tzatzikiLast time, I posted about making Greek (strained) yogurt at home, and here’s one of my favorite ways to use it. Tzatziki is a Mediterranean sauce or dip which is good with veggies, bread, or meat. It’s best after it sits for a night to let the flavors develop, so plan ahead if possible.

3/4 cup (180mL) Greek or strained yogurt
1/2 cucumber
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tbsp lemon juice
1 small clove garlic
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper


Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and remove seeds with a spoon. If the cucumber has a thick peel, you may want to remove it, but it’s not necessary. Chop the remaining cucumber into small pieces.

Mix all ingredients together well. Let the tzatziki sit in the fridge for several hours or overnight. The flavors will get stronger as it sits, so don’t add more garlic until you taste it the next day. If some water collects on top of the tzatziki overnight, you can pour it off, or mix it back in.
Some of my favorite ways to eat this are with pita bread or chips, with falafel, with chicken, or with rice dishes that have warm spices in them. In the picture above I have a homemade pita filled with sauteed chicken, tzatziki, red onion, broccoli sprouts, and extra cucumber.

Homemade Greek Yogurt

Making your own yogurt is quite simple! It does take a little time, but most of it is inactive. It’s a really fun, easy project to try at home at least once!

greek yogurtYou’ll need: 1 liter (4 cups) milk + 2 tbsp active culture yogurt + time

1. Heat the milk to about 77C (170F). If you don’t have a thermometer, then heat the milk until it just starts to simmer around the edges.

2. Cover the pot with a lid and let it cool down to 43C (110F). Then stir in the yogurt. Now you just have to keep the yogurt warm, and wait about 5-10 hours.

3. You can warm up your oven very slightly (to about 43C / 110F), turn off the oven and leave it in there. Or, if your oven has a setting for letting bread rise, you can use that. My oven in Japan has that kind of setting, called 発酵, hakkou, or ‘fermentation’, which will keep your oven temperature at 40C. I used that setting for a little while, then turned off the oven and left the pot in there with the door closed until it was done. Or, if you don’t have an oven or don’t want to use it, you can wrap the whole pot (with the lid on) in a heavy towel, and leave it in a warm spot. I’ve done it that way before with no problem.

4. Check the yogurt once in a while to see if the milk has congealed. There might be a little whey on top (a clear yellow-green liquid), which you can pour off. At this point, you’re done! If you want to make Greek/strained yogurt, you can strain it by putting cheesecloth or coffee filters in a strainer, setting it over a bowl, and letting it sit in the fridge overnight.

If you don’t strain your yogurt, you’ll get about the same amount of yogurt as the milk you started with. If you strain it, a lot of whey will come out. I started with a liter (4 cups) of milk, and ended up measuring 560mL (2-1/3 cups) of whey, leaving about 410g (1-2/3 cups) Greek yogurt. (It does depend how thick you like it, so your results may vary.)

So, is it worth it?

If you’re currently buying Greek yogurt, then it’s worth it. Or, if you don’t strain your yogurt, it’s worth it. In those two cases, making your own costs about 1/3 as much as buying in the store!

If you want to strain your yogurt, here are the numbers I got. This will, of course, vary slightly depending on the price of milk and yogurt in your area.

Buying Greek yogurt in the store: 1.35 yen/gram
Buying yogurt in the store and straining it: 0.5 yen/gram
Buying milk in the store, making yogurt, and straining it: 0.4 yen/gram

So it’s much cheaper than buying Greek yogurt, but only slightly cheaper than buying yogurt and straining it. If you add in the extra effort of making your own yogurt, each person will have to decide whether they think it’s worth it. For me personally, I probably won’t make yogurt every week, but once in a while I will.

How about taste? Well, I love the taste of the homemade yogurt. I don’t really like a very strong sour, yogurty taste, but the homemade yogurt is very mild. It tastes very fresh and pure. I like to eat it with a little honey and some toasted walnuts (like in the picture above), or mixed with fresh/dried fruit, jam, or nuts.

Especially in Japan, I use strained yogurt a lot – not only for eating, but also as a substitute for sour cream or cream cheese in certain applications. You can make dip with yogurt (mix with a little mayo and some seasoning) and no one can tell the difference. You can make tzatziki (a Greek yogurt cucumber sauce). You can also strain it a little further and make a spread for crackers that’s like cream cheese. You can even make cheesecake with it. You can put a spoonful of it in soup to make a creamy contrast; you can use it to make pasta sauce; you can use it in tacos or burritos; you can make a creamy salad dressing with it; you can…

Ingredients in Japan: Dairy Products

This post is part of a series about the differences in ingredients between Japan and the U.S. When I first arrived in Japan, I had a lot of trouble at times because I wasn’t used to these differences, so hopefully this information is helpful! For the full list of posts in this series, see this page.

Dairy is not used in traditional Japanese cooking, but these days, many different cuisines are popular in Japan, and all kinds of dairy products are easy to get here. For this post, I’ll talk about milk, cream, yogurt, cheese, and ice cream. There’s a quick note about dairy substitutes toward the end.

Milk is commonly sold at supermarkets, convenience stores, and drugstores. Most milk seems to be whole milk, but you can also get low-fat milk. Milk seems expensive to me here; in my area it ranges from about 150-200 yen per liter (that would be US$1.50-$2 per quart, or $6-8 per gallon). Low-fat milk is a little cheaper. There is also a higher-fat “luxury milk” available which is more expensive.

I’ll mention buttermilk here because it’s used in many American recipes, but I have not seen it sold in Japan. Depending on the recipe, you could use yogurt thinned out with milk, or use this “recipe” to make a buttermilk substitute: For 1 cup buttermilk, put about 1 tbsp lemon juice or vinegar in a measuring cup, then add milk until it reaches 1 cup (240mL). Let sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes before using.

Trying to buy heavy or whipping cream in the store was a little puzzling to me at first, because it’s labeled differently from the American style. Heavy creams are labeled by percentage of butterfat. I usually see 35% or 48% cream, and recently there has been 42% cream at some places. All of these will whip and can be used as whipping cream. It’s a little expensive and is sold in 100mL or 200mL cartons. It’s usually called 生クリーム, nama kuriimu, literally ‘raw cream’. There’s also something called “pantry cream,” which has a lower fat content, and will NOT whip. (Also be careful not to confuse this cream with the cheaper ホイップ, hoippu which is a vegetable product that can be whipped and used like ‘non-dairy topping’ in America.)

Yogurt is extremely popular in Japan and there are many types available. There are non-fat, low-fat, and full-fat, plain and sweetened varieties, as well as many types with fruit added. Quite recently, Greek yogurt has become available here. It goes by two names: カスピ海ヨーグルト, kasupi-kai youguruto, literally ‘Caspian sea yogurt’, or ギリシャヨーグルト, girisha youguruto, ‘Greece yogurt’. Another very popular product is called ‘drinkable yogurt,’ which is just what it sounds like, and usually found in the refrigerated beverage section.

Ice Cream
Ice cream is popular, but mostly sold as individual pieces on sticks, or in small cartons. Ice cream in large tubs as we often see it in the U.S. is very uncommon. In shops, soft serve is very popular, although it’s called ソフトクリーム, sofuto kuriimu, ‘soft cream’. There are literally hundreds of common and unusual flavors available, often changing by season.

This is the one that makes us cry! Cheese is not as popular in Japan as America, so there are few varieties available, and they tend to be expensive, small, and not as tasty (in our humble opinions) as what we had in America. The most common cheese sold in stores is called ‘pizza cheese’ or ‘mix cheese’, which is a mixture of white, meltable cheeses that you can use on pizza or similar. Parmesan cheese (powdered) is also usually available in stores, as is sliced ‘processed cheese’. Other types can be found here and there, but you’ll have to look around to see what different stores carry. If you really want a certain type of cheese, your best bets are ordering online, or going to Costco.

See my older post on butter and fats.

Dairy Substitutes
I’d like to write more about this at some point, but just as a quick reference: Soymilk (豆乳, tounyuu) is extremely popular and widely available in “plain” as well as many, many flavors. There are basically two “plain” types, which are called 調整 (chousei, ‘adjusted’) and 無調整 (muchousei, ‘unadjusted’) – when I did a little searching I found that the ‘adjusted’ variety has a little salt and sugar added and the pH is adjusted; all of this is done to make it taste a little better or more “drinkable”. I don’t drink soymilk plain; I only use it for cooking and smoothies, so I always buy the ‘unadjusted’ variety. These two plain flavors are found in both small (200mL) and large (1000mL) sizes. The other flavors, which range from coffee to strawberry to mango, along with seasonal or limited-time flavors including cherry-blossom, cola, and grape, are usually found only in the small size. I have seen soy yogurt once in a while as well, but have never tried it.

The other dairy substitute that has become popular recently is almond milk. I’ve seen two brands sold in various stores. There are a couple of flavors that have come out – I’ve seen plain, unsweetened, chocolate, coffee, and banana – but the plain one is easiest to find. I had only seen the small 200mL size being sold (for about 100-120 yen, about $1 US) until last week, when I saw the 1000mL size for the first time in the supermarket, which was a little more cost-efficient at 358 yen (about $3 US). Both brands taste fine, though they seem to contain a lot of sugar.

Avocado Cheesecake

avocado cheesecakeIf you’ve never tried avocado in a sweet recipe, I highly recommend it! Avocado milkshakes, cheesecake, ice cream, etc., have a really nice delicate flavor. The original recipe for this cheesecake was from here. I made a tiny version, 1/4 of this recipe, in a 15-cm (6″) round pan.

Ingredients (makes 16 2-inch squares)
150g (5 oz) plain vanilla or shortbread cookies
1 cup shelled pistachios
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt (if your pistachios are salted, leave this out)
1 tsp lemon peel
57g (2 oz) melted butter

1-1/2 tbsp powdered gelatin
120mL (1/2 cup) water
450g (16 oz) cream cheese
2 ripe avocados, peeled and with the pit removed
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
200g (7 oz) yogurt
240mL (8 oz) whipping cream
2 tbsp pistachio for garnish, optional


In a food processor, blend cookies, pistachios, sugar, salt, and lemon peel until finely ground. Add melted butter and pulse to combine. Press into an 8-inch (21cm) square pan.

Refrigerate for 10-15 minutes, then bake for 15-20 minutes at 180C (350C). Allow to cool completely before adding the cheesecake mixture.

For cheesecake:

Combine gelatin and water and heat in a double boiler or microwave until the gelatin dissolves. Let cool slightly.

Cream together cream cheese and sugar. In a food processor, blend the avocado and lemon until smooth. Add to the cream cheese and mix until well-combined.

Add the gelatin mixture to the avocado and cream cheese. Whisk until combined. Add the yogurt and mix.

Whip the cream to soft peaks and fold into the avocado mixture.

Pour onto the prepared crust. Place in the refrigerator overnight until it sets completely. Once chilled, cut into 2 inch (5cm) squares. Top with chopped pistachios if desired.