Over the years I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve fixated on a number of ingredients, among them nasturtium leaves, white pepper, paprika, fennel, capers, quinces, fresh horseradish, dried mint, pork neck and prickly pears. This year, it’s Greek yoghurt: not necessarily eaten thick and cold with fruit or honey or nuts, but as a brilliant substitute for cream or coconut milk in piping-hot savoury dishes and curries, and as a cool and calming note in chilled mayonnaisey ones.
Before I give you this recipe, may I warm to the topic of Greek yoghurt? I don’t like fruit-flavoured commercial yoghurts, but for many years I’ve been an ardent fan of tangy Greek yoghurt so thick you can stand a spoon up in it. Mixing glorious natural yoghurt with fresh garlic, herbs and lemon juice to make a low-carb, low-fat smothering sauce has become a habit whenever I go on any sort of diet (about twice a month, and to no avail, I’m afraid).
Postscript, 15 March 2014: Here is my foolproof recipe for home-made Greek-Style Yoghurt.
My particular interest over the last few months has been in cooking with yoghurt, and specifically using it as a substitute for sinful dairy cream (and butter, and fatty coconut cream) in soups, stews, sauces, curries and casseroles.
Full dairy cream wins many glittering prizes when it comes to taste and mouth-feel because – along with its cousin, glorious salty butter – it adds superb silkiness, savour and luxury to so many of the world’s best-loved classic sauces. Restaurant chefs all over the world make use of scandalous amounts of cream and butter to make sauces taste heavenly, and who can blame them for that? A white-wine reduction designed to be draped over fish would be rubbish without a splash of cream to round it off, and what would a trembling emulsion such as Hollandaise or Béarnaise be without butter?
I haven’t much cared, over the years, about using dobbles of cream and cubes of butter in family dishes because I vehemently reject the notion that there are ‘bad’ and ‘good’ foods (‘Everything in moderation’, as Granny used to say). I always keep a carton or two of cream in the fridge, for dribbling into sauces, scrambled eggs and soups, and when I brown chicken or fish or red meat in olive oil I will always pop in a knob or two of cold salty butter for basting purposes.
But recently I’ve given thought to cutting extraneous dairy fats out of our family meals, and so my interest has turned again to Greek yoghurt as a ‘creamifying’ and enriching agent.
Anyone who has tipped a carton of Greek yoghurt into a seething pan filled with lovely ingredients and seen it curdle in an instant to nasty white lumps may give a sympathetic nod at this point. But please don’t give up hope.
After some experimentation, I’ve figured out how to use yoghurt to enrich hot dishes. If you follow these steps, you’ll find you can very effectively enrich soups and stews with Greek yoghurt in place of cream.
In my experience, there are two things that yoghurt hates: 1. Acidity and 2. Fierce heat. Or a fatal combination of both.
I’ve found that it is possible to add fairly large quantities of Greek yoghurt to dishes containing much acidity – in the form of fresh or tinned tomatoes, for example, or freshly squeezed lemon juice – without ending up with a curdled mess you wouldn’t feed the cat.
Here are my three golden rules:
1. Add the yoghurt in small quantities, at the last minute, dollop by slow dollop, and never in one big go.
2. Never add yoghurt to a dish that’s energetically boiling, or bubbling briskly. Turn the heat down to the lowest it can go, or turn the heat off.
3. Mix the yoghurt with a small amount of cornflour – just a teaspoon, or less, depending on the dish – to stabilise it, before you add it to the hot pan. This isn’t strictly necessary, but it is a great help.
But on to the recipe, which is a good example of how you can use yoghurt to add lovely softness to dishes traditionally enriched with cream. This is a quick and easy dish that takes some short cuts (not browning the onions, for example), and it’s a good choice for a family meal. Pork fillet isn’t expensive compared to chicken or beef fillets, and it’s exceptionally lean if you trim off every bit of fat. Although this dish is quite acidic because it contains fresh tomatoes, it accepts the yoghurt gracefully, and is – I reckon – the better for it.
A top-quality paprika makes all the difference to this dish. I’m not saying you can’t make it with ordinary supermarket paprika, but what a difference a beautiful Spanish paprika makes.
One or two tablespoons of cream will help to round off the flavours (sorry, I just can’t resist it). See my Cook’s Notes at the end of the recipe.
Paprika Pork Fillet with Greek Yoghurt
1 kg pork fillet (about three fillets – or tenderloins – of 300 g each)
4 Tbsp (60 ml) cake flour
salt and milled black pepper
2 Tbsp (30 ml) olive oil
2 Tbsp (30 ml) butter
2 medium onions, peeled and roughly chopped
500 g ripe cherry or Rosa tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly sliced
1 tsp (5 ml) white granulated sugar
1 Tbsp (15 ml) tomato paste
a large (10 cm) sprig of fresh thyme
¾ cup (180 ml) dry white wine
¼ cup (60 ml) water
the finely grated zest and juice of one lemon
1 Tbsp (15 ml) mild Spanish paprika, or more, to taste
1 tsp (5 ml) good quality smoked paprika [optional]1 cup (250 ml) thick natural Greek yoghurt
a handful (125 ml) finely chopped fresh parsley
Trim the pork fillets of any fat or sinew. Cut into slices 3 cm thick. Put the flour into a big mixing bowl and season it generously with salt and milled black pepper.
Heat a large frying pan and add the oil and butter. While the fat is heating, put the fillet slices into the bowl of seasoned flour and toss them around so they’re well coated. Pat and shake the slices energetically to remove the excess flour – they should be just lightly dusted. When the fat is very hot, brown the slices on both sides (in two or three batches, and without overcrowding the pan) until they have a nice golden crust, but are still somewhat raw on the inside. Set each batch aside on a plate while you finish frying the rest.
In the meantime place the onions, tomatoes, garlic and sugar into a food processor, or similar liquidising device, along with any remaining flour left over in the bowl in which you dredged the meat slices. Whizz the mixture to a fairly fine coral-pink purée, but don’t over-process it, because it will become foamy.
Once you’ve browned the final batch of pork slices, tilt the pan over the sink to drain away any excess fat, turn down the flame and add the tomato paste. Cook the tomato paste over a gentle heat for a minute, then pour in the white wine to deglaze the pan, stirring and scraping energetically to release any golden sediment clinging to its base. Add the water and the puréed onion/tomato/garlic mixture, along with the thyme sprig. Turn up the heat again and cook at a lively bubble for about 10 minutes, or until the mixture has slightly reduced and thickened, and has darkened in colour. It’s ready when you drag a spoon across the mixture and your spoon leaves a narrow channel that closes reluctantly.
|Add the yoghurt patiently, a dollop at a time, stirring carefully between each addition.
Don’t boil the sauce, or the yoghurt might curdle.
Put the browned pork slices back into the pan and add the lemon zest, paprika and smoked paprika. Turn down the heat and gently simmer the pork slices in their sauce for 4-5 minutes (turning them over once or twice during that time), or until they’re cooked right through.
Stir in the lemon juice, to taste, and bubble the sauce for another minute. Now turn the heat down to the very lowest it can go and add the yoghurt, tablespoon by tablespoon, stirring well between each addition. When all the yoghurt has been incorporated, remove the thyme sprig and taste the sauce. Add more salt and pepper if you think it’s necessary, plus an extra spritz of lemon juice to add some pleasant acidity. Stir in the chopped parsley and serve immediately, with mashed potatoes and steamed green beans, or a pile of fresh rocket, beetroot and watercress.
Serves 4-6 as a main course.
- Two or three tablespoons of fresh creamed stirred in at the end will beautifully finish off the flavours.
- I’ve found that ultra-low-fat yoghurts are more unstable in the pan than full-fat yoghurts.
- You can use tinned tomatoes in this dish, if you are in a hurry, but please bear in mind that tinned tomatoes are often extremely acidic, and that they may cause your sauce to curdle once you’ve added the yoghurt. A pinch of bicarbonate of soda added along with the tinned tomatoes may prevent this.