Get a Little ‘Yogurt Culture’

Cheryl Sternman Rule’s new book covers yogurt from a global perspective

In my previous post about Italian pine nuts, the dish I tried that showed them off so well was from Cheryl Sternman Rule’s new book, “Yogurt Culture” (Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $22). As promised, the recipe appears below, an assemblage of thick Greek yogurt and a lemon vinaigrette, garnished with toasted pine nuts and fresh parsley or the Middle Eastern spice mix za’atar. Drag a pita triangle through, making sure all the elements are represented, and see if you don’t agree with me that it’s way more than the sum of its simple parts.

“Yogurt Culture” is an around-the-world trip, starting with Rule’s Peace Corps assignment to Eritrea as a newlywed, where she first made her own yogurt. Clearly, the seed that grew into the book was planted. Interviews with cooks from yogurt-using cultures including Afghanistan, Greece, India, Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Mongolia, Pakistan, Serbia, and Turkey reflect the near-universality of the cultured milk, along with inspiring recipes spanning sweet and savory. There are plenty of yogurt facts—how did Greek yogurt come to dominate the category in recent years, anyway? “Yogurt Culture” manages to convey a lot of statistics while maintaining a friendly, enthusiastic tone, something I expected after Rule’s previous book, “Ripe” (Running Press, 2012). (You can read my post about “Ripe” here.) Rule’s instructions in “Yogurt Culture” for homemade yogurt will free you forever from the idea that you need any sort of appliance to make this ancient food. Her method’s remarkably similar to the one I learned from a Bulgarian friend years ago, right down to the insulating blanket wrap. It’s easy, and very rewarding, but don’t hesitate to use your favorite store-bought yogurt in the book’s tempting recipes, including the following dip.

Greek Yogurt with Lemon Vinaigrette From ‘Yogurt Culture’

(Makes 2¼ cups)

A bold pool of lemon vinaigrette adds a sunny hue to a bowl of yogurt, creating a dip with two colors, two textures, and two flavors. I ate a version of it in the morning at a small Israeli inn called Pausa.–Cheryl Sternman Rule

2 cups plain Greek yogurt, preferably whole-milk

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon pine nuts, lightly toasted in dry skillet

¼ teaspoon za’atar, or a few leaves fresh parsley, chopped

Warm whole-wheat pita triangles, for serving

In large bowl, beat yogurt until light and smooth. Scrape into shallow, wide serving bowl and smooth with back of spoon to create wide indentation. In small bowl or liquid measur­ing cup, whisk oil and lemon juice until emulsified; season well with salt and pepper. Pour vinaigrette over yogurt so it floods indentation. Sprinkle with pine nuts and za’atar or parsley. Taste, adding a bit more salt, if desired. Serve with warm pita.

Excerpted from Yogurt Culture, © 2015 by Cheryl Sternman Rule. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

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