Yogurt, the Bulgarian Colonel, and Me

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Luckily, I was able to buy one jar of plain and another of the strawberry, then rushed home, ripped off the lids, and dipped in. To be sure, the strawberry yogurt was easy to like, with a tingling sourness that added sophistication to what might be taken for rich, luxuriously soft strawberry ice cream. But having a taste already for sour cream with salt, pepper, and a chopped mix of raw cucumbers, radishes, and scallions, I immediately saw great possibilities for the plain version. (That is still my preference, even now that plain whole-milk yogurt is difficult to find on shelves crowded with a variety of sizes, brands, flavorings, and different proportions of fat.)

Years later, traveling through the Middle East, I was won over to many more ways of serving yogurt, most especially as the base for the snowy, unctuous cheese called lebneh, or beaten into ice water for a cooling buttermilk-like beverage and as the basis for the garlic and cucumber (and sometimes dill) meze dip that is tzatziki. Most surprising of all, and perhaps the most wondrous of yogurt discoveries, came in 1960 in Istanbul, where I first had kebab au yogurt: rosy grilled lamb meat sliced down from a doner kebab, sauced with slightly warm yogurt that had been mixed with the hot meat drippings, all nested on a slab of pita softened by the savory juices.

Gradually but surely, yogurt earned a place as a staple on my weekly shopping list. I appreciate it not only for all of the above but also as a garnish for beet and cabbage borschts, or with spices as a tenderizing marinade for barbecued lamb or chicken, or simply for its own coolly soothing self. And as a bonus, yogurt is good for me. Imagine that!

Mimi Sheraton is a former food critic for The New York Times and has written for Vanity Fair, Condé Nast Traveler, The New Yorker, Time, and Smithsonian. Her books include The German Cookbook and Eating My Words: An Appetite for Life. She still lives in Greenwich Village.

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