I think I can safely say that everyone who takes a glance at today's column has had a bite or two of yogurt. I don't think I could have said that five years ago. So the commercialization of yogurt has at least helped to acquaint a larger group of people with this remarkable food.
The origins of yogurt are speculative. Some say a nomadic Middle-Eastern family was about to be pursued by the enemy when the man-about-the-tent dipped his turban into the yogurt and quickly wrapped it about his head before he jumped on his camel. That night when they established camp, the family's first act was to milk their animals. Then they scraped off the dried yogurt from the turban and began to incubate more yogurt, an essential to their meager diet.
Others say it was the Mongols who inadvertently discovered yogurt when the raw milk in their saddle bags was incubated by the heat of their galloping horses.
Probably there are many origins because there are records of milk cultures as long as people have been herding animals. The Old Testament refers to Abraham eating yogurt of goat's milk. The Russians boast of originating both yogurt and kefir, another valuable dairy culture. The Finns and friends make a soft cultured product called pilma, from raw milk, and the Chinese have a similar product known by several different names.
Whatever the culture, and whatever the incubating medium, the benefits are similar. They are all excellent sources of helpful bacteria that, within the intestines, help prevent the production of harmful bacteria. Yogurt itself, is a good source of protein, calcium and Vitamin B-1, and it is a valuable diet food when made from low-fat milk.
Since many good brands of yogurt are available in natural food stores and supermarkets, I advise staying away from the sweetened, flavored products which tend to contain unnecessary additives. It's easy enough to add you own fruit and honey to unflavored yogurt.
Also, if you eat a lot of yogurt, it's sensible to invest in one of the several good yogurt makers on the market today. You can use fresh yogurt for a starter, or a powdered starter. I recommend the Dairyfresh Products. They are especially good for those who live in areas where a top quality fresh yogurt is not readily available. Dairyfresh puts out several dry cultures -- yogurt, buttermilk, acidopholus, sour cream. The yogurt is very mild -- great for the beginner. You can write to them for information at Box 36, Santa Cruz, Calif. 95063.
If you are a novice to yogurt and looking for a couple of ideas these recipes are easy for beginners. The pancake recipe is a winner for those finicky youngsters who don't like yogurt, milk products or eggs. Remember also that you can substitute yogurt for sour cream in practically any recipe, especially if the yogurt is mild. If you are reluctant to give up sour cream entirely, try half sour and half yogurt at first. Yogurt also adds a nice tang and creaminess to legume soups, especially lentil and split pea. YOGURT PANCAKES (6 to 8 servings) 1/2 cup plain yogurt 1 egg, separated 6 tablespoons whole-wheat flour 1/8 teaspoon soda 1/4 teaspoon salt Beat together yogurt and egg yolk. Mix together flour, soda and salt and stir into yogurt mixture just enough to moisten. Beat egg white until stiff and fold into pancake batter. Spoon onto a hot, lightly greased griddle and bake until golden brown. This recipe doubles well. QUICK CHICKEN CURRY (4 servings) 3 tablespoons oil 1 medium onion, finely chopped 2 cloves garlic, minced 1 medium apple, peeled, cored and grated 1/2 cup finely chopped green pepper 2 teaspoons curry powder 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger 1/4 teaspoon cumin 1 teaspoon salt 3 tablespoons flour 1 1/2 cups chicken broth 2 1/2 cups cooked, chopped chicken 1 cup plain yogurt Peanuts, raisins, lemon slices Heat oil in skillet and saute onion, garlic, apple and pepper and until well softened; sprinkle seasonings and flour over ingredients in frying pan, then stir to mix. Add broth and chicken and stir until thickened and heated through. Stir in yogurt just before serving. Serve over brown rice garnished with peanuts, raisins and lemon slices. YOGURT AND CUCUMBER SALAD (4 servings) 3 cups thinly sliced cumcumbers, peeled if desired 2 cups plain yogurt 2 garlic cloves, mashed (optional) 1 tablespoon fresh mint, or 1 teaspoon dried 1/2 teaspoon dill weed Salt and pepper Lettuce leaves and lemon wedges Put cucumber slices in a bowl. Mix yogurt with garlic, mint and dill and toss gently with cucumbers. Salt and peper to taste. Serve on lettuce leaves garnished with lemon wedges.