Cheryl Sternam Rule made her first homemade yogurt on a gas stove in Eritrea where she taught English as a Peace Corps volunteer. Almost twenty years later, I consider her one of the foremost experts on yogurt in the United States.
I was honored when Cheryl reached out to me to learn about yogurt’s role in Afghan cuisine for her beautifully written and photographed book “Yogurt Culture”. This book is chock full of yogurt recipes to sip, slurps, dine, bake, chill, and lick. My copy is marked up with stars and tags for mouthwatering recipes I plan to make. However, one recipe I’m quite familiar with is Afghan noodle soup aush, which you can find on page 166.
Cheryl has been writing professionally for newspapers, magazines, and websites since 2004. In 2008, Cheryl won the Greenbrier Award given by the Symposium for Professional Food Writers.
Humaira asks Cheryl a few questions about her career choice as a food writer, yogurt and Cheryl’s favorite recipe in the book.
Humaira: What attracted you to food writing?
Cheryl: I’d alway loved writing—creative writing, essay writing, and academic writing. When I got my first job after grad-school, I was hired as a researcher but ended up doing a lot of writing as well due to my natural affinity for the craft. A few years later, I made the decision to change careers (from education to food), and transitioned the topic of my writing then as well. I love how creative and relatable food writing is, and how powerful a tool it can be to inspire people in their everyday lives.
Humaira: In your travels, what have you seen as a commonality among yogurt eating cultures/countries?
Cheryl: One of the biggest commonalities, I think, not just from travels but from talking to people from wildly different cultural backgrounds, is how similar the process is from place to place. Because yogurt comes in so many varieties in the U.S. and the packaging styles diverge so much here, I think we forget how simple a food yogurt really is. Across the world, people just make yogurt in whatever pot they'd normally use for cooking and set it aside someplace warm to incubate. It's incredibly simple.
Humaira: I add yogurt to my Ramen noodles which horrifies my husband. What is dish you like to add yogurt to which horrifies/shocks others? And, what is your favorite recipe in Yogurt Culture?
Cheryl: I really add yogurt to everything nowadays, so I don't think anyone in my family is shocked by anything anymore! They use almost as much yogurt now as I do. I have a lot of favorite recipes. The Greek yogurt with lemon vinaigrette is one of them, probably because it's so easy, and so, so good.
Greek Yogurt with Lemon Vinaigrette
Makes 2¼ Cups Dip
A bold pool of lemon vinaigrette adds a sunny hue to a bowl of yogurt, creating a dip with two colors, two textures, and two flavors. I ate a version of it in the morning at a small Israeli inn called Pausa.
2 cups plain Greek yogurt, preferably whole-milk
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon pine nuts, lightly toasted in a dry skillet
¼ teaspoon za'atara, or a few leaves fresh parsley, chopped
Warm whole-wheat pita triangles, for serving
MAKE. In a large bowl, beat the yogurt until light and smooth. Scrape it into a shallow, wide serving bowl and smooth with the back of a spoon to create a wide indentation. In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk the oil and lemon juice until emulsified; season well with salt and pepper. Pour the vinaigrette over the yogurt so it floods the indentation. Sprinkle with the pine nuts and za'atara or parsley. Taste, adding a bit more salt, if desired. Serve with warm pita.
Yo! Za'atar is a type of wild thyme often mixed with sumac (a brick-red, sour spice), salt, and sesame seeds. Look for it in Middle Eastern markets.
Excerpted from Yogurt Culture, © 2015 by Cheryl Sternman Rule. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.