I’ve been vegetarian for a very long time now, with long spells of veganism in between.
Unlike many people, I never had a problem “giving up” foods to go vegan. I’ve always hated “breakfast eggs” – scrambled, fried, omeletted – and soon found I didn’t have to rely on eggs for baked goods, either. I actually liked the taste of soymilk and almond milk. I didn’t “miss” cheese so much as it was difficult to find foods that didn’t have cheese, especially when at someone’s house or eating out. And yogurt? – those little Dannon cups of overpowering sugary sweetness? Bleah, certainly didn’t miss those!
Fast forward. I met an Indian guy who taught me how to cook Indian food, and – whoopsie – fell in love with Indian yogurt! Truly it was unlike any yogurt I’d had before – creamy and rich, but slightly tangy instead of sweet. I’d always thought of yogurt as just a base for fruit smoothies, but in Indian cuisine it’s used for savory raitas with vegetables, salty namkeen lassis, dolloped on top of rajma (a spicy red bean dish), eaten with flatbreads and pickled green chili peppers. I also used yogurt as a stand-in for sour cream – on chili, on tacos.
I became addicted. Yogurt was my crack.
I rationalized this because yogurt was the ONLY dairy I ate, and I didn’t eat it every day. I was still vegan – except for the yogurt. (Isn’t that what all junkies say? I’m not a drug addict – because I ONLY smoke crack three times a week, and I never touch heroin!) Maybe I’d break down once in a blue moon and have an occasional cup of chai with my partner, but that was different. I used to drink Earl Grey for years, straight up. No milk, no sugar.
Then, my partner decided to go vegan. If he could give up his beloved chai, I could give up my yogurt – the one non-vegan thing in my diet. After all, I’d found substitutes for milk and replacements for eggs. It would be easy to find a replacement for yogurt.
We went to Earthfare and Healthy Home Market, buying whatever faux yogurts they had. Some soy yogurts were just downright nasty. Most were sweet. We tried an almond yogurt that tasted good and would have done well for fruit smoothies, but, alas, it was much too sweet. We even tried vegan sour cream – yuck!
I sadly resigned myself to a yogurtless existence.
Then Whole Foods opened, and we found … Whole Soy & Co. Organic Yogurt.
We each ate several spoonfuls in happy disbelief. We may have shouted and danced around the room, I don’t remember.
Then I immediately made a raita, just to see if it could be done.
It could, indeed.
Whisk 1 cup soy yogurt with 1/3 cup plain soymilk until smooth. (With regular yogurt you would also add some water, but soy yogurt stays much creamier with just soymilk.) Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon red chili powder, and 1/4 teaspoon ground roasted cumin. Stir again. Next, peel a cucumber and grate it. “Squeeze” the water out and then add to the raita. Chill for several hours in the refrigerator, then garnish with fresh cilantro.
There are many variations. You can add mint (instead of cilantro), onions, spinach, even potatoes! But as long as you’ve got yourself a cucumber, you’ve got yourself a raita.
My next quest is to make my own soy yogurt, as Whole Soy is rather expensive! A little over $3 for 24 ounces; I used to buy 5 lbs of (organic, gelatin-free) yogurt at India Grocers for $5! I’m finding soy yogurt does not behave like regular milk yogurt; the texture is different, and the taste varies greatly with each brand of soymilk used.
But I am determined. And when I figure out the perfect recipe, I’ll share.