My love affair with yogurt began about 10 years ago. Not the sweet, fruity kind of yogurt…but good old plain yogurt, or Greek yogurt as it’s commonly called in the States. As I traveled extensively through Turkey, the Middle East, Northern Africa and India, I noticed a common thread among these very diverse cultures — yogurt, an integral ingredient that is used often and liberally from Morocco to Mumbai. Prior to my travels abroad, I had, for many years, enjoyed yogurt in the form of tzatziki, but I had never experienced yogurt quite like this. I found it incorporated in a myriad of different ways at every meal – breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert. I had never before fully appreciated its immense versatility and how many different applications there are for a simple plain yogurt!
While the U.S. is slow to catch on (by like thousands of years), yogurt’s many attributes have been fully embraced in other parts of the world for centuries.
So, what makes plain yogurt so special? In addition to its proven health benefits, there are several reasons why it is such a useful ingredient: 1) Its inherently tangy, yet neutral palate acts as a terrific base which absorbs, even boosts, the flavors with which it is paired; 2) Similar to buttermilk, yogurt’s natural enzymes effectively penetrate the fibers of meat and act as a wonderful tenderizing agent; 3) It’s versatile, complex and delicious!
My infatuation with plain yogurt was only heightened when I discovered Yotam Ottolenghi while living in London and began following his inspirational way of cooking with fresh, healthy ingredients. Born in Jerusalem, Ottolenghi incorporates yogurt in many of his dishes in both traditional and unexpected ways, and I soon found I was using plain yogurt almost daily in one way or another. In fact, I was going through so much yogurt that I started making my own (which is surprisingly simple to do)!
One of my favorite uses for yogurt is as a tenderizing component in marinades. This yogurt-based marinade is about as simple as it gets…but incredibly flavorful and produces deliciously tender meat. It can be paired with pork, chicken or lamb with wonderful results.
Yogurt and Herb Marinated Pork Kebabs
The yogurt in this marinade boosts the flavors of the herbs and lemon juice and creates deliciously tender meat.
- 1 pork tenderloin (approx. 1 lb.), cut into 1″ cubes
- ½ of a 5 oz container of plain Greek yogurt (2% or fat free is fine)
- 1 small garlic clove, minced
- 2 Tbl lemon juice
- 1 Tbl red wine vinegar
- 2 Tbl olive oil
- 2-3 chives, finely chopped
- Large pinch of rosemary (fresh is best)
- Large pinch of oregano (fresh is best)
- Kosher salt/ground pepper
- Red chile flakes
Place cubed pork in a ziplock bag. Whisk together the rest of the ingredients and pour over the pork. (You can substitute any number of other herbs, such as fresh or dried thyme, mint, parsley, cilantro, etc.) Seal bag tightly, pressing out as much air as possible. Marinade for at least 1 hour at room temperature and up to 3 hours in the fridge, or even overnight.
Wiping off most of the marinade, thread the pork cubes onto skewers with red pepper, onion, mushrooms, scallions or anything else you like. (If using mushrooms, I usually marinate them, as well, to keep them from drying out while grilling.) Place the skewers on the top rack of a preheated grill and cook on medium-low until the pork is cooked to your liking (medium rare is recommended to preserve the tenderness of the meat) and the vegetables are browned on the edges.
Serve with lightly grilled pita or naan and a side of yogurt mixed with a tad of garlic, oregano and lemon juice or with my delicious herb-forward chimichurri.
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