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There are those things we eat, make, read, and gush over that are just too good to keep to ourselves. Here, we resist the urge to use too many exclamation points and let you in on our latest crushes.
Today: In praise of tangy, sour, rooty, oniony, salty, savory yogurts.
Before there was savory yogurt (in my personal yogurt timeline), there was sweet. I was raised, like so many American kids growing up in suburbia in the 1990s and 2000s, on your average grocery-store, fruit-on-the-bottom, and/or occasionally dessert-flavored yogurt. And I loved it; I ate so much of it that I almost certainly owe a significant part of my adolescent bone development to it. So while savory yogurt has been around forever—the original yogurt is, of course, "savory"—my flirtation with savory yogurt began with the advent of Greek yogurt on the American mass market. This coincided almost exactly with my parents' return from an anniversary trip to Greece: They came home with stories of the unsweetened yogurt they'd eaten for breakfast, yogurt so thick you could stand a spoon up in it. And then, almost as if by command, packaged Greek yogurt appeared on the shelves of our local Stop & Shop.
We brought it home to our kitchen and doctored it sweetly, the only way we knew.
It would be a long time before I thought to enjoy the tang of Greek yogurt on its own—or with olive oil or herbs. I didn't know what labneh was until I started college in New York. And I still love sweetened yogurt—well, unsweetened yogurt topped with jam or honey or fruit. It's what I eat for breakfast most days, and in terms of yogurt, this mode probably holds the biggest part of my heart. But there is a whole host of downright swoony savory yogurts—strained, like Greek and labneh, and otherwise—and my crush is deepening all the time.
But there is an important distinction to be made between unsweetened yogurt and savory yogurt. It's the rectangle-is-not-a-square rule all over: In my book, at least, unsweetened yogurt can be savory, and often is, but it is just as often intended to be sweetened; savory yogurt, on the other hand, is unsweetened, but meant to be enjoyed as is, in all of its salty, tangy, no-fruit-to-be-found glory. I would categorize my first foray with Greek yogurt as an unsweetened yogurt adventure. I sweetened it gleefully and with a heavy hand.
If you've not yet begun your foray into savory yogurts, here's a primer: There are yogurts flavored with sea salt (like Sohha), yogurts that are rooty (like Blue Hill's parsnip yogurt), yogurts that are oniony (like White Moustache's spring shallot yogurt), yogurt that's sour or even intense. Some of them sound a little weird (Blue Hill even has a tomato yogurt), but they merit a try (it's delicious). It's hard for me to name exactly what I like so much about savory yogurt, but I think it's a sense of integrity: They are boldly tangy and milky; they ask to be riffed on, to be used creatively. If you're looking for a fling, savory yogurts lend themselves so well to being condiments—but if you're looking for something more serious, try them all on their own.
Here are some ways to enjoy it:
- Swirled with olive oil, flaky sea salt, and spices (like red pepper flakes, sumac, or za'atar)—yep, just eat this with a spoon.
- Spread thickly on toast and topped with olive oil (or sliced radishes or cucumbers or tomatoes, or spices, or a shower of fresh herbs...anything goes)
- Dolloped into soup or onto lentils
- Whisked together with olive oil and lemon juice as a salad dressing
- Served alongside eggs and sautéed greens
- In place of mayonnaise on a sandwich
- Stirred into a savory oatmeal
Photo of labneh by Rivka; photo of dressing by Tara O'Brady; photo of yogurts by James Ransom
Are you team savory yogurt? Sing its praise (or, okay, your skepticism) in the comments.