Dr. Neena Thomas-Eapen praised the healthy aspects of yogurt in a cooking class at the Gourmet Chef, but it was the tangy taste of her recipes that excited students.
She prepared Brussels sprouts in a yellow yogurt sauce and a mango-yogurt drink called Mango Lassi, as well as grilled chicken and broiled eggplant in a yogurt sauce.
Teaching students how to make their own yogurt using ordinary kitchen equipment was another plus of the class. Her only caution was to be certain the commercial yogurt they used for a starter was labeled with the words "contains live lactobacillus," not "made with active ingredients."
The Minot physician explained that yogurt, a fermented milk product, uses a healthy bacteria to change milk sugar to lactic acid.
"Yogurt is a healthy food, containing probiotics, or gut-healthy bacteria," she explained. "Probiotics are good for health of the digestive system which has positive effects on the body's immune system."
"The nutritional profile of yogurt is even better than that of milk," she said, "and even people with mild to moderate lactose intolerance may accept yogurt well."
Preparing yogurt at home
It is easy to prepare yogurt at home. Cooks may use home yogurt makers but they are not necessary, and if larger quantities of yogurt are needed, the maker may not hold enough.
Dr. Neena Thomas-Eapen suggested this recipe for a cup of yogurt.
Heat a cup of milk to 180 F -- do not boil. Cool to 110 F. (A clean fingertip can give an inexact but close temperature reading -- if cooks can leave the fingertip in the milk for 10 seconds, it is close to correct.
Add a tablespoon of yogurt with live active cultures. Mix well. Cover. In summer, leave it on the countertop 5 to 7 hours. If the room temperature is cool, or in winter, preheat the oven to 170 F and switch it off. Put milk mixture, in an oven-safe container, in the oven. Yogurt will be ready in 5 to 7 hours.
Consistency and tanginess depends on how long the preparation is left out. The longer the yogurt sits out, the more tart it will become. Once the desired taste is reached, it can be stored in the refrigerator several days.
Many commercially available yogurts may be pasteurized before sale. Heating kills the active cultures. A label saying "made with active cultures," doesn't mean anything, Thomas-Eapen said. Look for labels that say "contains live lactobacillus," for making yogurt at home.
She explained yogurt is a fermented milk product in which healthy bacteria convert the milk sugar, or lactose, to lactic acid. Commonly-used bacteria strains are Lactobacillus Bulgaricus or Streptococcus Thermophilus, collectively known as acidophilus. When yogurt is made, a clear or slightly greenish liquid may float on it. Called whey, it is harmless and can be stirred into the yogurt.
Yogurt has high calcium for muscles and bones, about 400 milligrams in eight ounces. It also offers protein and B vitamins.
She said yogurt, with its probiotics, is recommended to people who are taking antibiotics or if they have health problems such as diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome.
But the tangy flavor of yogurt, in the dishes Thomas-Eapen prepared and served, was plenty of incentive for her students.
Grilled Chicken Marinated in Spiced Yogurt
1/2 pound boneless chicken pieces, cut 2 inches by 5 inches
1/2 teaspoon paprika powder
1/2 teasoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper (optional)
1/2 teasoon olive oil
1/4 cup yogurt
Dash sea salt
Combine all ingredients except chicken. Adjust salt. Mix in chicken so all pieces get marinated well.
Cover bowl and refrigerate. Let it marinate at least an hour -- may be prepared several hours ahead and refrigerated.
Grill until chicken is well cooked, surfaces are dry and golden brown.
Serve warm as side dish or appetizer.
Broiled Eggplant in Yogurt Sauce
Medium eggplant (yields about 2 cups of flesh)
1/8 cup canola oil
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 cup finely-chopped onion
1 teaspoon finely-chopped fresh ginger
1 medium-size clove garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt or a bit more
2 cups yogurt
Turn oven on to broil. Place egg plant on metal tray or cookie sheet; place in middle of oven. Check at 5 minute intervals, turning it round so all sides get cooked, until skin is flaky and peels easily. Take egg plant out and let it cool. Remove skin. Finely chop the flesh into small pieces.
Heat a heavy-bottomed pan on medium high heat. Add oil. When oil is well heated, add mustard seeds. When seeds start popping, add cumin seeds, followed by onions. Stir often. When onions start to turn slightly brown, add ginger, followed by garlic. Stir again. When it turns golden brown, add eggplant and salt. Cook a minute or so, stirring well. Remove pan from stove. Let it cool down halfway. Add yogurt and mix well. Taste and adjust salt. Serve with warm rice. Serves 6.