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Yogurt Cheese: The Miracle Ingredient


by Shelley Melvin

I love food! I love its colors, textures, flavors, aromas and tastes. I have also had a weight problem since the age of 12.

Like many people, my problem is not only at mealtime; I am a snacker too. But carrot sticks or an apple simply are not satisfying. I want potato chips, peanut butter, cookies, ice cream, cheese and crackers! I had to learn to control these cravings. I finally did, with the discovery of a versatile, "perfect" food called yogurt cheese. I haven't looked back.

First I blended it with a packaged onion soup mix, and couldn't tell it wasn't made with sour cream! So, with my spice cabinet open and garlic press handy, I started mixing and matching until I had a nice little repertoire of low-fat recipes that tasted rich and creamy.

With many new tastes to choose from, it was a small step from dip to salad dressing; it's great to be able to have a tossed salad with thick creamy dressing. Then I added the mixtures to tuna and then to chicken, fish and potatoes. Next I added yogurt cheese to baked goods and reduced the fat. Many of these experiments worked, and the results were exciting! Now I can count on a collection of cakes and brads that don't spoil my diet.
Yogurt cheese is so easy to work with that you, too, can do what I've done here. You can "de-fat" and "decalorize" your own favorite recipes by substituting yogurt cheese for cream cheese, sour cream and mayonnaise. For those times when you crave something that's "forbidden," you may be able to have just a little by combining it with yogurt cheese to make it lowER in fat and calories. The cheese takes on the flavor of whatever it's mixed with.

People diet for different reasons and in different ways. In testing the recipes for this book, I kept in mind how they would fit into my Weight Watchers program. What could be better than a cup of cream soup that counts as one milk or protein and two vegetables? For those of you on other programs and diets, each recipe includes nutritional information and the exchanges developed by the American Diabetes Association and American Dietetic Association.

Just about everyone seems to be on a diet of some sort—to lose weight, lower cholesterol, or reduce sodium intake. Yet it is hard to stay on a diet that is bland, boring, tasteless or unsatisfying. Now when that hungry feeling attacks—mealtimes or in-between—you have a selection of tasty foods that fit into your total dietary plan.

So next time you want a snack, entree, soup, salad, bread or dessert that's quick to make, fun to eat, and tastes delicious, try one of these recipes and feel good about the healthy choice you've made.

Here are a few principles to guide you as you make the recipes in this article.

Yogurt Cheese: Most recipes specify a quantity of yogurt cheese rather than yogurt. In general, you will get about 1 cup of yogurt cheese from 16 ounces of yogurt. Quantities are not critical. You can also change one flavor of yogurt cheese to another. For example, when a recipes calls for vanilla, you can subtitute plain nonfat and add a little sweetener and a drop of vanilla.
Cheese: Some recipes include Cheddar and other cheeses that, as everyone knows, are high in fat and cholesterol. By combining them with yogurt cheese, the fat and cholesterol are lowered so you may be able to allow yourself a small amount without breaking your diet. You can also substitute low-fat versions, though the flavor will be milder.

Eggs: You can substitute egg whites in recipes that call for whole eggs: 2 whites for 1 whole egg. Your final product will be a little richer and creamer with whole eggs and lower in fat and cholesterol with just the whites.

Sodium: Most of the recipes are low in sodium and offer options for lowering it. Yogurt cheese is naturally low in sodium because about half the sodium in the yogurt drains out in the whey. And because yogurt cheese tends to absorb the flavors of other ingredients in the recipe, it is usually not necessary to add salt.

"Holding": Yogurt cheese mixtures are their firmest when taken from the refrigerator, and tend to soften at room temperature. When mixed with other ingredients, the flavors blend and develop more if they are held for a while. You can firm-up texture and blend the flavors by refrigerating several hours or overnight. If whey continues releasing after the mixture has been held, simply pour off any accumulated whey (or stir it in).

Sugar: Although I have used sugar in these recipes, you can readily substitute another sweetener, such as honey, grain sweetener, fruit juice concentrate, spreadable fruit (with no sugar), or even an artificial sweetener.
Nutritional Analysis: Whenever there is more than one choice for an ingredient or an amount, the nutritional information for the recipe is based on the first one listed. Not included in the analysis: optional ingredients and those for which no quantity is given. All figures are approximate; actual values may very depending on season, brand of product used, etc. Nutritional values of yogurt cheese will also vary with draining time and method used.

Exchanges: Exchanges are based on the 1995 revision of Exchange Lists for Meal Planning, developed by the American Diabetes Association and the American Dietetic Association. If you use them, remember that the exchange for 1 carbohydrate is equal to 1 starch or 1 milk or 1 fruit.

The recipes in this article are based on one special ingredient: yogurt cheese. So, if yogurt cheese is unfamiliar to you, your first step is to get acquainted.

Start with Yogurt: Use any natural yogurt, either plain or flavored, that does not contain gelatin. Gelatin holds the whey in the yogurt and does not allow it to drain off. Sometimes other stabilizers affect draining. You may have to experiment to find the best yogurt in your area.
How To Make Yogurt Cheese: Spoon yogurt into a draining device, place it over a tall receptacle to catch the liquid (whey) that drains out—the yogurt cheese must not come in contact with the whey—and put in the refrigerator. As the whey drains off, the remaining cheese gets thicker. After 2 hours the cheese will be creamy. Eight to 12 hours creates a dense cheese. After 24 hours the yogurt probably will not release any more whey and the cheese will be very stiff.

The drained-off whey is about half the original quantity of yogurt (8 ounces whey from 16 ounces yogurt). Discard whey, unless you wish to use it for soups, etc.
Keep yogurt cheese refrigerated in a covered container. It will keep for about a week. Whey may continue releasing, so pour off any liquid before using.

Mixing, Cooking, Freezing: Yogurt cheese has a creamy, spreadable consistency that mixes easily. You can use anything from a fork or wire whisk to a food processor or blender. Like all milk products, yogurt cheese is sensitive to heat, so heat gently and do not allow to boil. You can prevent separation or thinning during cooking by combining it with flour or cornstarch. It is best to add yogurt cheese to hot foods at the end of the cooking time. Yogurt cheese freezes well. If the texture becomes grainy, stir until smooth.

Yogurt Cheese is Remarkable! A remarkable feature of yogurt cheese is its versatility. Make a party dip, for example, and thin the leftovers with a little milk and it becomes a creamy soup. Change your mind and turn the soup into a baked potato topping. Or a salad dressing. It's easy to experiment! Yogurt cheese mixtures are never boring because they can be used in many ways.
It's own flavor is part way between cream cheese and sour cream, varying with milkfat content and brand of yogurt. But when you add another ingredient, it takes on the flavor of what you've added!

Yogurt cheese has been around for a long time. In fact, laban (the Arabic name for yogurt cheese) has been a part of Middle Eastern cuisines for centuries. Now it's time for Americans to get acquainted with it and start reaping the benefits.

Makes about 1 3/4 cups (serves 6-8)
1 cup non-fat yogurt cheese
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 drops Tabasco sauce, or more to taste
dash paprika
1/4 cup finely chopped green pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped celery
2 Tbsp finely chopped onion
8 small pimiento-stuffed olives, chopped (2 Tbsp)
2/3 cup cheese cracker crumbs
In a medium-size bowl, whisk yogurt cheese, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce and paprika until smooth. Stir in the green pepper, celery, onion and olives.

Line a 2-cup souffle dish with plastic wrap. Spread with half the cheese mixture; sprinkle with one-third of the crumbs. Repeat with a layer of cheese mixture then one-third of the crumbs. Cover and chill until serving time.

To serve, turn out on a platter, remove the plastic wrap and sprinkle with remaining crumbs. Cut into small wedges and surround with raw vegetables such as cucumbers, celery and carrot strips.

1/4 cup: Calories 68; Protein 4 gm; Carbohydrates 8 gm: Fat 2 gm; Cholesterol 0 mg; Calcium 91 mg; Sodium 188 mg. Exchanges: 1 vegetable and 1/2 milk. Diet note: For low sodium diets, omit part or all of the olives.

Serves 6

1 Tbsp olive oil
15 oz bay scallops (or imitation scallops)
1/2 cup sliced green onions
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, diced (or use canned)
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1/2 cup non-fat yogurt cheese
1 cup frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
3 Tbsp chopped fresh basil leaves
3 cups cooked spinach fettucine, hot
3 Tbsp grated fresh Parmesian cheese

In a large skillet, heat the oil. Saute the scallops for 2 minutes, stirring; remove scallops and set aside.
In same skillet, saute onions, garlic and tomatoes 1 to 2 minutes. Season with pepper and add wine. Cook over low heat for 20 minutes.

Combine cornstarch with the yogurt cheese; add artichokes and basil.

Return scallops to pan along with yogurt cheese mixture, and cook, stirring constantly until thickened and scallops are cooked.

To serve, divide cooked fettucine among 6 plates, top with the scallop mixture, and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Per serving: Calories 195; Protein 17 gm; Carbohydrates 21 gm: Fat 3 gm; Cholesterol 11 mg; Calcium 111 mg; Sodium 128 mg. Exchanges: 2 meat and 1 starch.

Makes about 5 cups

2 1/2 cups chicken broth or stock (low-sodium)
10-oz pkg frozen green peas
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp curry powder, or more to taste
1/2 tsp dry mustard
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup non-fat yogurt cheese
Major Grey's chutney, optional garnish

Combine chicken broth, peas, onion, garlic, curry powder, dry mustard, salt and pepper in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes. Allow to cool.

In a large bowl, whisk the yogurt cheese until smooth.
Working in batches, puree the soup mixture in a food processor (metal blade) or blender. Strain through a fine sieve, then whisk into the yogurt cheese. Thin to desired consistency with a little chicken broth or water. Cover and chill for about 4 hours.

Just before serving, add a little water if soup has thickened, and adjust the seasonings. Garnish each bowl with a dollop of chutney, if desired.

1 cup: Calories 105; Protein 8 gm; Carbohydrates 15 gm: Fat 1 gm; Cholesterol 0 mg; Calcium 138 mg; Sodium 124 mg. Exchanges: 2 vegetables and 1/2 milk. Diet note: The water you add will automatically lower all the nutritional values.

Serves 12
1/3 cup yellow cornmeal
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup wheat germ
1 Tbsp baking powder
4 egg whites
1/4 cup safflower oil
1/4 cup honey
1 cup non-fat yogurt cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch round pan with nonstick cooking spray.
In a large bowl, combine the cornmeal, whole wheat flour, wheat germ and baking power.
In a small bowl, combine egg whites, oil, honey and yogurt cheese, and whisk until smooth. Add to the dry ingredients and stir until just moistened.
Pour into the pan and bake for 35 minutes. Cut into 12 wedges and serve warm.
1 wedge: Calories 122; Protein 4 gm; Carbohydrates 15 gm: Fat 5 gm; Cholesterol 0 mg; Calcium 113 mg; Sodium 106 mg. Exchanges: 1 starch/bread and 1 fat. Diet note: To lower sodium, low-sodium baking powder may be used.

Makes about 4 dozen
3 cups rolled oats (old fashioned or quick)
1 cup unsifted all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
3/4 cup chopped nuts or raisins, optional
1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
3/4 cup non-fat yogurt cheese
2 egg whites
2 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray cookie sheets with nonstick cooking spray.
In a large bowl, stir together oats, flour, cinnamon, baking soda, nutmeg and nuts.
In a medium-size bowl, combine the brown sugar, yogurt cheese, egg whites and vanilla and whisk until smooth. Stir into the dry ingredients and mix well. Drop by level tablespoons onto the prepared cookie sheets, flattening the dough slightly with the back of a spoon.
Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove immediately from cookie sheets and cool on racks.
2 cookies: Calories 99; Protein 3 gm; Carbohydrates 20 gm: Fat 1 gm; Cholesterol 0 mg; Calcium 33 mg; Sodium 21 mg. Exchanges: 1 fruit and 1/2 milk.

Excerpted from Not Just Cheesecake: A Yogurt Cheese Cookbook 2nd ed by Shelley Melvin. Copyright © 1997 by Triad Communications, Inc. Excerpted by arrangement with Triad Communications, Inc. All rights reserved. $16.95. Available in local bookstores or call 800.525.6902 or click here.


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