8 Feb 2010

How to make homemade yoghurt - Indian style

I have often been amazed by the simple alchemy of food. Indian food in particular which creates so much from scratch demonstrates how simple cooking can be. When I made paneer I couldn’t believe how easy it was, and it really brought home quite how far removed even someone as interested in food as myself can be.

The same has happened again recently, when Amita showed me how to make yoghurt. I have distinct memories as a child of my mother in the 1980’s making her own yoghurt with a little warming machine. She had the soured milk all to herself, since it was far too much like yoghurt for my tastes and nothing like those Ski strawberry pots which were so sweetened.

Every morning here in Delhi, I eat Amita’s delicious homemade yoghurt for breakfast. This set simple and cheap to make white curd is much more flavoursome than the shop bought equivalent and its preparation happens daily in her home. A starter culture is essential for turning the milk sour... “just get some from a home where you like their yoghurt” Amita says. I had to explain that no one in England I know makes yoghurt let alone has some good starter to share with me. As she gently warmed the milk, she explained that she had only ever made dahi with her own starter, so I had to find out for myself how to kick start the souring.

Researching online I was amazed at how complex and equipment orientated the processes people explained. Warming devices and sugar thermometers were just some of the gadget peoples recommended. Eventually I learnt that you can just start the process with a pot of “live” yoghurt, the ones which have become so popular now with “friendly bacteria”.

As she heated the milk to body temperature – sticking a clean finger into the milk in the absence of her sugar thermometer (!) -  Amita generously lined the pot to set the yoghurt in with her starter. Pouring the milk into the pot, she explained the importance of leaving it undisturbed to sour quietly for 4-5 hours at room temperature. The pot must be covered and you shouldn’t keep peeking under the lid as it will release the warmth crucial to the process.

Later that day she moved the set yoghurt into the fridge to prevent it from turning really sour and becoming unpalatable. Then the next morning it became my breakfast. Simple, huh?

So, being gluten free and living off yoghurt for breakfast I plan to attempt this when I return to London. It could save me a fortune and be extremely cool to make my own yoghurt. And even if it goes wrong, I am well informed that I can turn it into paneer.

But tell me, have you ever made yoghurt? Would you ever go to the trouble? Is this stalwart of the Indian kitchen over simplifying this process, or have we removed ourselves so fully from the food we eat that we are scared to really go back to basics?

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