Versatile yogurt perfect for Shavuot

By Margi Lenga Kahn, Special to the Jewish Light

If you had counted 49 days from the second day of Passover, also known as the Counting of the Omer, you would reach number 49 on Saturday, June 11, which is erev Shavuot. That holiday commemorates both the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai and the harvest of the first fruits. We celebrate the former with a long night of intensive Torah study, and we celebrate the harvest with a festive dairy meal.

Why dairy? When the Torah was given, our ancestors had not yet had the opportunity to study its laws regarding kashrut.  A dairy meal was a safe bet. Today, a traditional Shavuot meal might feature cottage-cheesy kugels, blintzes and calorie-laden cheesecakes. I am proposing a dairy meal that is every bit as delicious and a whole lot healthier. Think yogurt.

So why yogurt? For starters, it tastes great. And let’s be honest, rich and velvety is the bottom line. That’s just what good yogurt is. And no, I’m not referring to the yogurt that comes sweetened with sugars and syrups all camouflaged as “good for you” fruit. I’m referring to the plain, full-fat or low-fat variety. My pick is usually Greek yogurt, which is thicker, creamier and downright indulgent. In fact, I build my daily breakfast smoothies on Greek yogurt. The fat in the yogurt keeps me full all day, and by alternating fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts and herbs, the variety keeps my breakfasts exciting.

But smoothies aren’t the only way to enjoy yogurt. Its opulent texture and slightly tart flavor make it a perfect addition to sauces, marinades, dressings, soups and salads. Drained overnight and assertively seasoned, it makes a deliciously healthy cheese. (See my recipe for Za’atar Labne Balls in my 2015 Hanukkah column.) 

Yogurt is a great substitute for high-calorie whipping cream in recipes for scones, tarts, muffins and cookies. It is a great way to add flavor to and lighten up a batch of egg salad or deviled eggs.  And frozen or swirled with rich chocolate or fresh seasonal fruits, a yogurt dessert can be an elegant way to cap off a healthy meal. 

How can something that tastes so good be so good for you? Yogurt is basically fermented milk. Various bacterial cultures are added to scalded and slightly cooled milk, and then left to ferment for five to 10 hours at a steady temperature of 110 to 115 degrees. As it ferments, the mixture thickens and develops that unique tangy flavor. I remember that process well from my days of making homemade yogurt with our Salton Yogurt Maker more than 40 years ago. (Ahhh, those great wedding gifts!) 

And here’s the best part: yogurt is rich in protein, probiotics (the good bacteria for your digestive system), calcium and potassium. Moreover, it’s easier to digest than regular milk, which can be a plus for those who are lactose intolerant. Though the full-fat version keeps you feeling fuller longer, some folks prefer low-fat. For many years, doctors and nutritionists recommended the fat-free or low- fat variety; these days, however, there is far less consensus on the correlation between dairy fat, heart health and obesity. Indeed, many of these same experts now recommend full-fat yogurt.

To help you plan a healthy and delicious Shavuot meal, I’ve included below some recipes that, together, can comprise an entire holiday meal or, individually, can be included with some of your family’s favorites.  

Margi Lenga Kahn is the mother of five and grandmother of five. A cooking instructor at the Kitchen Conservatory, she is currently working on a project to preserve the stories and recipes of heritage cooks. She welcomes your comments and suggestions at [email protected].