Arto der Haroutunian died too young. His books have become collector’s items but thanks to Grub Street we can all have access to his collections of eclectic and fascinating recipes. He had a focus on Middle Eastern food but this particular volume, The Yogurt Cookbook, is ingredient-based and offers an insight into the uses of yogurt in many culinary traditions.
Yogurt is a mystical food, being live in the same way as yeast. It’s healthy and versatile, and can constitute a light snack in its natural form or be an essential ingredient for both sweet and savoury dishes. Popular now in the UK, it was once a rarity. 50 years ago it was unheard of and 10 years after that it was found only in the fridges of those middle classes who might have travelled to Greece for a holiday. It then became synonymous with hard-core vegetarianism and all things bland. Those days have gone and now we all have access to good quality yogurt and we can even make it at home.
We are now more aware of the healthful properties of yogurt. The author starts with a memorable quote from one of its supporters: “I owe my family and age to yoghurt, nothing else – not even God!” Those words from M. Husseynov at the age of 147.
Yogurt is easy to make at home. Just milk and a spoonful of live yogurt left tucked up in an airing cupboard will render tubs of natural yogurt for just a little money and hardly any effort. Add your own fresh fruit or honey and you have a quick breakfast or economic dessert which will be a preferable alternative to cake or ice cream for the kids. Let them design their own toppings and they will be sure to ask for more.
A rather different use for yogurt is as a base for soft cheese. Add herbs and a little salt to strained yogurt and you have a flavourful and delicious starter or sandwich spread. Panir (paneer) is the celebrated Indian cheese which uses lemon juice to encourage separation of curds from whey. Once strained, this will set into blocks for easy cutting. The resulting cubes can be used in the same fashion as the commercial product.
Yogurt is the key ingredient to many Indian dishes including Murgi Dahi – chicken in yoghurt-curry sauce. Many korma recipes also call for yogurt and it’s the ubiquitous garnish for chaat and for Middle Eastern kebabs, as well as those from the tandoor. My favourite recipe in the savoury section is probably that for Roghan Josh. A simple version of this common dish but it has all the flavour characteristics of much lengthier alternatives.
The Yogurt Cookbook has a chapter on sweets and cakes that offers many international delights and showcases the naughtier side of this mostly healthy food. Awamaat – Arab doughnuts – definitely fall into that category. These are somewhat different from the Western doughnuts as they have self-raising flour as the raising agent instead of yeast. The fried golden puffs are dipped into rosewater-flavoured sugar syrup before being served sprinkled with walnuts and pistachios.
Arto der Haroutunian penned a book which is filled with delicious recipes for all manner of dishes. They are all good and all just happen to include yogurt. It draws on many culinary traditions and will appeal to anyone who enjoys real home-made food. If you can’t spare the five minutes to make your own yogurt then buy some, but do try some of these recipes. A winner.
The Yogurt Cookbook
Author: Arto der Haroutunian
Published by: Grub Street
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018