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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Two Bay Area Authors Investigate Everything About Yogurt

Posted By on Wed, Apr 22, 2015 at 4:30 PM

click to enlarge EVA KOLENKO
  • Eva Kolenko

What are the chances that two Bay Area food writers would release books on the same topic within the same month? Well, it happened, and it’s a pretty specialized topic at that.

Yogurt Culture: A Global Look at How to Make, Bake, Sip, and Chill the World’s Creamiest, Healthiest Food (Rux Martin, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by San Jose-based food blogger and writer Cheryl Sternman Rule with photos by Ellen Silverman, and Yogurt: Sweet and Savory Recipes for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner (Ten Speed Press) by Napa Valley cheese enthusiast and San Francisco Chronicle contributor Janet Fletcher with photos by Eva Kolenko, are going head-to-head in a battle for those who can’t get enough of the dairy delight. Anyone looking to make their own, and anyone interested in ways to enjoy it other than atop granola, should give them a look-see.

Rule said that she only became aware of Fletcher’s book well after she signed a contract with her publisher. “Given how healthy and popular yogurt is, it’s probably not surprising that two books have come out in the same season," she told SF Weekly.

click to enlarge ELLEN SILVERMAN
  • Ellen Silverman
Both Rule and Fletcher have a section on producing yogurt at home, but both agree that all their recipes can easily be made with store-bought. Both authors also give a primer on the many kinds available, as well as what ingredients you may want to avoid. Both explore how yogurt is used in different countries, with the Middle East being a particular focus (Rule veers more toward Greece and Israel, while Fletcher heads more toward Turkey and Lebanon). Indian raitas play a significant part in both. Both offer numerous soups, both hot and cold, and meat dishes in which yogurt stars in marinades. Both offer smoothie ideas as well as desserts.

So what’s the difference? Quite honestly, there are delicious-sounding (and -looking) recipes in each.

In Rule’s: blood orange, kalamata, and red onion dip; cast-iron chicken with barberry gremolata over freekeh; cherry galettes with yogurt-ricotta cream. In Fletcher’s: yogurt cheese with feta, pumpkin seeds and za’atar; lamb meatballs in warm yogurt sauce with sizzling red pepper butter; yogurt parfait with peaches & peanut brittle.

If one is looking to explore the world of yogurt – and its many savory uses around the world – one can’t go wrong with either book, though it should be mentioned that Rule’s is over twice the size than Fletcher’s, both in terms of pages and number of recipes. If you’re a yogurt lover, this may be a case where a visit to an old-fashioned bookstore may be in your future, to see which author’s recipes make your mouth water more.

click to enlarge Lamb Meatballs in Warm Yogurt Sauce with Sizzling Red-Pepper Butter - EVA KOLENKO
  • Eva Kolenko
  • Lamb Meatballs in Warm Yogurt Sauce with Sizzling Red-Pepper Butter
Lamb Meatballs in Warm Yogurt Sauce with Sizzling Red-Pepper Butter

1 pound ground lamb
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 ⁄ 2 cup fine fresh bread crumbs
1 ⁄ 2 cup finely minced yellow onion
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 ⁄ 2 teaspoon toasted and ground cumin seeds (see note)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chicken broth
2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 cloves garlic, grated or finely minced (see note)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon minced fresh mint
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1 ⁄ 2 teaspoon medium-hot coarsely ground red pepper such as Aleppo or Maras¸ pepper (see note), or hot paprika
1 ⁄ 2 teaspoon toasted and ground cumin seeds (see note)

Combine all the ingredients and mix well with your hands.
Shape into 24 balls, dipping your hands in cold water as needed to keep the mixture from sticking.
Heat a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil and swirl to coat. When the oil is hot, add the meatballs; they should fit in a single layer.
Fry gently, turning the meatballs with two soup spoons so they brown on all sides, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meatballs to a plate. Pour off and discard any fat in the skillet.
Return the skillet to medium-high heat and add the broth. Stir with a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the skillet and simmer until they dissolve. Return the meatballs to the skillet, cover, and reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook for 10 minutes, and then transfer the meatballs to a plate using a slotted spoon.
In a large bowl, whisk together the yogurt, egg, garlic, dill, and mint. Slowly whisk in about 1 ⁄ 2 cup of the hot broth to warm the yogurt, and then pour the yogurt mixture into the skillet. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the sauce visibly thickens and just begins to simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste. Return the meatballs to the skillet and turn to coat them with the sauce. Cover and simmer gently until hot.
Divide the meatballs and sauce among 4 to 6 warmed bowls. Put the butter in a small saucepan or butter warmer and set over medium heat. When the butter melts, add the red pepper and cumin and swirl the pan until the butter foams and sizzles and the pepper’s aroma rises. Drizzle each portion with some of the red-pepper butter. Garnish with chopped dill.

Ground cumin is much more fragrant if you make it from whole seeds that you toast and grind only as needed. Put the seeds in a small dry skillet and cook over moderate heat‚ swirling the pan often‚ until the cumin darkens and becomes fragrant‚ 2 to 3 minutes. Let cool‚ and then grind into a fine powder in a mortar or spice grinder.

I typically use a Microplane‚ a rasp-style grater available at kitchenware stores‚ when adding garlic to yogurt. You can also mince the garlic finely with a knife‚ but I find that grated garlic infuses the yogurt better. It practically dissolves‚ so you don’t perceive any little bits of garlic in the yogurt. However‚ for a dish with sautéed garlic‚ such as Orzo with Spicy Lamb‚ Chickpeas‚ & Yogurt (page 72)‚ I prefer to mince it‚ as grated garlic produces too strong a flavor.

Aleppo pepper is from Syria (though also grown in Turkey)‚ Maras pepper is from Turkey‚ but both of these coarsely ground red peppers have a fruity‚ earthy flavor and a medium-low to medium level of heat. Keep in a tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator or freezer up to 6 months. To locate them‚ see Resources‚ page 135.

Cheryl Sternman Rule will be at Omnivore Books, Sunday, April 26, 3 p.m. Janet Fletcher will be there, Tuesday, May 19,  6:30 p.m.

Reprinted with permission from Yogurt, by Janet Fletcher, copyright © 2015, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

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About The Author

Alix Wall

Alix Wall

Alix Wall is an Oakland-based freelance writer and certified natural foods chef. Her web site is


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