Well, Ok. Not just a towel.
You also need two metal saucepans, a spoonful of yogurt and milk. But I can assure you that the towel is the MVP here.
Before we get down to how most households in India make their own yogurts everyday, let me tell you that yogurt is not what I planned to write about today. Putting up a photograph of gestating bananas in the freezer is only perfectly acceptable when you follow it with a story of banana bread. But you’ll have to settle for yogurt instead because considering how easy this is, I think you need it more than you need banana bread.
I grew up watching my grandmother do it. My mother does a potful of it everyday. My neighbour makes more than potfuls of it everyday. My aunts even do the sweet versions. Mishti doi that Bengal is famous for. And so far, the most I’ve done on the yogurt front is to buy the conjoined packs of flavoured yogurt-cups from the supermarket. Its a bit of work that we here take for granted. It’s not special or wonder-worthy. Like coconut cake. It’s not something to write home about, like roast chicken. It’s like putting on your pants in the morning and going to work. Everyone does it. Like routine. Homemade yogurt is routine.
And there it stood silently in its unassuming corner twiddling its thumbs, until yesterday, when I was looking up recipe for a pasta sauce that called for Greek yogurt. It included a link to homemade yogurt. And another to homemade Greek yogurt. I’ve seen instructions on making homemade yogurt on the internet. They all call for thermometers, commercial incubators and what not. And yes, if I hadn’t know how easy making yogurt at home was, I would have jumped out of bed and bounded over to the nearest shop to get a thermometer. Except that I do know how easy it is to make yogurt at home. And in approximately five minutes, or less, so will you. It supplies you with an unparalleled feeling of self-dependency. The same feeling you get when you bake your own bread. The same feeling you get, I would imagine, from curing your own meat. Like you can do anything you want. A quiet yet primal emotion of manufacturing your own sustenance.
You will not need a thermometer, I assure you. In fact, when I asked my mother on recording the temperature of the warm milk she was about to turn into bacteria, she knitted her eyebrows and looked at me like I was a crew member aboard The Flying Dutchman. I felt it wise not to ask further questions about food incubators. What follows is a simple series of photos out of which I hope you’ll know what I mean when I say “Easy Homemade Yogurt”.
What you need:
A liter of full-fat milk
2 tsps of yogurt [this can be anything pro-biotic with active live cultures. Try not to use flavoured yogurt]
2 metal saucepans, enough to hold a liter of milk [mum says, 'metal' is the keyword here]
A lid to one of the saucepans [you can also use a ceramic/china plate bigger than the mouth of the saucepan]
A clean full-sized towel [super-clean, dry and fluffy]
Heat the milk in a saucepan till its about to boil over. Take it off the heat, before it does. Leave the milk to cool till its only warm to the touch.
To test this, dip a clean index finger into the milk. If you cannot keep the finger in for more than three seconds, the milk is not cool enough. In another saucepan, stir the yogurt well till all the lumpy curd bits have disappeared.
Pour the warm milk onto the stirred yogurt and pour this mixture back and forth among the two saucepans for a couple of times. Put a lid on the saucepan to cover the mixture. Wrap the covered saucepan up with a clean towel once over and leave it in a warm and dry place. When I say warm, I mean really warm; somewhere near the radiator if you live in one of the colder regions.
Don’t worry, we covered it with a lid.
If you’re making this in summer, finding a suitably warm place should not be a problem. In winter however, you might need to make use of your oven. Pre-heat your oven to 110 deg C. Turn the oven off, and insert the towel-wrapped saucepan into the oven and leave it in for 4 hours.
The flavour and tanginess of the yogurt depends on the amount of time its left to rest for. We leave it overnight for about 8 hours for tangy yogurt that’ll need a spoonful of sugar and a pinch of salt before we have it plain or on parathas. This is also the kind of yogurt used to make raita or lassis. If you’re looking to make something less tangy and more milky, try resting it for only 4 hours. For a thick Greek-style yogurt, you can hang the fully-formed product in a few layers of muslin or cheesecloth till all the liquid whey drains away.
And in the end, try adding dry-roasted and ground cumin to a pot of cold yogurt, along with black salt and sliced cucumbers to make a super-quick version of raita.