If velvety béchamel sauce suits French food, tangy yogurt sauces befit Mediterranean cuisines. While yogurt is a relative newcomer to the United States, many cultures have relied on yogurt for centuries — not just as a low-fat substitute for mayonnaise or cream, but for its bright, tart contrast to rich foods.
The word “yogurt” comes from a Turkish word meaning to curdle or thicken. In Turkish cuisine, yogurt is found in everything from soups, dips and salads to kebabs and the ubiquitous kofte (ground lamb kebabs). Cucumber-studded tzatziki is served with seafood or oregano-scented lamb in Greece. Shwarma, Israel’s state dish, is topped with pickled veggies, hummus and yogurt, all piled in pita bread.
While yogurt has been a staple in the Middle East and Europe for thousands of years, it was virtually unknown in the U.S. until the 1970s, when it was introduced in sweetened, frozen form. Now we’ve embraced yogurt. Per capita yogurt consumption has increased more than 400 percent during the past 30 years and yogurt is the fastest-growing segment in the dairy category. Yogurt sauces are low-fat and easy to whisk together. Just blend yogurt with seasonings and the sauce is done. The perfect accompaniment to spicy, rich dishes, yogurt sauce adds a bright note and gives respite to the palate.
Raita is a cooling Indian yogurt sauce often used to balance spicy dals and curries. While cucumber- and mint-infused raita is common, raita can be made with many different vegetables and spices.
Tzatziki is a Greek sauce made from yogurt with chopped cucumbers, lemon, garlic, mint or parsley (olive oil also is sometimes included).
Labneh is making its way to the U.S. It’s a drained yogurt or yogurt cheese that can be used interchangeably with Greek yogurt. Dairies in California are making it, and you can find it in tubs as you do yogurt. It has more body than yogurt and is even a bit firmer than sour cream.
Because it is thicker and has more body, Greek yogurt is the yogurt of choice for the following sauces, but other forms of plain yogurt may be substituted.
All recipes developed by Jill Melton, MS, RD
Feta Yogurt Sauce
This sauce is based on a recipe by Indian cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey. It’s a great accompaniment to spicy Indian food as well as salmon.
2 cups low-fat plain Greek yogurt
1 small cucumber, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons freshly chopped mint or parsley
1 clove garlic, minced
½ cup (2 ounces) crumbled feta cheese
¼ teaspoon salt
- Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Makes 2 ¼ cups.
Harrisa Yogurt Sauce
Harissa is a hot Tunisian chili sauce. It’s made from roasted red peppers, hot chili peppers, garlic and spices. Fiery hot harissa combined with cooling yogurt makes a terrific sauce for beef, lamb and chicken.
1 cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
½ tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon harissa sauce
Kosher salt to taste
- Combine all ingredients and stir well. Chill. Makes 1 1⁄3 cups.
Tahini Yogurt Sauce
This is a combination of Israel’s tahini sauce and yogurt, which brightens and lightens the tahini.
¾ cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt
3 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon water
1 clove garlic, minced
- Combine all ingredients and stir well. Chill. Makes 1 cup.
Green Goddess Dressing
This dressing is said to be created by the chef at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco in honor of actor George Arliss, who was starring in a play titled “The Green Goddess.” The creamy salad dressing was very popular in the 1920s through the 1980s.
½ cup low-fat mayonnaise
½ cup low-fat sour cream
½ cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt
¼ cup each chopped parsley, basil and oregano
¼ cup minced green onion or chives
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Whisk together all ingredients. Chill. Serve with greens or vegetables. Makes 1½ cups.
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 6-ounce salmon fillets
¾ cup feta yogurt sauce
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Combine the garlic, mustard, honey and pepper. Brush on salmon. Bake salmon for 15 to 20 minutes or until fish just flakes with a fork. Serve each salmon fillet with three tablespoons feta yogurt sauce. Serves 4.
Feta Yogurt Sauce (Serving size: 1 tablespoon) — Calories 13; Total fat 1g; Sat. fat 0g; Chol . 2mg; Sodium 43mg; Carb . 1g; Fiber 0g; Sugars 1g; Protein 1g; Potassium 40mg; Phosphorous 26mg
Harissa Yogurt Sauce (Serving size: 1 tablespoon) — Calories 13; Total fat 1g; Sat. fat 0g; Chol . 1mg; Sodium 26mg; Carb . 1g; Fiber 0g; Sugars 1g; Protein 1g; Potassium 33mg; Phosphorous 17mg
Tahini Yogurt Sauce (Serving size: 1 tablespoon) — Calories 25; Total fat 2g; Sat. fat 0g; Chol . 1mg; Sodium 9mg; Carb . 2g; Fiber 0g; Sugars 1g; Protein 1g; Potassium 43mg; Phosphorous 39mg
Green Goddess Dressing (Serving size: 1 tablespoon) — Calories 32; Total fat 2g; Sat. fat 1g; Chol . 4mg; Sodium 40mg; Carb . 2g; Fiber 0g; Sugars 1g; Protein 1g; Potassium 37mg; Phosphorous 16mg
Honey-Mustard Salmon (Serving size: 4 ounces, 3 tablespoons feta yogurt sauce) — Calories 337; Total fat 14g; Sat. fat 3g; Chol . 114mg; Sodium 258mg; Carb . 9g; Fiber 0g; Sugars 8g; Protein 42g; Potassium 1,086mg; Phosphorous 472mg