Earlier this spring, I started to get hooked on Noosa yogurt, which I’d begun to eat after a nutritionist I was seeing suggested it. Its full-fat content and interesting flavor combinations (sweet heat blackberry-serrano, for example) present more like dessert than breakfast. Just half of an 8-ounce serving eaten in the late afternoon was rapidly becoming my hangry tantrum aversion tactic.

But once I considered the food miles it took to truck the stuff in from Colorado, where it is made, and calculated the amount of plastic involved, I was determined to break my developing habit.

According to the USDA research service, per capita consumption of commercial yogurt in the United States is around 15 pounds annually, spurred on by the popularity of Greek-style yogurt, a well-strained version of the more fluid European, Middle Eastern and North African stuff. If we eat it in individual six-ounce serving cups, that would mean that every American dips into 40 single-use plastic containers per year. Even if we as Mainers follow the many Internet tips for repurposing yogurt containers (to start seedlings, line car cup holders for easy cleaning of the gunk that accumulates there, to mold popsicles in the freezer, to name only a few) and then recycle the polypropylene (No. 5 plastic) cups, we’re still talking about amassing 53 million yogurt containers in our state alone every 12 months.

Homemade yogurt made by Christine Burns Rudalevige. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Surely, we can make a dent in that bottom line. Firstly, yogurt lovers can buy fewer, but bigger, containers of commercial yogurt to cut down on the plastic, if convenience is key. The flavors available in quarts pale in comparison to the single serving selection, but, on the bright side, buying plain yogurt gives an eater a blank palette to mix in peak of season berries, interesting granolas and home-made jams.

Committed locavores can choose to spend more money on the ever-growing local yogurt options for both cow’s and goat’s milk yogurt. A bit of market research shows that a quart of plain Dannon all-natural yogurt costs just under $3, Stonyfield Organic runs about $4.50, and the average price of the three local and organic yogurts sold at my neighborhood cooperative is $6.50. The commercial yogurts come in plastic, but the bulk of the local ones are sold in returnable, or at least reusable, glass containers.

Or you can make yogurt at home. This process requires heating a half gallon of high-quality milk (whole is best, 2 percent fat content will do, but ultra-pasteurized won’t work) to 180 degrees F in a stainless steel pot and holding it there for 5 minutes; cooling it to 115 degrees F before whisking in 2 tablespoons of yogurt with live active cultures (the good bacteria, if you will); and then keeping the mixture warm – between 100 and 112 degrees – for 6 to 12 hours, allowing the cultures to incubate, multiply and thicken the milk. To keep it at this temperature, I wrap the pot of incubating yogurt in kitchen towels, slide it into the oven and turn the oven light on.

The process is complete, according to Cheryl Sternman Rule, author of “Yogurt Culture: A Global Look at How to Make, Bake, Sip and Chill the World’s Creamiest, Healthiest Food,” when it looks like yogurt. She advises against tasting it warm, as the flavor develops as it chills, and warns that its tanginess intensifies as it sits in the refrigerator between 7 and 10 days. Remember to reserve a couple of tablespoons from the batch before you eat it, so you have it on hand for your next yogurt-making project.

If you’re going to invest either time or money in locally produced yogurt, Rule advocates using it everywhere, in sweet cakes and frozen treats as well as savory soups and sauces and not wasting even a drop of whey (the liquid that will settle atop the yogurt as it sits in the fridge) as the fermented product can be used like buttermilk to make pancakes rise and meat tender. Demonstrate how far you’ve come from your old, plastic-heavy, single-serving habits by storing the whey in a repurposed yogurt container for up to two weeks in the refrigerator or two months in the freezer.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester and a cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special” (Islandport Press, May 2017). She can be contacted her at: [email protected]

 

Yogurt in various iterations – all usable in a multitude of recipes. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

LABNEH WITH TOMATOES, PESTO AND TAPENADE

This recipe, adapted from one found in Cheryl Sternman Rule’s “Yogurt Culture,” features labneh, a thick, creamy, spreadable yogurt cheese from the Mediterranean and Middle East. You can find it in specialty stores selling food from those parts of the world. But labneh is simply yogurt that has been salted and strained. Making it at home only requires stirring 3/4 teaspoon of kosher salt into 4 cups of plain whole milk yogurt and leaving it to drain through a cheesecloth-lined colander for 36 to 48 hours. You get 2 cups each of labneh and usable whey. Make and store the components of this dish separately, assembling them just before you serve them. If you can find cherry tomatoes on the vines, it makes for a dramatic presentation. If you use these, don’t halve them.

Serves up to 12

FOR THE ROASTED TOMATOES:

2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved

2 tablespoons olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

 

FOR THE PISTACHIO PESTO:

1 garlic clove, smashed

1/4 cup hulled pistachios

1/2 cup (packed) parsley leaves

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

3 tablespoons olive oil

 

FOR THE TAPENADE:

1 cup pitted kalamata olives, rinsed

1 tablespoon drained capers

1/4 teaspoon dulse flakes or anchovy paste (optional)

Squeeze of fresh lemon juice

 

FOR THE TOASTED PITA WEDGES:

4 whole wheat pitas

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Za’atar

 

TO SERVE:

1 1/2 cups labneh

Lemon zest

To roast the tomatoes, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat. Lay the tomatoes cut side up on the sheet and drizzle with the oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Roast until collapsed, 30 to 40 minutes. Cool.

To make the pesto, pulverize the garlic, pistachios, parsley and salt using either a food processor or a mortar and pestle. Drizzle in the oil a bit at a time, processing in bursts, until the pesto is emulsified.

To make the tapenade, pulverize the olives, capers, and dulse flakes or anchovy paste, if using, in a food processor or with a mortar and pestle until paste-like. Season with lemon juice to taste.

To make the toasted pita wedges, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Cut the pitas into wedges. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper and/or za’atar. Bake until crisp, about 10 minutes.

To serve, spread the labneh in a shallow serving bowl. Sprinkle the lemon zest over the labneh. Dollop with distinct, heaping scoops of the roasted tomatoes, pesto and tapenade. Serve with warm pita wedges.