Primroses. Sweet smelling crocuses and snowy white snowdrops. Cute newborn lambs gamboling in the sunshine. Spring is springing and we’re in the season of renewal.
After a winter of excesses, it’s the time of year when we feel a need to ‘renew’ – to heal, nourish and refresh our poor abused bodies. It’s a time to say the words ‘must get healthy‘ and nearly mean them. But what’s to be done?
Well, we can start by eating up our curds. Specifically, yoghurt. Thick, organic, pro-biotic yoghurt is not only really, really, really healthy (don’t panic…keep reading) it’s also absolutely de-lic-ious.
Yoghurt has gravitas: To the ancient Assyrians, yoghurt was known as “lebney” or “life”. Its beneficial medicinal properties are prized in both ancient and contemporary cultures – it’s credited with healing everything from gastrointestinal complaints to eczema. Research shows that a regular diet of cultured dairy lowers cholesterol; protects against bone loss; and populates the digestive tract with beneficial bacteria and lactic acid to keep pathogens at bay, guard against infectious illnesses and enable us to fully digest our food.
The process of culturing – or lacto-fermenting – dairy breaks down the milk protein casein – one of the most difficult proteins to digest. It restores many of the enzymes which are destroyed during pasteurisation, but which we need to absorb calcium and other minerals. One such enzyme is lactase, which helps us to digest the milk sugar lactose, so many who are lactose intolerant, can tolerate lacto-fermented foods.
Cultured dairy foods have been around since about 10,000 BC and their pedigree is evident in almost all culinary traditions; In the ancient cultures of Iran and India (around 500 BC) the combination of yoghurt and honey was called “the food of the gods”; the Pharohs reputedly feasted on it; Persian traditions believe that Abraham owed his longevity to eating yoghurt regularly; present day Hindus offer and consume curds – along with milk, sugar, ghee and honey – as gifts to the gods in their ancient ritual of Panchamitra (the Five Elixirs of Life). Yoghurt is the key ingredient in the longevity-promoting diet of the growing number of Bulgaria’s centenarians.
Not to be left out, I use it at every opportunity: ‘straight up’, sweetened with a little honey or seasoned with salt and pepper.
For breakfast: overnight-soaked porridge, bircher museli, cooked or fresh fruit compote or pancakes will be topped generously with a creamy dollop and given a drizzle of honey, a scattering of toasted flaked almonds and a good dusting of cinnamon. Sometimes, I also grate some fresh ginger into the yoghurt and let it sit for a while before serving. (Cinnamon and ginger taste good and are anti-inflammatory).
In an ultra-smoothie: the night before I want an awesome protein and omega hit, I soak a heaped tablespoon of finely ground mixed seeds (pumpkin, sunflower and flax) and another of ground almonds soaked overnight in half a cup of yoghurt. The next morning, I blitz this mix with fresh soft, or stewed, fruit and enough coconut milk to make up generous glassful. The addition of a very fresh organic egg yolk to the blitzer sends the protein content into overdrive and will keep you going all morning.
In labne: for a sublime middle-eastern experience, straining the yoghurt in a muslin-lined sieve will produce a delicious soft creamy yoghurt-cheese which you’ll want to devour immediately in as many ways as your imagination can devise: as a spread/dip/pâté – seasoned with salt and pepper; mixed with finely chopped spring-onions or chives; mashed with smoked mackerel and horseradish; thinned a little and swirled into soups, casseroles, curries, tagines, or to make a creamy salad dressing.
Or, for a sweet treat, sit a quenelle next to slice of Normany Apple Tart (see Recipes), or served in a glass and topped with a fruit compote. Good quality, organic pro-biotic yoghurt can be expensive, so here’s the good news: Home-made is far cheaper, far tastier and far, far more beneficial than anything you’ll buy at any price.
And in the next post I’ll explain how….