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Souvlaki and dips

Yoghurt is extremely versatile in the kitchen. It makes a fast piquant gourmet sauce far less fattening than cream, for half the work. It is ideal as a sweet accompaniment for any dish with ice cream, giving it a taste contrast that will turn the dish into a signature piece. It is also cheaper than ice cream, not requiring a freezer and can be turned from savoury to sweet in a second. It would have to be the main ingredient for the absolute best marinade for lamb, that you have ever tasted.

A word of caution - Aldi's Greek Yoghurt - avoid it. Some fool believes Greek yoghurt is supposed to be sweet and they add sugar to it. Obviously they have never heard of a giro or souvlaki and I'd hate to think what they'd end up with if they used it for Tzatzicki!

There appears to be a confusing array of yoghurt types but don't be fooled by the hype. Basically it is only available in two types - Greek style - which is made only with full milk and a bacteria culture and appears more expensive (but is actually far cheaper in the long run) and "natural" which is a thinner version made with emulsifiers (thickeners) as well as the acidophilis bacteria.

Don't waste your time buying the flavoured varieties. You can convert plain yoghurt into any fruit variety simply with some fruit pulp and some sugar. Keeping plain Greek style yoghurt in your fridge gives you a whole range of options:

Here's a collection of yoghurt recipes, from Indian Lassi to Greek Souvlaki. Click on the title if you want to go straight to the recipe:

Some of your options

Lassi - If you buy the Greek Style yoghurt, without emulsifiers, take three tablespoons and add to a litre of full cream milk. Whip it with a whisk until you are sure the yoghurt would be fully dissolved throughout the milk and cover the milk so no dust can get in. Leave at room temperature. Whisk it each day for two or three days and you'll have a litre of thin yoghurt. The time and thickness depends on the room temperature and the amount of milk solids in the milk. If it's cold, you'll end up with Lassi - a thin yoghurt used in India as a drink. Add some tinned (or fresh stewed) fruit, pulped and sugar to taste. It makes a very healthy drink that's rich in calcium (and it's in a readily digestible form) and the kids will love it. It's also rich in good bacteria and a natural remedy for urinary infections and canididiasis.

A lassi shop in Varanasi, India

A Lassi shop in Varanasi, India

Piquant sauce - The other day I was cooking some sliced mushrooms in butter, to go with a piece of salmon fillet I had been given. I added two desert spoons of plain yoghurt and some fresh ground black pepper. The yoghurt appears to curdle but keep it stirring and it quickly transforms into a gravy like sauce that picks up all the flavours and turns them into a tart tasting sauce that goes well with mild flavours like fish and seafood.

Tzatziki (Greek cucumber dip) - You pay a fortune for thus in the shop and it's so easy to make. A great gourmet (but cheap) snack if you have friends coming over and a tight budget. Also a fantastic "plate" to bring to a BBQ, just pick up some Turkish bread, flat bread or even a French stick loaf on the way and you'll be more than welcome. There's a secret when using Greek yoghurt. It's too runny straight from the container. You need to "hang" it first. Get a piece of linen cloth (or cheat and use a double layer of new, rinsed out chux wipes). Place the yoghurt in the centre, draw up the four corners and tie them. Hang the bundle over a bowl for two hours or more, to drain the whey out of the yoghurt. The longer, the thicker it becomes.

Small bowl of tzatzili dip

Tzatziki dip is cheap and easy to make.

  • Take three cups of the thickened yoghurt.

  • Peel and grate a long cucumber (as opposed to a round apple cucumber). Put the grated cucumber on a paper towel on a plate.

  • Crush two cloves of garlic to a pulp (if you're Greek - four cloves!).

  • Juice a small lemon and remove any pips.

  • Chop up a tablespoon of fresh mint,

  • Throw the lot together with the thickened yoghurt and plenty of salt. Mix well. Leave it covered in the fridge for at least two hours before serving - it takes that long for the flavours to blend.

Greek Garlic Sauce (for souvlaki) - this is that thick white sauce you get on a genuine souvlaki. Many people just use Tzatziki but it doesn't keep long in the fridge so we use a variation without the cucumber, that keeps twice as long.

  • Put 500gms of yoghurt in a cotton cloth. Draw up the corners to form a bag, tie it and hang it overnight to drip the whey into a bowl underneath. Tomorrow the yoghurt will be almost like cream cheese, it will have become so thick.

  • Pulp 4 large cloves of garlic. Make sure there are no lumps of garlic left in the pulp.

  • Juice a lemon and remove the pips.

  • Add the garlic and lemon to the yoghurt, with a teaspoon of salt.

  • Stir the lot up together and add more salt to taste (suddenly the garlic aste will become stronger when you get the right amount of salt). Refrigerate for a day before using. It takes that long for the garlic to work through the yoghurt.

There are a lot of recipes that use cream - don't! This is the authentic Greek method and is far healthier. It will keep in the fridge for two weeks but make sure it is kept in a sealed container to contain the smell of the garlic.

A lamb souvlaki

A lamb souvlaki with garlic sauce - takeaway designed by the gods!

Souvlaki - the real deal uses a proper flat bread which is not usually stocked in the supermarket, so use pitte bread instead or a wrap. The meat is marinated, stacked on a rotisserie skewer and cooked on a vertical spit known as a Yiro (pronounced geero). The outer layer is shaved off with a long sharp knife and comes away in small chunks. Because the meat is only taken from the outer cooked surface, it is roasted and basted with all the caramelised juices from the uncooked meat inside yiro. This gives the meat that rich flavour of the outside of a roast without the dryness.

Two gyro - vertical rotisseries

A chicken (left) and a lamb (right) gyro cooking. The gas element is behind the meat.

Unfortunately we are not in Greece and I doubt you have a Yiro spit handy so here's a work around that comes out just as good. The meat is traditionally served with sliced onions, tomato, lettuce and cucumber with tzatziki, all rolled up in a flat bread. Many people just use Tzatziki but it doesn't keep long in the fridge so we use a variation without the cucumber, that keeps twice as long and add thinly sliced cucumber to the lettuce, onion and tomato. One souvlaki is a meal in itself. They are surprisingly filling and make a well balanced nutritious meal.

Marinade - first we start the day before by marinating the meat and here's where the magic starts:

  • You want 100gms of lamb per souvlaki. A leg roast of lamb will do but remove all the fat and cut it into small cubes, as small as possible. We'll use 500ms or 5 serves, What's not required can be frozen and cooked later.

  • Oregano - a heaped dessert spoon

  • The juice of a lemon or a tablespoon of vinegar

  • 1 level dessert spoon of salt.

  • 2 large cloves of garlic

  • 1 tablespoon of oil.

  • 1 teaspoon of finely chopped rosemary.

Bruise the rosemary with the oregano in a mortar and pestle and mix the lot together with the finely diced meat. Place in a covered bowl in the fridge (a sealed bowl is best to contain the smell of garlic). after an hour toss the meat and return the bowl to the fridge. The meat should lose it's red appearance, becoming greyish. Once all the meat has changed colour, it is ready to cook. This is usually about 2 hours but usually I leave it overnight. The marinade is the same for chicken, beef or pork but Lamb and chicken are the two best meats to use.

souvlaki meat of the scales

Weighing the serves - 100gm gives a nice sized portion.

I weigh out the portions using a set of scales, onto a tray and into the freezer. In 100gm protions, they thaw fast enough on the barbaque that they don't require defrosting first. I can see how many serves I have avaialble if friends call in and it makes catering for guestaso much easier.

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Within budget?

A handy hint - I make dozens of serves in a single sitting and freeze them on a tray covered in a plastic sheet. Once frozen, I remove the piles of suvlaki meat and put them into ziplock bags and into the freezer. The zip lock bags prevent the whole freezer smelling of garlic and the serves are all free flow, so if I want just two serves I can take just two out.

souvlaki meat of the scales

Weighing the serves - 100gm gives a nice sized portion.

Normally a leg of lamb to roast, will cost about $25.00. It will only yield three serves for two nights (in other words 6 portions at $4.16 per portion) and is out of our budget range but if I turn that same leg into souvlaki, I get about 25 serves, that's $1.00 a portion. That makes that same leg of lamb economical and well within our budget. The pitte bread also keeps for ages in the freezer - shame the lettuce and other components don't!

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