Food on my mind… (Or, how to make yogurt)

My last post made me realize that I haven’t done a recipe post in ages and ages. So I’m sneaking one in here. I actually meant to share this recipe while I was still at home in the States, since that’s when I was trying it out, but better late than never I guess. 😉

While we were staying with my dear friend Ritu and her family in Delhi, we got treated each and every day to hands down the best Indian food I’ve ever eaten.

Paneer, Dal, Spinach, Beans, Okra, Chapati and Yogurt - all home make and all seriously yum!

Bengali sweets - dangerously delicious!

Every meal was a total smorgasbord, with exciting new dishes involving different vegetables or combinations of spices or interesting sauces to try – not to mention all the different, amazing items picked up from Bengali Sweets for dessert.

Anyhow, while the spectrum of curries and legumes and veggies varied from day to day, there were a few staples that were always on the table. In addition to fragrant rice and piping hot, freshly made chapatis, there was homemade yogurt.

Reeshma, one of the maids, made a fresh batch of this yogurt every single day. I watched her and learned the steps and not only was it dead easy to make, it was totally delicious – light yet creamy, with just the right amount of tangy-ness. Roman and I tried yogurt all over India after that but we never found anything that could match Reeshma’s. I didn’t think to ask how long she’d been using the same culture to make yogurt for the house but I bet it’s been around for ages!

Having been dreaming of Reeshma’s yogurt ever since leaving India, I was excited to have access to a kitchen while we were at my parents’ place, and to try making yogurt myself. It IS incredibly easy. Although I don’t have the instinct for it like Reeshma did, who knew when the milk was ready to take of the heat just by looking at it. I tried doing that, attempting to remember how hot the milk in India felt all those months ago when I was shadowing Reeshma in the kitchen and all I ended up with was a pot full of room-temperature milk the next day.

But with the help of a cooking thermometer, I was able to brew up a perfectly firm batch of yogurt every time. Mine was never quite as good as Reeshma’s, but it got better as my culture matured and as I experimented with different types of milk and fermentation time, and in my opinion, it was definitely better than the store-bought stuff. So, without further ado, here’s how easy it is to make your own yogurt:

Ingredients/equipment:
 – 1 quart (about 1 liter) milk – skim, whole, whatever, it doesn’t matter
– 2 – 4 tablespoons starter – any plain, unsweetened yogurt that has live cultures. I used Stoneyfield Farm the first time and my own yogurt subsequently and both worked fine
– A pot to heat the milk in
– A bowl that is big enough to fit the pot so you can cool down the milk
– A clean, oven-safe bowl with lid for the yogurt to ferment in
– A cooking thermometer
– Tap water and ice
– An oven you can use for at least 7 hours.

Instructions: 

  1. Preheat your oven to between 100 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit. (38 – 48 degrees Celsius). Once it’s reached the desired temperature, turn the oven off.
  2. Set out your starter to let it warm up while you’re preparing your milk.
  3. Prepare a bowl with a small amount of water (not too much or it will spill over the sides later when you put the pot in it; I know this from experience 😉 and a generous bunch of ice cubes; set to the side.
  4. Pour 1 quart of milk into your pot. Place the thermometer into the milk and heat over high heat.
  5. Watch the temperature; once it reaches 185 degrees Fahrenheit (85 Celsius), at which point the milk will start to froth, remove it from the heat and place it into the ice bath.
  6. Keep it in the ice bath until it cools to around 110 degrees Fahrenheit (45 degrees Celsius)
  7. Pour the milk into your bowl, cover and place in the warmed oven.
  8. Leave the yogurt in for as many hours as you can – I usually had it in for at least 7 hours. I’ve read that if you let it ferment longer that you’ll get thicker yogurt so you can play around and see what works for you.
  9. After enough time has passed, check in the oven and discover that magically, yogurt has appeared! 😀 I usually prepared the milk before I went to bed and let it sit in the oven overnight, so it was ready in time to go with Roman’s granola at breakfast. 🙂

I’ve been doing some more research online and looking at different recipes; I read one that said it’s also possible to get a thicker yogurt by keeping the milk at 185 degrees for longer (up to a half hour, one particular recipe suggested) – something for me to try when I have access to a proper kitchen again. 🙂

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