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Book Review: Total Greek Yoghurt Cookbook by Sophie Michell

November 23, 2014

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I’ve had a lot of fun with the lovely people at Total this year with gifts of yoghurt – which I used in some lovely recipes, the brilliant Masterclass with Tonia Buxton in April and recently I received a copy of their cookbook: Total Greek Yoghurt Cookbook by Sophie Michell. I should probably say at this point that I am not paid by them to write anything, and even the gifts have not come with any kind of obligation to write about them, although I have written because I wanted to. As a food blogger, there are inevitably offers from restaurants and other food people quite often but, since this is my hobby and not my job, I have the luxury of being able to take up only the offers I’m genuinely interested in. I never write a review for a free meal and always go to restaurants secretly, though I have often been offered free meals or wine as thank-yous for a nice review after the first visit, when I get to know the restaurateurs. As far as Total are concerned, my food love affair with their yoghurt goes back to my very first post on 25 July 2011, which makes them quite special, I think. In that first post I recreated an aubergine salad using Greek yoghurt that I’d enjoyed in Kardamyli in the Peloponnese the month before; a holiday that inspired me to start the blog. I said that Total Greek yoghurt was the ‘best and genuine’ and have frequently repeated this because no other will do: ‘Greek-style’ yoghurts are not the same at all and many have additives to thicken and flavour them while the only addition to the milk in Total’s are the cultures to make it into yoghurt!

I already use Total yoghurt a lot – there’s nearly always some in my fridge – so I was intrigued to see what their cookbook contained. I immediately – and incorrectly – assumed the recipes would be mainly Greek but Sophie Michell has taken a broad and eclectic view, showing how Greek yoghurt can be incorporated into many other cuisines. Here you can find out how to make your diet healthier by swapping Greek yoghurt for cream or butter in dishes and Sophie uses it in recipes with origins in China (King Prawn and Ginger Wontons), a Mexican-inspired Jalapeño & Cheese Cornbread, Thai Chicken Cups, a Mediterranean Fish Stew with Saffron Aioli (made with Total yoghurt of course!), a bit of Italy with Crab & Pea Risotto and from India – Indian Spiced Monkfish with Spinach, Lentil & Yoghurt Dahl. I really want to try her Greek-Style Lamb Flatbreads with Mint & Pomegranate because they look so wonderful in the photo accompanying the recipe; the book is full of fabulous photos. However, for today – and because I think you should always try out at least one recipe when reviewing a cookbook – I decided to make Preserved Lemon & Yoghurt-Marinated Poussins, with its Moroccan theme. I did, however, replace the poussins with a jointed chicken and because we’re definitely past the barbecue season (Sophie says this recipe is great for barbecues), I opted for using my oven. The marinade with its preserved lemons, garlic, shallots, honey, dried chilli flakes, thyme and Greek yoghurt sounded so good, and I knew the chicken would taste great however it was cooked after a few hours marinating in the fridge.

Marinade ingredients about to be whizzed up

Marinade ingredients about to be whizzed up

I made her suggested accompanying salad too: a combination of red onion, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, green olives, lemon, Greek yoghurt and za’atar.

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And here’s the finished chicken, which we all thought was fabulous:

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And all put together into a wonderful plate of food:

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We all loved it. The chicken was wonderfully tasty having absorbed the flavours of the marinade over a few hours; the texture so tender. Jonathan said he’s definitely making this for barbecues next summer (I’d better keep an eye on my book!).

The Total Greek Yoghurt Cookbook opens with an introduction to Total, telling us how their yoghurt is made and giving a brief history of its production. In Greece – as I found in Kardamyli and recently Crete – sheep’s milk is traditionally used but the yoghurt we buy in UK is made from cows’ milk. Fabulously rich and thick, it is nevertheless a healthy food full of nutrients and even the classic (full fat) variety is low on saturated fats. The book is then divided into logical sections giving recipes for  ‘Small Plates & Soups’, ‘Main Plates’ and then ‘Sweet Plates, Shakes & Smoothies’. Of course, everything contains yoghurt! I say this because when coming up with a plan for tonight’s family meal I stuck with just doing a main course from the book and did a non-yogurt starter and dessert.

Interspersed are handy sections entitled Total +1, Total +2 etc. showing you how you can make great dips, sauces and small dishes by adding just one, two, three or four ingredients to some Total yoghurt. These include Labneh, Pea & Mint Crush, Feta & Chilli Spread and even a few suggestions of additions to make quick desserts: Pomegranate & Pistachio, Peanut Butter & Chocolate and White Peach & Almond.

The recipes have been devised by Sophie Michell, Britain’s youngest female executive chef (at the Pont St restaurant at Belgraves Hotel), food writer and TV host. Her family have lived in Greece for 10 years and thus she regularly visits Crete where their house is and is well used to using Greek yoghurt and understanding its versatility. She’s written a book that goes far beyond ‘how to use that Greek yoghurt in your fridge’; this isn’t a book about yoghurt so much as how you can incorporate it into your cooking more regularly. And the recipes stand on their own; they’re brilliant, inventive and varied in themselves,while at the same time being accessible and easy to use. Of course, if you love Greek yoghurt as much as I do, you’ll be excited to find a host of wonderful ways of eating more of it! But any cook can be inspired by these fabulous recipes.

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