Bake until warm throughout, about 5 minutes. Keep warm while you prepare the rest of the dish.
Stir together the yogurt cheese, garlic, and salt to taste. With a rubber spatula, spread on a plate in a thin pool, making sure to create some indentations where olive oil can puddle. Sprinkle the feta on top. Drizzle with the 1-1/2 to 2 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle with the za’atar. Scatter pumpkin seeds over all and dust with red pepper. Surround with the warm olives, cucumbers, radishes, and herb sprigs. Serve warm flatbread alongside.