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Making your own yogurt at home is not difficult, requires very little active time and no special equipment. (Image: Thinkstock)

A world of yogurt, all made in Seattle

Yogurt meant just one thing when I was young: the slimy white stuff that stood between my mouth and the sugary "fruit on bottom," described on the side of the container. Outside the U.S., where the packaged food era hadn't yet been greeted with peel-off tops and recyclable plastic, yogurt still meant silky pudding-textured breakfast drizzled with honey or tangy condiment for spicy crisped bread.

Recently, these global takes on yogurt have started to pop up in Seattle's Ethiopian cafes, Vietnamese bakeries, and fine-dining restaurants. Yogurt is shockingly easy to make at home, and an even easier upgrade for a restaurant to make, imparting freshness and a tangy blast of flavor to a menu.

Yogurt is generally viewed as a breakfast food, and sure enough, Jebena Cafe, an Ethiopian restaurant near Northgate, has it on the morning menu alongside the homemade pita. However, its absence from dinner menu should not stop anyone for asking for a bowl in which to dip the crunchy, spice-rubbed injera bread called qateqna. Like the fresh cheeses so often served with Ethiopian food, yogurt serves as an antidote to the burn of berebere spice mix. Cool, creamy, and with just a single pluck of sourness, it is a food that says volumes with its simplicity.

Far across town, Q Bakery does most of its business serving bánh mì, Vietnamese sandwiches on bread fresh from its ovens. But a twirl around from the cash register brings you face to face with a fridge full of chilled Vietnamese delights, such as coconut pudding and yogurt. The unique ingredient to Vietnamese yogurt is the sweetened condensed milk that replaces fresh milk. Diluted to cut the sweetness, the result is a smoother texture with a mellow dairy sweetness, and a touch of yogurt's defining tang.

That tang takes a bit of a holiday in favor of an overwhelmingly rich creaminess in the new-style Greek yogurt that Ellenos churns out at Pike Place Market. Closer to cake frosting in flavor and feel than to some of the other yogurts discussed here, it makes for a celebratory breakfast as easily as it does a dessert. Marionberry pie, cookies and cream, and caramel-slice flavors prove that is what the market stand is going for, but more straightforward flavors such as passionfruit, unsweetened natural, or nutty fruity muesli are better for breakfasts.

Restaurateur Matt Dillon isn't thinking about breakfast with his house-made yogurts. Taking cues from the Middle East, Dillon plays up the savory side of yogurt, using it as a base for vegetable dishes, a dip, or as part of a sauce. His Georgetown outpost, The Corson Building, stays in the Middle East for inspiration, serving yogurt with cauliflower, crispy emmer, fenugreek brown butter, and dates. At Bar Sajor the menu gets creative and combines with Asian vegetables for a dish of smoked yogurt with sprouted rye crisps, spicy pak choi, shaved daikon radish, pumpkin seeds, and mint.


Not all house-made yogurts need to fly so far from tradition, though. Cafe Presse and sister spot Le Pichet both make their own yogurt and serve them simply, with honey and walnuts. In Ballard, the Eurocentric brunch menu at the Fat Hen includes a similar serving, but with toasted pine nuts in place of walnuts. And if that is not to your taste either, making your own yogurt at home is not difficult, requires very little active time and no special equipment. Local cookbook author Amy Pennington offers her rendition here.

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