rediscovering yoghurt

pistachio & rosewater cake with frozen natural yoghurt

While do I love exploring new ingredients and cuisines, sometimes I get just as excited when I am reacquainted with a neglected old friend. On my recent trip to the north end of our beautiful wide brown (and red) land, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to do one of my favourite things and suss out some of the food habits of my travelling companions. One piece I learnt early on was that the gorgeous missy Margot was a fan of fresh fruit topped with yoghurt and honey for breakfast. So for our first leg into Kakadu we stocked up with sweet pineapple, oranges, apples, pears, and passionfuit and a big tub of yoghurt.

Now I’ve been a yoghurt fan from way back but for some unknown reason my recent yoghurt consumption has been at an all time low. Apart from the occasional tub for babaganoush or a tahini yoghurt sauce, my fridge of late, has been a yoghurt free zone. But after that first deliciously fresh Kakadu breakkie, I knew that I was rekindling an old flame and that yoghurt and I were to be reunited.

So what’s so great about yoghurt?? Well really it’s amazingly versatile food that has a place at breakfast, lunch and dinner in both sweet and savoury incarnations. And it happens to have some pretty beneficial attributes…. Not only is it a great source of calcium and phosphorous and generally low in fat, it is also a source of the ‘good’ lactic acid bacteria that are thought to be essential for a healthy digestive system and longevity (all those really old Balkan dudes must be on to something).

Yoghurt is also good news for people that are lactose intolerant. Apparently when the bacteria are going through the yoghurt creation process, one of the things they do is convert the lactose into the more readily digestible lactic acid. Making yoghurt the only dairy food that may be suitable for those suffering with the intolerence.

Yoghurt is popular in Indian cooking and is a cornerstone of Middle Eastern cookery. So the other day when I was planning a Middle Eastern meal for some  friends, including the lovely Fel who is a vegetarian, the thought occurred to me that I could make it a yoghurt themed dinner and include yoghurt in every course. An easy task….

Some super refreshing tzatziki as an accompaniment to crispy filo triangles to begin…. Lentil stuffed aubergine anointed with a duo of sauces: one tomatoey and the other a tasty little combo of yoghurt and tahini…and to finish what better to contrast a fragrant but syrupy sweet pistachio cake than a tart creamy frozen yoghurt….all good things.

a yoghurty middle eastern vegetarian feast
filo triangles with ricotta & mint on a bed of tzatziki
persian lentil stuffed aubergines with toasted bread, tomato sauce & yoghurt
silverbeet with preserved lemon
pistachio & rosewater cake with frozen yoghurt

filo triangles with ricotta & mint
serves 6 as a starter

These triangles were based on a Karen Martini recipe from the Sunday Life supplement in the Sun Herald. They can be prepared ahead and refrigerated until you are ready to bake and serve.

Sumac is a Middle Eastern spice that is ground from a lovely lemony tart-tasting berry. It has a gorgeous deep reddish colour and is available in supermarkets and Middle Eastern shops. It’s also great sprinkled on fish or pretty much anywhere that lemon is used.

250g ricotta
1 egg, separated
4 sprigs mint, leaves picked
1T dried mint
1 pkt filo pastry
125g unsalted butter, melted
sumac, optional
tzatziki to serve (see below)

Preheat oven to 200C. Combine ricotta, yolk and mint in a bowl and season to taste.

Place one sheet of filo on a clean worksurface so that it is in a landscape orientation and brush lightly with melted butter. Top with another sheet, brush with butter and top with a third layer. With a sharp knife cut pastry lengthwise to form four long ribbons.

Place a tablespoon of ricotta mixture at the end of on ribbon and then fold the end over to make a triangle. Keep folding until the whole ribbon is wrapped around the filling. Brush ends with eggwhite and press to seal.

Repeat with remaining filo until all the filling is used. Place triangles on a baking tray and brush tops with remaining melted butter. Bake 15-20mins or until golden and sizzling. Serve immediately on a platter spread with a bed of tzatziki and sprinkle with sumac if using.

filo triangles with ricotta & mint & tzatziki

makes 2 cups

The secret to good tatziki is to use a thicker more creamier yoghurt, the higher the fat content the better. The other trick is to really make sure you get as much moisture out of the zucchini as possible. I’ve based mine on Karen Martini’s version.

Tzatziki is a lovely creamy yet refreshing dip a cousin to the Indian raitia. It works really well with the hot cripsy filo parcels but is also a great partner to barbequed fish, roast chicken, or even lamb.

250g creamy yoghurt
2 lebanese cucumbers, grated
1/2 clove garlic
1/2 bunch mint, leaves picked
2T extra virgin olive oil

Place grated cucumber in a clean tea towel and gather into a ball. Squeeze to remove as much moisture as possible, discarding the green ‘juice’. Combine with remaining ingredients and season to taste. Allow to stand in the refrigerator for a couple of hours at least, if possible.


persian lentil stuffed aubergines with toasted bread, tomato sauce & yoghurt
serves 6

They love stuffing vegies in the Middle East, particularly aubergine (eggplant), zucchini (courgettes) and capsicum (peppers). Generally they use a lamb based stuffing. Because I was after a vegetarian main course, I decided to use lentils in place of the lamb. Persian red lentils are a red version of puy lentils and like their brothers keep their shape when cooked.  You could substitute regular red lentils but you filling will be more likely to turn into a lentil mash.

This was loosely based on Claudia Roden’s recipe for the Lebanese dish ‘fattet batinjan’ from her top little book: Arabesque. Claudia suggests frying the discarded aubergine in oil and using in an omelette.

3 small aubergines
250g persian red lentils
1 brown onion, chopped
2T olive oil
1 1/2C chicken or vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1t ground cumin
1/2t allspice
1t chilli powder, optional
80g pinenuts, toasted
4T extra virgin olive oil
3 x 400g tins tomatoes
1T pomegranate molasses, optional
2 pita bread, split into two sheets each, toasted, and roughly crumbled
500g natural yoghurt, at room temperature
2T tahini, optional
1 clove garlic, crushed.
4 sprigs flat leaf parsley, leaves picked

For stuffing, heat oil in a medium saucepan and cook onion until soft but not browned. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Add lentils and spices and cook for an additional minute, stirring before adding stock and bay leaf. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 20mins or until lentils are tender and the stock has been adsorbed. If the lentils dry out before they are cooked just add a little more stock or water. Discard bay leaf and allow to cool.

Preheat oven to 180C. Cut aubergine in half lengthwise and using a teaspoon, hollow out the centre leaving a 1cm wide boarder.  Combine tomatoes and molasses in a large baking dish. Place aubergine in the dish in a single layer with the cut side up. Stir half the pinenuts through the filling and then divide mixture between the eggplant cavities. Drizzle with extra virgin oil.

Dampen a large sheet of baking paper and place loosely over the aubergine so that they are just covered. Bake 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until sauce has thickened a little and the aubergine is cooked through and golden.

To serve, divide pita between 6 dinner plates. Top with tomato sauce. Combine yoghurt, garlic and tahini and drizzle over the tomato sauce. Place an aubergine half on each plate and sprinkle with remaining pinenuts and parsley.

persian lentil stuffing ready for the aubergines 
silverbeet with preserved lemon
serves 6 as a side dish 

Silverbeet is the large dark green leafy veg with thick white stalks that is often confusing called spinach in  Australia. It is also known as Swiss chard or chard in the UK and US or blettes in France. Usually the leaves are used similar to spinach and the stalks are discarded.

The idea to use silverbeet stems came from Elizabeth David in ‘An omelette and a glass of wine’ where she mentions being served a dish of chard ‘ribs’ that had been stewed in garlic and olive oil while travelling through France.

1 large bunch silverbeet
1/4C extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1T caraway seeds
1/2 preserved lemon, peel only, finely diced
juice 1 lemon

Separate leaves from the white stalks and cut stalks into 3cm lengths. Heat olive oil in a large pan and add garlic, caraway seeds and stalks. Cover and simmer for 1/2 hr or until stalks are tender stirring periodically.

Roughly chop leaves and add to the pan along with lemon juice and preserved lemon. Cover and cook over a medium heat until leaves are just wilted. Season and serve immediately.


pistachio & rosewater cake
serves 10

Pistachios have my vote for the prettiest looking nuts. With their beautiful rose pink skins and vibrant green centres they are good looking nuts. It helps if you have a sneaky supply of unsalted shelled pistachios but you could always peel your own.

Rosewater is the perfumed nectar that gives turkish delight it’s distinctive taste. You could try this without but then you’d be missing out on the glorious fragrance.

This was based a Claudia Roden recipe from her gorgeous book Arabesque.

for the syrup:
300g sugar
180mL water
1T lemon juice
1T rosewater, optional
for the cake:
250g shelled pistachios, ground
5 eggs, separated
pinch salt
200g caster sugar
1/2t ground ginger
75g shelled pistachios, extra

Make the syrup first but combining water and sugar in a small saucepan and simmering for 5mins. Allow to cool and then stir in remaining syrup ingredients and refrigerate until needed.

Preheat oven to 180C. Grease a 24cm springform cake tin. Beat eggwhites with salt until soft peaks form then gradually add 100g caster sugar a small amount at a time. Beat until smooth and glossy.

Beat yolks until pale and then beat in remaining caster sugar until dissolved. Stir through ground nuts and a few spoons of eggwhite mixture. Add yolk mixture to the whites and fold gently until well combined. Gently transfer mix to the cake tin and bake 45mins or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Leave to cool in the oven with the door open for 15-20mins.

Pierce cake all over with a skewer and then pour cold syrup over cake allowing it to soak in. Stand at room temp for at least 10mins before serving with frozen yoghurt or cream.

pistachio & rosewater cake

frozen natural yoghurt
makes approx 800mL

This speedy creation is a lighter more tart alternative to icecream, not to mention kinder to the waistline. The creamier the yoghurt the better the results.

You can also experiment with flavoured yoghurts that generally don’t need any additions -  just pop in the icecream machine and let it do it’s magic.

800g natural yoghurt.
200g icing sugar

Combine yoghurt and sugar and freeze in an icecream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

frozen natural yoghurt


  • Mmmm, yummy! I can assure all of you that this meal tasted every bit as good as it looks and sounds. I can’t even pick my favourite bit – it was all too good. Who needs restaurants when you’ve got Jules to cook for you!!! Thanks!

  • wow. the pistachio cake looks absolutely divine–next time I bake, this is what will (hopefully!) come out of the oven.

  • hey fel,
    thanks for the endorsement…as always it was fun hanging out with you guys

    it’s a pretty forgiving cake with the syrup..good luck

  • i love yoghurt… its part of my breakfast menu as well as my afternoon snack. i might try this cake next week when i put together a moroccan feast for friends. i think skipping the rosewater would make this cake less magical. thanks for sharing!

  • Hi Jules – I’ve just got the Claudia Roden’s new book and bookmarked the cake, your gorgeous creation made me want to try right now!

  • Hi Jules!

    Do you happen to have a great frozen yoghurt recipe for sharing without having to use an icecream machine? And non fat/no sugar.. so a super healthy frozen natural yogurt basically… :) That would be amazing!! I hope you can help me :D Thanks!

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