Yogurt (Dahi)

Yogurt or dahi is a critical ingredient in daily Indian cooking and has been a staple for centuries. It is used in lassi, raita, kadhi (a yogurt chickpea flour soup) and sweets made out of yogurt cheese. Recently my son asked why I choose to make yogurt at home when I can easily buy a variety of yogurts at the supermarket. The simple answer is I like to make things difficult for me! While my son might think that’s actually true, the real answer is I first started making yogurt when it was difficult for me to travel a long distance just to get simple plain yogurt.

I thought I’d share this yogurt recipe today in part because a friend had recently asked for it, but also because it is a reminder of that fateful day 20 years ago that turned my life upside down. On January 30, 1988, I was involved in a traumatic car accident that left me partially paralyzed. Despite being in a coma, I can still vividly remember that sunny winter Saturday.

That Saturday I woke up at 4 AM, which was usual for me due to how hectic my weekends tended to be. Before the car accident, I operated a daycare business during the weekdays and also spent time volunteering for other organizations, which resulted in my weekends being filled with errands for my family and business. I had a lot of errands to take care of that day but one thing I did before running those errands was make dahi. After that, I went out and before I knew what happened I was in the hospital for two months. Upon awakening from my coma I began a twenty year journey where I’ve done my best to live with SCI (spinal cord injury). Given how precious life is, I thought today’s recipe would be a nice way to celebrate the fact that I made it through that accident with my life.

4 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons plain yogurt or active yogurt culture

1) Bring the whole milk to a boil in a saucepan, stirring constantly. Keep a close watch at this point or you may risk boiling over the stove. Let the milk cool until it feels lukewarm (about 100-110 F). It is handy to have a candy thermometer here. Place the yogurt in a 2-quart bowl and whisk until fairly smooth.
2) Slowly add in the lukewarm milk and gently stir to mix. Cover the bowl and keep it in a draft free place overnight, preferably in the oven with the setting off. It is extremely important that the boiled milk is not too warm when you add the active yogurt culture to it. Otherwise it will just curdle and separate from whey (the result – loss of the live bacteria or friendly bacteria as it often happens when yeast is added to very warm water).

Note: Just make sure the brand of yogurt you buy as a starter contains “live” or “active” cultures. Once the yogurt is ready it must be chilled in refrigerator for at least 3-4 hours before serving. Save some yogurt to use as a starter for the next batch. Plain yogurt will keep in the refrigerator for 10-14 days.

Variation: Follow the same method until the milk is lukewarm. Add the starter culture or active yogurt culture to milk and lightly whisk to combine. Place a fine-mesh sieve set over a 2-quart bowl and strain milk mixture through it. Remove the foam from top. Cover the bowl and keep it in the warm place (or preferably in the oven – control off) for about 5 to 8 hours or until yogurt is set. Yield: 1 quart

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