Lemon, Garlic and Herb Yogurt; see recipe, below. (Goran Kosanovic/For The Washington Post)

The best way I’ve found to improve upon dinner has nothing to do with butter. It doesn’t involve a generous glug of cream, or even a few slabs of bacon. The secret recipe that has transformed so many of my meals from dull to exciting is so unassuming that you probably have it stashed in your refrigerator right now.

It’s yogurt. But it’s not the kind of yogurt you have for breakfast, topped with honey and fruit. I mean savory yogurt sauce, a no-frills combination of plain Greek yogurt (nonfat Fage brand is my favorite) with salt, lemon juice and a generous pour of extra-virgin olive oil. I serve it on just about everything.

This surprisingly simple sauce elevates the plainest of meals into something crave-worthy and healthful. It rescues me in the middle of the week, when I get home late and all I’ve got in my pantry are beans and grains. I can’t count the number of times I’ve made dinner from basmati rice, a can of chickpeas and some yogurt. I’ve turned yogurt into a pasta sauce, tossed simply with fettuccine and parsley. And it’s the only reason my daily grain bowls haven’t degraded into an endless parade of sad desk lunches.

I serve a thicker version, mixed with garlic, dill and walnuts, aside roast chicken or fish. That same sauce can add a cool touch to contrast beautifully with charred lamb or steak. (Sprinkle on Aleppo pepper or sumac for bonus points.) And the stripped-down recipe is a must in my favorite way to serve vegetables, which I learned from John Gregory-Smith’s terrific cookbook “Turkish Delights.

I roast seasonal vegetables — think acorn squash, cauliflower or even tomatoes — then arrange them on a platter dolloped with (you guessed it) yogurt sauce. The finishing touch? Chopped nuts, a hefty amount of herbs and, if I’m feeling ambitious, pomegranate seeds or crumbled feta.

That’s something I’d serve at a dinner party. But it’s also perfect for when the only person I want to treat is myself.

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Lemon, Garlic and Herb Yogurt

4 servings (makes about 2 cups)

Its versatility is just one reason why Post staffer Emily Codik loves this condiment, which she uses as a dip, a spread, a topping for grain bowls and a sauce for grilled chicken and fish.


1 3/4 cups plain nonfat Greek-style yogurt, preferably Fage brand

1 tablespoon finely chopped dill, plus more for garnish

1 clove garlic, minced

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts


Scoop the yogurt into a mixing bowl. Add the dill, garlic, lemon juice, oil and salt, stirring until thoroughly incorporated.

Transfer to a serving dish; garnish with the walnuts, more dill and a drizzle of oil.

Nutrition | Per serving: 140 calories, 11 g protein, 6 g carbohydrates, 8 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 190 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar

Recipe tested by Emily Codik; email questions to food@washpost.com

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