Friday, June 14, 2024

It can be hard to find but good yogurt kicks all sorts of dishes up a notch

One of the small frustrations about living in Mexico is the difficulty in finding unsweetened yogurt with actual live cultures.

I’m sure many of you know what I mean: even if the label says “natural,” it’s bound to contain some kind of sweetener and a host of thickeners. Or, worse, the label will exclaim “Sin Azucar!” but corn syrup (jarabe or edulcorante de maíz) is the second or third ingredient. Don’t even get me started about the lack of active cultures (Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus), which is the whole point of eating yogurt to begin with. (Those contain the probiotics everyone’s so keen on nowadays.)

What to do? Well, diligent label reading is a must if you’re buying yogurt. If you’re lucky (like we are in Mazatlán), there’s a dairy at your local farmers’ market that makes their own real, fresh yogurt. The best commercial yogurt I’ve found is from Flor de Alfalfa, an organic dairy in Querétero. When it’s available in the grocery store, I always buy two or three containers, depending on the expiration date, because it’s so fabulous. (They also make a variety of cheeses.) Usually, the farm is open for tours and there’s a restaurant on site too, but since the pandemic that’s all been stopped.

You can also make your own yogurt, which is easier than you’d think.

The trickiest part is maintaining a consistent temperature so that the cultures can grow; that can be accomplished by whisking warmed milk and starter (i.e., ¼ cup or so of yogurt), wrapping the container in a towel and setting it in the sun for 8–10 hours (think of a sunny window). Inside the microwave or oven with the light on works too. You can Google and find more specific directions. And if you have an Instant Pot (I’m a happy new owner!) it’s as simple as can be.

Good yogurt is a great creamy base for a mint sauce.
Good yogurt is a great creamy base for a mint sauce.

Wondering what Greek yogurt is? It’s just regular yogurt that’s been strained or hung to make it thicker. You can easily make that at home too.

Yogurt, salt and spices make an excellent marinade for all meats and is especially tenderizing for chicken. (See recipe below.) For optimal results, don’t leave any meat in a yogurt marinade for more than five hours. Especially with summer coming, the cooling, refreshing tang of yogurt is a welcome addition to smoothies, as a substitute for all or some of the mayonnaise in salads or dressings and to dollop on chili, soups, tacos or enchiladas.

Yogurt-Marinated Kebabs

Chicken thighs will yield more flavorful kebabs. The yogurt helps keep the chicken moist over high direct heat.

  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon or lime juice
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. grated, peeled fresh ginger
  • 1 Tbsp. salt
  • 2-4 tsp. smoked or regular paprika
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • ½ tsp. ground cumin
  • ½ tsp. cayenne
  • 2 lbs. skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1½ -inch cubes

Whisk together everything except chicken in a medium bowl. Place chicken in large resealable plastic bag, add marinade and seal, removing as much air as possible. Marinate in refrigerator for 4–5 hours.

Thread chicken tightly onto skewers. Discard marinade. On medium-high grill, cook over direct heat until well-browned on all sides and center of chicken registers 160–165 F on an instant-read thermometer, 3–4 minutes per side.

Transfer to platter; let rest 5 minutes, serve.

Minty Yogurt Sauce

Great with lamb, chicken or pork.

  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • ½ cup finely chopped mint leaves
  • 2 tsp. minced fresh garlic
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
  • ½ tsp. ground cumin
  • ¼ tsp. cayenne
  • Salt and pepper

Whisk yogurt, mint, garlic, lime juice, cumin and cayenne in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Let sit 30 minutes to blend flavors.

These mango and feta appetizers are easy to make but hard to stop eating.
These mango and feta appetizers are easy to make but hard to stop eating.

Chicken-Mango Tortilla Appetizers

  • 1 cup finely chopped cooked chicken
  • ¾ cup plain yogurt
  • 1½ tsp. grated lime zest
  • 2 Tbsp. lime juice
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • Dash black pepper
  • 1 cup finely chopped peeled mango
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 4 flour tortillas (8 inches)
  • ½ cup crumbled feta or blue cheese
  • 2 Tbsp. minced fresh cilantro

In small bowl, mix yogurt, lime zest and juice, salt and pepper. Add chicken, mango and onion.

Grill tortillas over medium heat 2-3 minutes or until puffed. Turn; top with chicken mixture and cheese.

Cook, covered, 2–3 minutes longer or until bottoms of tortillas are lightly browned.

Drizzle with yogurt mixture; sprinkle with cilantro. Cut each tortilla into 4 wedges.

Lemon Meringue Muffins

  • 6 Tbsp. butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar, divided
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup plain yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp. grated lemon zest
  • ¼ tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1-1/3 cups flour
  • ½ tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • 2 egg whites

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, cream butter and 2/3 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Beat in yogurt, lemon juice, zest and vanilla.

In another bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and baking soda. Add to creamed mixture; stir just until moistened.

Fill lined muffin cups three-fourths full. Bake 17-19 minutes. Remove from oven. Increase oven setting to 400°.

In another small bowl, beat egg whites on medium speed until soft peaks form. Add remaining sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating on high after each addition until sugar is dissolved. Continue beating until stiff, glossy peaks form. Spread or pipe meringue onto muffins. Bake 6-8 minutes longer or until meringue is golden brown. Cool 5 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack. —

Need a quick salad topper? This green dressing can be whipped up in no time.
Need a quick salad topper? This green dressing can be whipped up in no time.

Simple Green Dressing

  • ½ cup plain yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp. lime juice
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ medium ripe avocado
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. minced fresh cilantro or parsley

Place ingredients in blender; process until smooth.

Janet Blaser is the author of the best-selling book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, featured on CNBC and MarketWatch. A retired journalist, she has lived in Mexico since 2006.

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