Everything You Can Do With a Tub of Yogurt

A guide to how to cook with yogurt, one of the most versatile ingredients in the world.

A container of plain yogurt.
Vicky Wasik

Yogurt's one of the most versatile ingredients you can hold onto in your kitchen. Leaping from sweet to savory in a single bound, marinating meat and topping grilled vegetables, it more than earns its place as a cooking mainstay, whether you're buying the plain stuff, something fancy, or making it yourself.

What can you do with all that yogurt? Let me count the ways.

Put it On Every Damn Thing You Grill

Grilled cabbage with yogurt and mint
J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

Whether you're grilling eggplant, cabbage (trust), or lamb, pretty much everything that comes off the grill can use some acidity and creaminess to wake up all the smoke and char. A smear of yogurt, done up with some lemon and herbs for good measure, is as easy a sauce as they come. If you're willing to go a little further, make some yogurt relish for burgers with chunks of feta, tomato, and cucumber.

Super-Quick Sauces

A casserole of eggplant, chickpeas and tomatoes in a cast iron skillet with a dish of cumin yogurt on the side..
Yasmin Fahr

While we're at it, make a double batch of that yogurt sauce, because it has more work to do. In my kitchen, a mix of Greek yogurt or labne, some funky, oniony asafoetida, lemon juice, and dill are both salad dressing and roasted vegetable topper. Try mixing yogurt with curry powder and spoon it over lentil soup, or toss in some cumin and drizzle it over eggplant and chickpeas. For quick weeknight dinners, I finish poached or baked salmon with a dollop of dill-yogurt sauce or a refreshing mixture of yogurt, herbs, and cucumber.

Need a bulk recipe to keep around? This minty, cumin-inflected yogurt sauce is as all-purpose as they come, and caraway-yogurt sauce will brighten up any platter of raw or roasted vegetables. And while cucumber raita is usually paired with Indian dishes, the combination of yogurt, grated cucumber, and chaat masala goes just as well with simply roasted cauliflower or fried potatoes.

Full-Flavored Marinades

20150622-tikka-masala-kenji-1.jpg
J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

Yogurt blended with salt and, well, anything is an instant marinade, adding tang and moisture to every meat you can pair it with. Chicken takes especially well to the yogurt-marinade treatment, provided you don't let the meat sit in that yogurt for too long (five hours is your sweet spot). Try it with simple kebabs or go all-out with a tikka masala that's probably better than your local Indian restaurant's. Incorporating a few dollops of yogurt into tandoori chicken patties before grilling will leave them tender, and ever-so-slightly tangy.

Stir it Into Soups and Grains

20150622-asparagus-ramp-soup-kenji.jpg
J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

Yogurt takes beautifully to puréed soups, both cold and hot—the latter works just fine if you incorporate the yogurt at the end and stay gentle with your heat to prevent curdling. We're especially fond of this springy asparagus and ramp soup, a good template for all your yogurt soups. If you're short on fresh produce, remember that in many Indian kitchens, curd rice—a dish of little more than yogurt stirred into cooked rice with some spices—is as comforting and wonderful as mac and cheese.

Make a Quick Salad Dressing

carrot salad with ghee, yogurt, and barberry dressing
Vicky Wasik

With yogurt as your base, it doesn't take a lot of time or ingredients to make a quick, flavorful salad dressing. My top pick for salad that makes any table look brighter and more cheerful is this fresh and pickled carrot salad, which gets tossed with a tangy, spiced mixture of yogurt and nutty ghee. For a salad that looks much more complicated than it really is, I make this 7-layer make-ahead salad, stacked with layers of chickpeas, endive, cucumber, and onion. It gets finished with blue cheese or feta (I always opt for feta), sunflower seeds, a speckling of pomegranate seeds, and—of course—yogurt dressing.

Bake it Into Cake

Vicky Wasik

Yogurt is cake magic: all the ease of mixing an oil-based cake plus the sophisticated richness of a creamed butter version, plus some twang to keep that sweetness in check. It does wonders in this gluten-free cake, adding a nice lactic edge to tangy grapefruit, and works similarly in this coffee cake recipe. Or you can go more homey with a cinnamon-apple cake that folds in that other baking wunderkind: applesauce.

Freeze It

Vicky Wasik

This is not some sickeningly sweet mall chain fro-yo: this is real-deal, honest frozen yogurt made of nothing but yogurt and sugar, the easiest recipe you can stick in your ice cream churn and one of the most rewarding. Once you get a taste of the good stuff, you won't go back. From there you can feed your new homemade fro-yo addiction with blackberry, raspberry, orange, and mango variations.

Or Whip It

Whipped yogurt with fruit.
Vicky Wasik

Frozen isn't the only way to eat yogurt as a sweet treat. And in the winter, I'm partial to desserts that don't make me even colder than I already am. This whipped Greek yogurt is exactly what it sounds like—a cross between light whipped cream and rich, heavy yogurt. Along with the yogurt and heavy cream, we add golden syrup, a dash of rosewater, and a pinch of salt to the stand mixer. When most fresh fruits aren't in season, I'll eat this whipped yogurt with homemade applesauce, orange segments, or a dollop of fresh jam.

And Don't Forget Smoothies

Vicky Wasik

And, of course, there are smoothies. Creamy avocado-mango ones and lassis (mango or savory mint). Yogurt effortlessly adds protein, acidity, body, and creaminess to the blender—everything you want in a smoothie. Don't think they have to be sweet, either; this savory spiced Indian chaas blends in cumin, cilantro, and green chili for a stomach-settling sip that puts all those probiotics to good use.