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Wednesday, January 15, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Yogurt can replace mayo, sour cream, but use with care

Newhouse News Service

Yogurt out of the carton is a favorite for breakfast, lunch or a snack, but there are many uses for both plain and flavored yogurt.

Nonfat or low-fat plain yogurt can be substituted for buttermilk, sour cream or mayonnaise to lower fat content in recipes.

(Low-fat yogurt has 9 calories a tablespoon, versus 99 for regular mayonnaise and 30 for sour cream.)

However, yogurt does have some limitations, especially when cooking with it.

Cooking and baking

Yogurt is sensitive to heat, so use low temperatures. High heat may cause separation and evaporation of liquid, resulting in a curdled appearance. The flavor, however, will not be affected. If yogurt is mixed with other ingredients, such as in a casserole or stew, use a lower heat to cook, or bake at 325 degrees.

Yogurt can be substituted for sour cream in sauces and dishes such as stroganoff, Swedish meatballs or cream soups. Have the yogurt at room temperature before adding. To help keep the mixture thick, stir 2 tablespoons flour or 1 tablespoon cornstarch into each cup of yogurt before adding to sauces. Stir a small amount of the hot mixture into the yogurt first, then combine with the remaining hot mixture. To avoid curdling, add yogurt at the last minute, heat slowly and do not let it come to a full boil.

When substituting yogurt for sour cream, some combinations work while others may not be satisfactory. You may need to experiment to find the right combination.

Yogurt can be successfully substituted for buttermilk or sour cream in baked products such as cakes and quick breads (corn bread, muffins, etc.).

Storage and handling

Yogurt should be stored in the refrigerator at 40 degrees or lower to maintain peak flavor. It will remain fresh for at least 10 days after the sell date. Let taste and smell guide you. Plain yogurt keeps longer than fruit-flavored yogurt. Yogurt can be frozen, but it will form ice crystals. Eat it frozen or thaw in the refrigerator.

Gently mix in any liquid that may have collected on the surface of the yogurt; this is the milk whey, which contains valuable nutrients. However, since stirring will thin yogurt, do not stir it if you're going to use it as a garnish. Instead, gently spoon dollops of it from the container.

Uses

Flavor plain yogurt with sugar or artificial sweetener, jam or preserves, or fresh fruit. Add a dash of vanilla.

A cup of plain yogurt with a teaspoon of mustard and salt and pepper to taste makes an acceptable alternative to mayonnaise, with fewer calories and less fat.

In coleslaw and tuna and chicken salads, try yogurt in place of mayonnaise, or use half mayonnaise and half yogurt.

Use yogurt as a dressing for vegetable or fruit salads (vanilla or lemon-flavored goes nicely with fruit). If plain yogurt is used, blend it with salad dressing or mayonnaise to cut the tartness.

Plain yogurt can be substituted for at least half the sour cream in many recipes without sacrificing taste or texture. Use yogurt instead of sour cream on Mexican or Indian food. Because of the strong, spicy tastes of these foods, yogurt complements them well — and you won't miss the creamy flavor of the sour cream.

To make a base for dips, blend a mixture of half yogurt and half low-fat ricotta cheese or cottage cheese in a food processor. Season to taste with herbs and spices. Or use 1 cup yogurt and 2 tablespoons salsa for a piquant dip for raw vegetables.

To make a dip for fresh fruit, mix 2 cups yogurt with 1/2 cup chutney.

Yogurt cheese

The creamy cheese that forms when the liquid whey drains from yogurt is called yogurt cheese. Yogurt cheese is all-natural, rich in calcium and low in sodium and lactose. Nonfat yogurt cheese has no fat and only 17 calories; low-fat yogurt cheese has 0.6 gram of fat and 30 calories per tablespoon.

Yogurt cheese has a rich taste and can be used in many ways. Use it instead of cream cheese on bagels; try mixing in a teaspoon of jam or spreadable fruit.

Split an English muffin in half, toast it, and spread with sweetened yogurt cheese. Sprinkle with cinnamon and heat under the broiler until bubbly.

If you mix 1 or 2 tablespoons yogurt cheese with 1 tablespoon mayonnaise, the yogurt cheese takes on a mayonnaise flavor. For a baked-potato topping, add chives or an herb mixture.

To make yogurt cheese, put plain yogurt (read the list of ingredients to make sure it has no added gelatin) in a strainer over a bowl. Or use a coffee filter, a piece of muslin or cheesecloth, or a paper towel in a small sieve over a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let it drain in the refrigerator for 12 hours or overnight. After 12 hours, it becomes quite firm and the small lumps disappear, which makes it ideal for use in sauces.

The liquid whey drains into the bowl, leaving thick, creamy yogurt cheese. Add salt and pepper, if desired.

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