" I was hoping you could help me identify a fruit that I ate in India. It looked like an edamame/soybean pod with prominent bulges. If you peeled away the green part, the insides were several pods that were pinkish/whitish in color. Not at all sticky. Each pod had a black seed that resembled a tamarind seed. Any idea what this fruit is called? I bought it at a street vendor in a market in Ahmadabad. Perhaps it is a vegetable? I did see people peeling the pods and eating the white/pink parts and spitting out the seed. The taste was sort of mildly sweet and astringent...This fruit looked like a bean that had curled up. Each 'bean' was say 3-4 inches long and maybe half an inch across."
Moving on to today's post...
My downstairs neighbor dropped in for a chat. The conversation turned to post-apocalyptic books and movies (triggered by my mention of The Road) and the neighbor says to me, "Well, if we have an apocalyse, I want to be near you, because you would know how to cook and knit and make stuff from scratch". I burst out laughing because I know what she means, in that many people today are accomplished as never before, but can be shockingly lacking in basic life skills, so my love for home cooking and knitting is often seen as charmingly anachronistic ("You do know that they sell hats and scarves in Target, right?"). The other reason for my amusement is that on the homesteading scale, I fall woefully short in terms of survival skills- if we had an apocalyse, yes, I could keep your feet warm by knitting you socks, but I certainly could not make my own yarn to be able to do that.
Anyway, it remains one of my goals in life- to learn to do things from scratch, one small step at a time. The things I consume should not be mysterious objects that magically appear in stores to be bought; I want to know a little bit about how they are made and possibly make them myself.
One of my baby steps: for the past year or so, I have been making yogurt at home. Now, for a household in India, this is the most banal thing. In almost every home, on a daily basis, a spoonful of yesterday's dahi is stirred into a bowl of warm milk and put to bed for the night so the family wakes up to fresh yogurt the next day.
But for all the years I have run my own household in the US, I've simply bought tubs of low-fat yogurt and been quite happy about it. I found a couple of brands I liked- Dannon, Trader Joe's- and that was it. Last year, I finally tried setting my own yogurt. I don't know anybody in town who makes yogurt on a regular basis, so the possibility of begging for a starter culture was out. I tried using some "active live cultures" commercial yogurt as a starter but it took ages to set and the yogurt was far from perfect. What did work like a charm were dried starter cultures of friendly yogurt-making bacteria- I learned about these dried cultures, sold under the brand Yogourmet, on this post from Jugalbandi.
Now I make a batch of yogurt every week using a sachet of Yogourmet. Yogurt-making does not require any special equipment but some tools come in handy. Here's what I use.
1. 2% milk, preferably organic: Whole milk does make thick and dreamy yogurt but 2% works very well for yogurt that is lower in fat but still as tasty.
2. Yogourmet dried yogurt culture: In St. Louis, I've bought this at Whole Foods (Brentwood) and Golden Grocer (Euclid Avenue).
3. An insulated casserole: While not necessary, an insulated container helps to snugly incubate the culture while the yogurt sets, especially useful in winter. These kind of insulated casseroles were all the rage in India in the 70s and 80s and even to this day; I noticed on my last trip to Bombay that they are cheap and easily available in stores everywhere. My mother found me an insulated casserole that holds 4 cups of milk- exactly the volume I need for one batch of yogurt. A wide-mouthed thermos would work in the same way.
4. A candy thermometer: This is helpful when heating up the milk to the right temperature and adding culture when it cools to the right temperature. You can always estimate these using sight and touch, but a thermometer makes it very precise.
1. In a saucepan, pour 4 cups 2% milk and clip a candy thermometer (if you have one) to the side of the pan.
2. Let the milk heat to 180F (or until it is steaming and bubbles are forming on the sides of the pan) and then turn off the heat. Heating the milk to this temperature improves the consistency of the resulting yogurt.
3. Let the milk sit there until it cools to 115-110F (warm but not hot).
4. Empty sachet of yogurt cultures into an insulated casserole. Pour in a little of the warm milk. Use a whisk to dissolve the cultures into the milk. Then pour in the rest of the milk and whisk to distribute the cultures evenly. Close the lid and leave it undisturbed for 6-7 hours at room temperature or until the yogurt sets. Refrigerate.
The only "tricky" part, if you want to call it that, is to remember to check on the milk periodically as it is cooling and add the cultures as soon as the temperature falls to 115-110F. If you let the milk get cold, the bacteria won't have their ideal growth conditions. In my home, Dale gets the thin skin of malai (cream) that forms on the cooling milk. He knows the minute I start warming the milk that the malai treat is coming soon. So he watches the pan like a hawk and every few minutes, he comes and finds me wherever I am and nudges me to remind me of the milk- that way, I always remember to add the warm milk at just the right time. Dogs are good for many things!
By the way, I don't add milk powder to my yogurt; I tried it a few times and did not like the way it tasted.
I'm happy I started making yogurt for several reasons-
(a) Texture: Don't get me wrong, I like store bought yogurt just fine and have eaten it for years. But since I started to make yogurt at home, I love how the texture is creamy but never gummy.
(b) Packaging waste: I'm very happy to be able to avoid the plastic yogurt tubs. I always reused the tubs (for pantry storage) or recycled them, but reduce beats both reuse and recycle.
(c) Cost: The yogurt cultures are not dirt cheap or anything (around 5-6$ for a pack of 6 sachets), and you have to factor in the cost of the milk, but homemade yogurt is still significantly cheaper than store-bought stuff.
(d) Streamlining my grocery list: I use fresh yogurt in place of sour cream and cream cheese in dips and spreads and to dollop on burritos, so I have cut down significantly on buying other dairy products.
Supplementary reading: Harold Mcgee's New York Times article has plenty of great information on making yogurt at home.
Is there anything you have learnt to make from scratch that you previously bought?