From Our Kitchen: Spring for Flavor

This month our kitchen tells you how to make your own yogurt, prepare the perfect appetizer with fresh ingredients, and the many uses of ginger.
Mary Allen Perry

Rich Rewards
If you haven’t tried Greek yogurt, you definitely should. You’ll be hooked, as we were, with the first creamy spoonful. Topped with honey and granola, it turns fresh fruit into party fare. The only drawback is the price―but it’s super-easy to make your own. Straining less expensive American yogurt removes the liquid and creates the same satiny-smooth texture and richness. Be sure to choose a brand that doesn’t list gelatin as an ingredient; otherwise any type of yogurt will work, including fat-free.

Line a fine wire-mesh strainer with a paper coffee filter, and place over a deep bowl or measuring cup. Spoon yogurt into the filter; cover with plastic wrap, and chill 8 to 24 hours or until desired thickness. The longer the yogurt is strained, the thicker it becomes, eventually reaching the consistency of a soft cream cheese. After straining, it makes a terrific canvas for both sweet and savory ingredients and can be used in place of sour cream in many recipes.

 

Seasonal Eating
There’s no better time of year to enjoy fresh watercress than right now. The tender, spicy-sweet leaves add a peppery bite to salads and sandwiches. For a quick party pickup, spread garlic-and-herb cheese over toasted baguette slices; top with boiled shrimp, and tuck in a few sprigs of watercress. Try it warm as well―like spinach, it’s best when barely wilted.

Shop for bright green bunches of watercress with small leaves and thin stems. Store watercress in the refrigerator with the stems in water and the leaves loosely covered with a plastic bag. When ready to serve, trim the stems, rinse with cold water, and dry with paper towels or in a salad spinner.

 

Posh Spice
You may be most familiar with fresh ginger in Asian-inspired salad dressings and stir-fries, but it also adds a spicy burst of flavor to many of our favorite Southern foods. You’ll find dozens of top-rated recipes―from Fresh Ginger-and-Lemon Muffins to Bourbon-Marinated Pork Tenderloin―on myrecipes.com. Keep these tips in mind when using fresh ginger.

Look for fragrant, pale brown roots with smooth skin―firm enough to make an audible snap when broken. To peel, scrape the skin gently with the side of a teaspoon, following the bumps and curves of the root. The flesh just below the skin is the most flavorful and often lost when using a vegetable peeler. A 1-inch piece yields about 1 Tbsp. minced or grated ginger.

Fresh ginger is added to recipes in a number of different ways. Sliced ginger releases a subtle infusion of flavor when heated with oil or liquid. Chopped ginger delivers bold, sweet-hot bites of concentrated flavor. The juicy, paste-like consistency of finely grated ginger disperses flavor throughout the dish.

The flavor of dried ground ginger can’t replace that of fresh, but do try using a combination of both in baked goods.

Crystallized ginger, available in the spice section along with ground ginger, has been simmered in syrup and coated with granulated sugar. It’s most often used in sweet baked goods, but it’s also delicious with many savory foods. Try sprinkling it over roasted root vegetables just before serving.

Fresh ginger contains an enzyme that can curdle milk-based dishes and prevent gelatin from setting properly. Heat destroys the enzyme, so before using fresh ginger in recipes such as custards or congealed salads blanch it in boiling water or microwave it at MEDIUM for just a few seconds or until hot.

What’s Cooking?
Do you have a great-tasting recipe for a busy weeknight supper? We’d love to try it. For each recipe we publish, we’ll send you $20 plus a copy of the Southern Living Annual Recipes cookbook in January. Please e-mail recipes to sl_foodedit@timeinc.com.