Cooking With Yogurt

Most of us start the year with plans and resolutions to eat healthier. Even as early as the end of January sometimes those plans take another course. Don’t beat yourself up. Truth is, you can start a resolution any day of the year. I’d encourage you to get back on track today with a very easy way to eat healthier – just add yogurt.


The Mediterranean Diet was ranked the 2019 Best Diet Overall by the US News and World Report. Eating yogurt as is, or using it in recipes, is a great way to bring the Mediterranean Diet to your table.

I Asked The Experts

When I have a question about the health benefits of eating or cooking with any sort of dairy product, in this case yogurt, I turn to my friends, the expert nutritionists at The Dairy Alliance. They represent dairy farmers across the Southeast, promoting milk and all the dairy products these farmers and cheesemakers produce.

You may already be aware that two of the health benefits of eating yogurt include protein for building and maintaining muscle tissue and calcium for building and maintaining strong bones/teeth.

But, Did You Know…

Not only is yogurt is high in protein, calcium and Vitamin B; but even people on lactose-free diets can eat yogurt as long as the yogurt contains   “live active cultures”. The good-for-you bacteria eats away at the lactose (or sugars) as the milk is made into yogurt. The result is the delicious tangy flavor of yogurt for everyone to enjoy in savory and sweet dishes alike. For more info on the nutrients in yogurt…


Keeping it Local

For me, the importance of eating healthier and keeping it local go hand in hand.

True, there are lots of delicious whole and skim milk yogurts on the market. Any of them will work well in each of these recipes. My personal preference, though, is to buy local milk and make my own yogurt or buy locally produced yogurt-style cheese from Zack Gadberry of Uno Alla Volta in Charlotte.


If you are in the Charlotte area, you may purchase Zack’s cheeses, all made from local and regionally sourced milk, at a number of area cheese shops and specialty food stores. The Uno Alla Volta yogurt-style cheese – just slightly thicker than a Greek Yogurt, but not as thick as Labneh – is available exclusively at the Matthews Community Farmers Market in downtown Matthews NC on Saturday Mornings.

Cooking with Yogurt – Heidi’s Easy Lamb Tikki Masala


Let’s jump right in today with a great recipe for a couple or a crowd. I’ve paired the classic yogurt-based Tikka Masala Sauce here with local lamb, but you can use the same recipe and technique with local beef, chicken, mixed seafood and vegetables as well. Roasted local eggplant, sweet potatoes and carrots are all particularly good with or without another protein. The dish will still be protein packed because of the addition of yogurt!

For the Lamb and the Yogurt Marinade

2 racks of local lamb, cut into chops

1 cup plain whole milk Greek Yogurt or Labneh (Homemade yogurt cheese – recipe below)

1/3 cup lemon juice

1 Tbsp. ground turmeric

2 Tbsp. toasted coriander seeds, ground

1 tsp. Outer Banks SeaSalt

2 tsp. toasted cumin seeds, ground

1-2 cloves local or organic garlic, minced

2 Tbsp. fresh minced or grated local ginger

For the Tikka Masala Sauce

3 Tbsp. Your favorite EVOO

1 medium sized local or organic white or yellow onion, thinly sliced

¼ cup tomato paste

1 Tbsp. each: ground cardamom; fresh grated ginger; Chili paste; toasted coriander seeds, ground

1 tsp. each: turmeric; toasted cumin seeds, ground; Garam Masala spice blend; salt

1 (28 oz) can organic crushed tomatoes

1 cup whole milk yogurt

Fresh minced cilantro to garnish


Trim the lamb to expose the rib bones, then season with salt and pepper. Combine the yogurt and marinade spices. Add the lamb chops to the bowl of marinade ingredients and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.

Place the yogurt coated chops on a parchment lined baking. Broil chops for 2 minutes a side. Remove from oven and reserve.

For the yogurt-tomato sauce: Saute the onions, tomato paste, spices, garlic and ginger and salt until the onions are tender.  Add the crushed tomatoes. Use the liquid to deglaze the pan – scraping up any little browned bits from the bottom of the pan – and continue to cook for 10 minutes or so, until the sauce thickens slightly.

Add the yogurt and cooked lamb to the sauce and cook gently for about 15 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste. Serve over rice with minced cilantro to garnish.

Recipe Notes to Make it Even Easier

It was my pleasure to be a guest in the kitchen on the set at WCNC-Tv’s Charlotte Today on Thursday January 24. Shared the recipe for this local lamb tikka masala to show just how easy it is.

You may make this recipe with either plain unsweetened whole milk yogurt or fresh made Labneh (see recipe below).

The same Tikka Masala recipe may be used with chicken, pork or firm tofu. You may add in  a mix of vegetables like eggplant, zucchini, sweet potato, carrots, etc. or substitute the vegetables for the additional protein.

Meats and vegetables may be marinated ahead of time, then frozen in the marinade.

And the Tikka Masala sauce may be made ahead of time, then frozen. Then all you have to do is defrost and grill or broil the meat; defrost and heat the sauce and then warm the meat in the hot sauce.

A tip on grinding spices

If you toast the dried spices before you grind them and add to the recipe they will have more flavor. Its easy to grind spices at home in a coffee grinder. Once you are done, simply take a tablespoon or two of coffee beans and grind them in the grinder just after you grind the spices. The coffee acts as a filter and completely gets rid of the taste and aroma of the spices. So tomorrow’s coffee won’t taste like cumin and coriander!

Making Homemade Labneh or Mediterranean Yogurt Cheese


Labneh is a cheese made from pressing the Whey (or liquid) out of whole milk yogurt.  Labneh has the same good-for-you nutritional aspects of yogurt – its just thicker and more spreadable. Traditionally, the labneh is seasoned with salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil and then served as a spread with toasted bread or pita and a citrusy spice called Zata’ar. In Lebanon, Labneh with zata’ar pita and a salad of tomatoes, cucumber, olives and mint is a staple to start the day.

On a trip to Raleigh last year, I had the pleasure of stopping for tea and a snack at Fresh Levant Bistro in the Layfayette Village shopping center. This is how they served the labneh and zata’ar toast on their menu – delicious!


How its done…

The recipe is easy. Start with a good thick whole or skim milk yogurt. Place the yogurt in a fine mesh strainer that is lined with coffee filters. While coffee filters are most certainly not the traditional way to strain the yogurt into cheese, I find them to be much more absorbent than cheese cloth.


Top the yogurt with several more coffee filters and place the strainer in a shallow bowl or dish. Then use a can of vegetables to weigh down the cheese.

The “Little Miss Muffet” technique for making Yogurt Cheese

Its really all just a process of separating curds and whey. As the yogurt sits in the strainer, the coffee filters start to absorb any liquid. This liquid is the whey. What the coffee filters can’t absorb goes through the strainer and into the bowl. Meanwhile the “curds” become what we know as labneh, a Mediterranean yogurt cheese.

Season the labneh with dried mint and salt, then refrigerate as is to use as you would any cheese spread. Or, you can roll the labneh into balls.

My friend and hair stylist, Sonia Abboud and I always share recipes whenever I go in for a cut or color. Just the other day I was talking about this Cooking with Yogurt post, and Sonia shared this technique she learned growing up in Lebanon and now enjoys at her home in Charlotte. These Labneh Makbous are fun to make, impressive to serve, and another great way to enjoy the health benefits of eating yogurt. Thanks, Sonia!

Labneh Makbouseh

Labneh is most often used in savory applications. Rolled into balls that are coated with ground spices and dried herbs for the Lebanese Labneh Makbouseh or rolled into balls and marinated in extra virgin olive oil for Labneh Makbouseh Bi Zeit .

How To Make these Savory Balls of Yogurt Cheese

First, combine salt and dried mint, to taste, with the labneh. Then, put tablespoon dollops of fresh make labneh on a cookie sheet lined with a linen or cotton dish towel. Refrigerate for several hours or over night. The labneh may still be moist, so the towels will absorb any additional whey. Then, use your hands to gently roll each dollop into a ball. Place the balls in a glass jar and cover with extra virgin olive oil.

The olive oil acts to preserves the labneh, so, these savory bites keep for weeks. They make for a delicious start to any meal, an accompaniment with wine, an addition to your next cheese board or a wonderful little snack any time the mood strikes.


Serve the Labneh Makbouseh with crispy pita or rounds of toasted bread and enjoy.

Coffee Cake, Chicken Salad and More Ways to Cook with Yogurt

While yogurt is a fabulous topping for fresh fruit, it can be so much more. Make yogurt your go-to, by using plain yogurt as a component in a savory salad dressing, a creamy touch to your next pasta dinner and a wonderful addition to any smoothie.

You are going to love my recipe for Yogurt Coffee Cake using a local yogurt from Carolina Farmhouse Dairy in Bahama, NC . This recipe is in my very first “Eat Local” post several years ago but its still a keeper! Then for a delicious Mango Curry Chicken Salad, check out this recipe from my friends at The Dairy Alliance.

Want to create your own salad? There are lots of local leafy greens to choose from – all even more delicious topped with my Orange Vinairgette Salad Dressing…

Orange Vinaigrette Salad Dressing with a Creamy Yogurt Variation on the Theme

2 tsp. minced local  leek or shallots

 Sea salt and pepper taste

2 Tbsp. fresh minced thyme and parsley or herbs of your choice

Juice and zest of 3 oranges

2 Tbsp. local honey

3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Sauté leek or shallots in 1 tsp. olive oil. Stir over high heat until these tender members of the onion family, begin to brown. Remove from heat. In a food processor or blender, combine all ingredients except oil to make a smooth blend. Slowly drizzle in oil as you whisk to emulsify.

Make a ‘creamy style’ dressing, by adding 1/4 cup plain yogurt to the herb and vinegar mix; then, blend in the oil.

Want to kick things up a notch? Use a pepper jelly in place of the honey. If you are in Charlotte, I recommend SummerStar Farms BestJamEver. The Twisted Tango variety is made locally in Monroe NC with cranberries, and local Raspberries and Jalapenos, and it packs a gentle but delicious punch. You’ll find SummerStar Farms every Saturday morning right next to Uno Alla Volta at the Matthews Community Farmers Market.

Serve this dressing over mixed local greens and roasted local carrots for a wonderful winter salad to serve as an addition to any meal. Or, use the dressing as a marinate and then top the salad with marinated grilled salmon, chicken or sauteed tempeh or firm tofu for a delicious one-dish meal.

But wait, there’s more! Looking for other ways to fit Dairy into your Diet?


Want more? Check out my Cooking with Milk post from the summer of 2018 for three delicious dressing recipes. You’ll learn more about how Cooking with Milk makes a difference in your diet; and will get the scoop about several local dairy farms, in the process.

With Thanks…


I’d like to express my thanks to my friends at The Dairy Alliance, sponsor of this partnered post.  The mission of The Dairy Alliance is to educate the public on the value of including dairy products into our daily diet as they  promote and protect the interests of the Southeast dairy farm families. I am delighted to help by sharing their story. Visit the Alliance’s website for more delicious dairy-centric recipes and to learn more about all The Dairy Alliance offers.

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