Smooth, rich and creamy with lightly sour notes, there are few things that can’t be improved with a healthy dollop of yoghurt — though we would hesitate to recommend putting it on your chips. That said, there is no comparison that can reasonably be made between a natural, live, preferably house-made, yoghurt and the pots of lifeless industrial gloop that can usually be found in a supermarket. With this in mind, we went out and tested some of Phnom Penh’s best house-made yoghurts to find out which one might best suit your palate.
Yoghurt is actually surprisingly easy to make at home. But for those who have neither the time nor the inclination to stand over their stove, thermometer in hand, Phnom Penh is awash with choices for those looking for the homemade touch without forsaking time better spent watching reruns of Chef’s Table.
We checked out five of them — including our own Khéma House-made Yoghurt — to give you our view on how they taste and how they may best be deployed in the kitchen (other than by consuming a 1 litre pot with a giant spoon of strawberry jam in one sitting — note to our marketing manager!)
First off, though we did swear you off supermarket editions, we did try the Sunshine Yoghurt produced by Garden Centre Café ($1.85 for 250g, $3.45 for 500g, and available at a wide range of supermarkets in Phnom Penh). This is a probiotic yoghurt made made by the people who once ran the long-standing and popular Garden Centre Cafés on Street 57, and made with probiotics imported from the US and New Zealand milk powder.
This one was the thickest and creamiest that we tried, with a sharper sour note than the others that will definitely appeal to those with a savoury tooth. And while it may be available in supermarkets, it is made with no sugars, sweeteners, preservatives, thickeners, flavourings, colourings or additives. So, natural. The thick texture and sourness make this one perfect for combining with savoury foods such as a curry or sloppily stirred in at the last minute to a wild mushroom risotto.
Naturally, we tried Khéma’s own brand ($1.90 for 200g, take-away price), which is looser and a purer white colour than Garden Café’s with a milder, slightly sweeter flavour (no sugars are added). We liked this one the best for adding to fruits and desserts, but it is also perfect for cooking too, and easier to blend in to dishes early on or drizzled over at the end for a light, creamy touch. Or, you could simply mix in some salt, water and chopped fresh mint to make a lovely, refreshing version of Ayran, a creamy Turkish drink.
Next up, we went to The Shop ($1 for 100g). Their natural yoghurt hit the middle ground, being slightly thicker and with more sour notes than Khéma, but not quite as thick or sour as Garden Café’s edition. A good all-rounder in our view, that is easy on the pocket too.
Blue Pumpkin’s yoghurts were much favoured by some on our testing team, and have the distinct advantage of being available in a range of flavours with a thick wedge of fruit jams at the bottom of the pots so you don’t need to go rooting around in the back of the fridge to find some, as well as in plain. This one was the loosest of all the yoghurts we tried, and though not quite as sweet as Khéma’s version, ideal for delivering a fruity punch to your breakfast muesli.
While more digestible to those are lactose intolerant — because the lactose is converted to lactic acids which give yoghurt its distinctive tang — many prefer to avoid yoghurt altogether, as do vegans and some vegetarians. But all is not lost.
Backyard Café makes its own vegan Coconut Milk Yoghurt ($4.75 for 200g) using coconut milk as a base. This one is almost as thick as butter, creamy, and very coconutty. It is also naturally much sweeter than the others and missed the sourness of traditional yoghurt. We didn’t test how stable it is for cooking, but it would ideal for adding to desserts or fruits for a fruity, guilt and bloat-free twist.
For many, yoghurt has been condemned to the realms of being hoofed down over breakfast or a compromise on cream for dessert, where it adds creaminess without the waist-thickening calories of actual cream. But for many, it really comes into its own when combined with savoury foods. It adds a comforting coolness to spicy foods, it balances flavours and softens out dry ingredients (as when served with a cumin roasted cauliflower. You can up the yoghurty tang by stirring in a little lime juice).
Given Europe’s long, devotional and highly creative relationship with all things dairy, it would be easy to assume that yoghurt was first concocted on some ancient Greek goat farm, an accident of contamination perhaps, like cheese, or cooked up by some clever clogs in the cool cellars of a Gaulish kitchen, but that assumption would be wrong. Yoghurt’s earliest roots in fact lie in Asia. And it is in Asia where yoghurt also finds its most creative expressions.
Turkish, Indian, Pakistani and Middle Eastern cuisines have a much wider range of uses and forms for yoghurt than commonly seen in the West. Think, for example, of labneh and lassi (many of the Indian restaurants in Phnom Penh offer delicious, cooling lassis on their menus), and they all make extensive use of yoghurt in their dishes. The word yoghurt itself is in fact Turkish.
But to get you inspired at home, we came across this simple recipe for roasted lamb, that uses all of yoghurt’s natural virtues to create even richer, more tender and flavourful meat. It turns out that yoghurt has spectacular reach when it comes to tenderising meats. No one is quite sure how yet, but it is thought that the calcium interacts with the protein in the meat that allows it to be drawn deep beneath the surface.
To make your perfect marinade, simply combine 150g plain yoghurt with 1 tbsp of olive oil, 1 tbsp dried oregano, juice from one lemon and sea salt. Add some crushed garlic too if you like. Slather it over your leg of lamb (with the silver skin removed), then leave it overnight in the fridge. Before roasting, take the leg out of the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature, then roast as you normally would. No need to remove the marinade. Then, bon appétit!