The Replacements

The Replacements: How To Get A Tangy Flavor Without Sour Cream Or Buttermilk

We here at Plated love inventive dishes, food hacks, and workarounds in the kitchen. In “The Replacements,” we’re focused on swapping out traditional ingredients for inventive choices to rethink classic dishes. These creative, healthy substitutions can enhance recipes and help you experience your meals in a new way.

Picture this: You’ve finished cooking a meal and take your first bite, only to realize that it still needs something. Salt? Pepper? Heat? You can’t put on your finger on it. While under-salting your meal will definitely hinder its full flavor potential, this elusive missing taste is often acid—that tang, however subtle, that instantly adds brightness. Ingredients used for their acidic flavor include lemons and limes, vinegars, and dairy items like sour cream, buttermilk, and yogurt. Topping rich, spicy foods with a dollop of sour cream might be a no-brainer, but both plain and Greek yogurt can do the job, too. And if you have yogurt and milk and a recipe for calls for buttermilk, you’re all set. Here’s how to think of yogurt more as a cooking ingredient than a breakfast staple.

Sub Yogurt For Sour Cream

Both yogurt and sour cream work well as bright garnishes to cut the richness of a dish, such as baked potatoes, stews, or tacos. With a thicker texture and more intense tang, Greek yogurt better mimics sour cream than plain yogurt, but both can be used interchangeably as substitutes for sour cream. (If you’re swapping in plain yogurt in a dip or sauce and want a texture similar to sour cream, let it thicken in the fridge for a couple hours.) We know that sour cream can curdle when exposed to high heat during cooking, and yogurt has a similar reaction, so when using it to add a creamy texture to a sauce or soup, it’s best to add it after removing the dish from heat. Nutritionally, yogurt, especially the Greek kind, offers more protein and healthy bacteria than sour cream and has less fat.

Turn Yogurt Into Buttermilk

While it’s common to have a container of plain yogurt in the fridge, buttermilk can be one of those use-once, watch-it-turn-bad type of ingredients. In a pinch or if you don’t feel like buying a carton, you can make your own buttermilk using yogurt as the acidic base. Whisk ⅔ cup plain yogurt with ⅓ cup milk or ½ cup Greek yogurt with ½ cup milk. Both of these will work in sweet and savory recipes, and try the Greek yogurt-milk mixture as a marinade for chicken or lamb.

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