Cultured food

Did you ever wonder what Little Miss Muffet who sat on her tuffet was really eating? It might surprise some but the snack she never finished that frightful day was perhaps the 18th century version of today’s most popular dairy snacks-curds and whey…the yogurt!

A fruit parfait is delicious for breakfast

A fruit parfait is delicious for breakfast

Did you ever wonder what Little Miss Muffet who sat on her tuffet was really eating? It might surprise some but the snack she never finished that frightful day was perhaps the 18th century version of today’s most popular dairy snacks-curds and whey…the yogurt!

Yogurt is an ancient food and was probably discovered accidently. Folklore describes the story of a traveling nomad in the Turkish desert. Legend has it that he kept some milk in a goatskin bag hung across his camel. After traveling in the hot sun and the constant agitation of his bag during his travels, the milk was transformed into a tangy custard. The warmth, bacteria in the bag and his movements were ideal for making the first yogurt.

Yogurt is a healthy food made by adding a starter culture of bacteria to pasteurized milk. The bacteria naturally acts on the milk’s sugar to create lactic acid, which gives yogurt its characteristic thick, creamy texture and tangy taste.

It’s health benefits have long been recognized. Not only is it full of calcium and protein, but it is the active cultures that provide the most benefits to our body. Much research has been done that proves that these good bacteria used to make yogurt protect the gastrointestinal tract from infection, stabilizes the immune system and discourage vaginal infections. The live cultures also work with calcium to increase absorption by the bones, making yogurt an excellent choice to help prevent osteoporosis. For those who are lactose intolerant should consider incorporating yogurt into their menu. Lactose in milk is converted by yogurt’s bacteria into lactic acid which helps digest lactose or dairy products. Without a doubt, yogurt promotes good health.

Yogurt complements well with fruit and is commonly eaten for breakfast or as a snack. But its uses go way beyond that. The acidity in yogurt acts as a tenderizer, making it a great ingredient in marinades. Mix yogurt with salt, pepper, and any other herbs or spices you desire. You could also mix in some Dijon mustard, horseradish or hot sauce to add some spice. Before cooking your meat shake the excess liquid off. Substitute plain yogurt for milk or buttermilk in your baked goods . It will create a moist tangy crumb, and also helps to eliminate some of the butter in the recipe.

For every one tablespoon of butter you leave out add another tablespoon of yogurt.

Yogurt also adds tanginess to salad dressings and dips. You can use it in place of sour cream or buttermilk in just about any recipe. For a really quick, thick and tasty herb dip make yogurt cheese. Spoon the yogurt into a cheesecloth-lined strainer or a coffee filter, and set it atop a container to catch the whey. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, then discard the liquid that has drained into the container. The longer the yogurt is allowed to drain, the harder the cheese will be. Mix in your favourite fresh or dried herbs, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and a splash of lemon juice. Roll the cheese in some nuts and you have a delicious and healthy cheese ball.

And with hot weather finally at our door steps, a healthy way to quench the thirst and to keep cool is to hydrate with Yogurt lassies (smoothies) and yogurt popsicles. Just add mango, strawberry, pineapple or any of your favourite fruit into a blender with yogurt and a bit of sugar. Pour into popsicle molds and freeze to enjoy later. For lassies, thin the concoction by blending in milk and some ice. Serve in a tall glass.

Now that I have you all craving for some yogurt, which brand is the best to buy? The best tasting and the most economical way to enjoy this cultured snack is to make your own. All you need is milk, starter culture and a Pyrex bowl.

When making yogurt the first time, the best culture is a batch of plain store bought yogurt. Just make sure the container says “active cultures” or “live cultures.” You don’t have to buy more starter to make your second — and succeeding — batches of yogurt. Just save a tablespoon or two from your yogurt culture to inoculate the next batch of milk. You should, however, start the next round within five to seven days, or (if you can’t meet the deadline or for future use) simply freeze some fresh yogurt and thaw the iced culture when you’re ready to brew again.

Making Home-made Yogurt

Step 1 : Heat milk until it comes to a full boil. In 1000Watt microwave oven it takes approximately 20 minutes for two liters. Use the same bowl for heating and setting the yogurt. If you want to set the yogurt in a different container make sure to sterilize that container.

Step 2: Allow the milk to cool to lukewarm and remove the top skin that forms on the milk . Add three tablespoons of yogurt for every two litres of milk, stirring the mixture evenly.

Step 3: Incubate the milk in the oven with the oven light on for at least 10 hours.

Step 4: Chill the yogurt in the fridge before using.

And there you have it. Yogurt is a unique living food that will boost both your health and your energy and can easily — and economically — be made at home. Try it!

Mango Lassi Yogurt Pops

1 mango 1 1/2 cups plain yogurt 2 to 3 teaspoons sugar, or to taste

Peel mango and cut fruit away from pit. Discard pit. Puree mango flesh in food processor or blender. In a bowl, stir yogurt until smooth and creamy (no lumps). Add sugar and pureed mango and stir to blend thoroughly. Taste for sweetness. If it tastes perfect before freezing, add a pinch or two more sugar; flavors tend to diminish when frozen. Pour into pop molds and freeze at least 8 hours. To extract, run hot water over bottom and sides of pop mold for 5 seconds. Repeat for 5 seconds if needed. Serve immediately.

Easy Fruit Parfait Makes three cups

3 cups plain yogurt 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 4 teaspoons honey Favourite fruit diced 1/4 cup shelled, unsalted dry-roasted chopped pistachios

Combine yogurt and vanilla in a bowl. Spoon 1/3 cup yogurt mixture into each of 4 small parfait glasses; top each with 1/2 teaspoon honey, Fruit sections, and 1/2 tablespoon nuts.

Top parfaits with the remaining yogurt mixture (about 1/3 cup each); top each with 1/2 teaspoon honey, top with fruit and 1/2 tablespoon nuts. Serve immediately.

Madhu Badoni is a Red Deer-based freelance food writer. She can be reached at madhubadoni@gmail.com

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