I was never a big fan of yogurt until I dated Derek. Derek's family was from Greece and they ate a lot of yogurt. I learned that the heavily sweetened, gaggingly laden with syrupy fruit things that came from the grocery store, the things that I had often gagged down out of politeness or by parental force were not yogurt's whole story. I also learned that yogurt straight out of the carton (if I was going to buy the stuff in the carton) could become many other things with a little ingenuity, a simple strainer, time and a bit of gravity.
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Derek's mother gave me my first yogurt strainer for a birthday present. Her son and I are no longer together (though I'm happy to report that he is now married to a terrific lady and they have two great kids!) Sadly, the yogurt strainer and I too found ourselves separated. During my last change of address, the strainer somehow found itself separated from all my other belongings. (Go figure.) I had to buy myself a new strainer. I ended up with the Donvier White wave strainer. It was a good choice.
I can hear the thoughts of my readers falling into two groups. The first are those who have never thought about draining yogurt and wonder why in the heck one would do it. The others are people who have always drained yogurt and wonder why I would need another gadget around the house. After all, you can drain yogurt very nicely through cheese cloth. I will address the second group first.
I hate draining through cheesecloth. The cloth gets drippy and awful. Cutting cheesecloth is (in my opinion) a pain in the neck. Also, I hate the room that this takes up. After lining a strainer with cheese cloth, I then have to find a bowl that will hold the strainer above the drips. This generally means a big bowl. In a small kitchen, having a big bowl sitting out on the counter all day just isn't practical. I can also do this with a collander, but that again takes up lots of room. Whether I leave it to drip in the sink (thus making the sink unusable for the duration) or in a bowl (same problem as before) this is just not a convenient solution. The Donvier white wave strainer lets me choose whether I want to use cheesecloth or not. (NOT!)The mesh in the strainer is fine enough that I don't have to. Also, because the pieces are made to fit together for just this purpose, the unit is compact. This drainer works with 1 cup of yogurt at a time. It doesn't take up the room one would expect if one were working with a gallon of yogurt.
Now to the question of why I drain yogurt. I drain yogurt to make what my former hippy friends call "yogurt cheese" or "yo-chee." In Israel, it's called "labneh." Yogurt cheese is made be separating the solid part of yogurt from the liquid part. This is accomplished by simply draining.
With the Donvier White Wave Yogurt Strainer, all you do is put the two sections together. The top section is a strainer of fine mesh set in a plastic rim. The bottom section is a catch basin for the yogurt liquid. It is also made from plastic. The bottom is the perfect height to catch the liquid without letting the solids sit in them. The unit holds one cup of undrained yogurt. The amount of yogurt cheese this produces will vary depending on several factors including how long you drain the yogurt and the brand you begin with. Some brands are waterier than others. I usually drain my yogurt cheese overnight. Even draining for just a half hour, however, can result in a substantially different yogurt than you're probably used to.
The Donvier White Wave Strainer also has a plastic lid. I tend to leave my yogurt at room temperature to drain. The lid prevents any critters from tasting the yogurt before I do. In the fridge, the lid keeps the yogurt from picking up any weird flavors.
Once the yogurt cheese is made, I transfer it to a clean container. (I often wash the original yogurt container and save it for this purpose as it's guaranteed to be a good size.) The Donvier White Wave Yogurt Strainer cleans up easily by hand or in the dishwasher (top rack only).
So what do you do with this yogurt cheese stuff when you're done? Well, I have no idea what you do with it. Here's some ideas for what I do with it.
I mix it with cucumbers, dill, lemon juice, lemon zest and garlic to make a Derek's mother's tzatziki which I then use for a pita, pretzel and chip dip. Derek's mother also used it as a sauce for chicken, meat and seafood.
I take very dry yogurt cheese and roll it into 1 inch balls. Then I mix together olive oil, several tablespoons of freshly chopped herbs, a couple of crushed cloves of garlic and a little fresh ground black pepper. I whisk the herbs and oil together and then pour them over the cheese balls and let them marinate in the fridge. (Give them a shake every so often to make sure they all are coated.) Then I serve the cheese balls with bagels, matzah, or toast instead of cream cheese. Very tasty.
The easiest use is to spread the cheese directly onto the bread of your choice. Drizzle with a little fragrant olive oil and top with zatar (a Middle Eastern herb mix) or with your favorite savory herbs.
Yogurt cheese is also very nice mixed with a bit of honey and fresh fruit as a dessert spread. It has a little bit of bite to match the sweet of the fruit.
A quick search engine exploration should help you find lots of other recipes for yogurt cheese. Yogurt cheese is easy to make (gravity does all the work) and is a great source of protein and calcium. By making your own yogurt cheese, you can control the sodium content. Many store bought yogurt cheeses are presalted. Made with non-fat yogurt, it has 0 grams of fat per 1/2 cup serving. With low fat yogurt, it has only 3 grams of fat per half cup serving. (You won't be using a half cup for a serving. You'll be using much less.)
Give yogurt cheese a try. If you decide you like it, invest in a Donvier White Wave Yogurt Strainer. You'll love it.
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