In praise of…Greek yoghurt

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Greek yoghurt is pretty much a staple in any Greek fridge, something we were soon to discover on a trip to the Peloponnese. You find this lovely, thick, creamy yoghurt pretty much anywhere – rows of the stuff in supermarkets, delis or served with fresh fruit and drippings of local sweet honey or mixed with cucumber and garlic to make tzatziki. In the name of keeping our holiday as cheap as possible, we’d cook at home a lot. We were travelling about a fair bit though, so we’d often have a half pot of yoghurt to use up before we upped and left for the next stop. It worked out ok though – turns out you can rustle up a fair few last minute dinners with even just a few tablespoons of the stuff.

Here’s a snapshot of what we did (no apologies for the overuse of lemons here – they grow all over the place in Greece and soon formed a part of every dish!), but that’s not to say there aren’t tonnes of other ways you can use up that last bit of yoghurt. You can add it to cakes and muffins (see our French yoghurt cake recipe), whisk it into a salad dressing or use it instead of cream in an Eton mess. Also note, you can use other types of plain yoghurt here too.

 

POTATO & FRESH MINT SALAD

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This is a British classic, made with fresh Greek ingredients

Serves 4 as a side

2 medium potatoes
sea salt
2 sprigs of fresh mint, leaves picked
1 small garlic clove, peeled
3 tablespoons of Greek yoghurt
zest from ½ a lemon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil (extra virgin if possible)
black pepper

Roughly chop and cook the potatoes in salted water until tender, then drain and leave to cool. Meanwhile, finely chop the mint leaves and garlic, then add to a large bowl with the yoghurt, lemon zest, lemon juice and oil. Mix well to combine, then season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Add the cooled potatoes and toss to coat, then serve as part of a big spread of salads or with grilled meats.

 

YOGHURT DIPS

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A dollop of plain yoghurt can complement a spicy curry, perk up a fruit salad or add a nice bit of creaminess to a thick soup. Add a squeeze of lemon juice, a few herbs or a little crushed garlic and you can liven it up into a delicious dip, served as part of a meze with breads and salads or with crunchy veggies for a simple snack. Here are a couple of ideas.

Tzatziki is a Greek classic. To make it, coarsely grate ½ a cucumber and finely chop 1 small clove of garlic. Combine with 3 tablespoons of Greek yoghurt, add a good squeeze of lemon juice and stir well. Taste and season with salt, black pepper and more lemon juice, if needed. Delicious with warmed pitta breads.

For spicy red pepper yoghurt, char 1 red pepper and 1 red chilli over the direct flame on your gas hob until blackened all over (if you don’t have gas, griddle them or place under the grill). Place in a bowl, cover and leave to cool for 15 minutes. Once cooled, scrape away the black skin, then deseed and finely chop the flesh. Combine with 3 tablespoons of Greek yoghurt and season with salt and black pepper. You can blitz it into a smooth dip, if you like, or leave  it chunky. We served this with traditional Greek sausages and lots of crusty bread, but it’s equally good dolloped into a kebab, a salad wrap or served with salad when you want a spicy kick.

 

CREAMY LEMONY SPAGHETTI

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The thickness of Greek yoghurt makes it a great substitute for cream. It’s lighter and healthier but still adds a lovely silky texture without being too rich. When you’ve really got the bare minimum in the house, you can make a delicious meal out of pasta, a little yoghurt and plenty of black pepper. I’ve added to this basic meal, but feel free to keep it simples.

Serves 2

1 leek, trimmed (or other green veg that takes your fancy – I also used a leftover bit of baby courgette but have excluded it from this recipe for the sake of keeping it simple)
butter or olive oil
½ a lemon
200g spaghetti
3 tablespoons of yoghurt
black pepper

Finely chop the leek and slow cook over a low heat with a knob of butter or a drizzle of oil until softened and sweet (grate in the zest from ½ a lemon if you want it really lemony). Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in a large pan of boiling salted water until al dente.

Reserving a cupful of the cooking water, drain and add the pasta to the softened leeks. Add the yoghurt and toss well to coat until creamy and glossy, adding splashes of the cooking water if needed.

Add a squeeze of lemon juice and season well with black pepper, then serve with an drizzle of olive oil and a grating of hard cheese, if you have it. Also good with a sprinkling of dried oregano.

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