Throughout the two-plus years that I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve never dedicated a post exclusively to yogurt. I’ve used it as an ingredient here and there, sure, but it’s never played a leading role. That’s not acceptable. Not for a Mediterranean food blog, at least. I plan on changing that today.
On my recent trip to Aleppo I was reminded how important yogurt is in Middle Eastern cuisine. It’s everywhere. Cow, goat or sheep. Strained, plain or cooked. In the Levant there’s even a popular refreshing drink called Ayraan (عيران) that’s made from yogurt, but more on that later. Today I need to set things right. Today is all about yogurt.
Before we begin, I’d like to dispel the myth that suggests you should buy a fancy yogurt maker to incubate your milk. Please don’t. If you already have, I won’t hold it against you, but you really don’t need one. If the machine made the job any easier, I can understand, but the truth is, making yogurt is pretty simple.
While I was in Aleppo, Leila (my maternal grandfather’s brother’s wife’s sister), shared with me her way of making yogurt. Take a look:
Before I met Leila, I used to make my yogurt in the pot I heated the milk in. Not anymore. I really like her idea of dispensing the yogurt into smaller jars.
Midway through the process (usually as the yogurt is cooling), I like to turn on my oven to the lowest setting and turn it off after 5 minutes. This helps keep my oven barely warm enough to properly incubate the yogurt — which is essentially what the yogurt machine does, except it doesn’t cost extra money and doesn’t limit how much yogurt you can make.
Once you heat the milk to 180 degrees F (a near boil), you need to cool it. I like to use a thermometer, particularly for this step, so that the yogurt starter has an ideal environment to initialize the incubation process. That temperature should be between 107 and 112 degrees F (41 and 44 degrees C).
Since the pizza stone in my oven can retain lots of heat (as can the metal rails), I like to line the base with a kitchen towel before placing the jars of yogurt inside the oven. Then, as Leila mentioned in the video, you want to cover the jars with another towel so they remain warm throughout the incubation.
Keep the jars overnight in the oven and move them to the fridge first thing in the morning. It’s that simple — saha wa hana (صحة و هنا)/bon appetit!
Makes 1/2 gallon
- 1/2 gallon milk*
- 10g yogurt starter*
Putting them all together
- Heat milk to 180 degrees F (82 degrees C) over medium heat.
- Cool the milk between 107-112 degrees F (41-44 C) and slowly mix in the yogurt starter.
- Dispense the milk into 4-5, 16 oz. jars.
- Place the jars inside a barely warm oven lined with a kitchen towel and cover them with another towel to keep them warm throughout the incubation process.
- After 6-8 hours (or overnight) move the jars into the fridge and store until ready to use.
notes: If you don’t have yogurt starter you can use any plain yogurt that has live active cultures. Usually I like to go with the Organic Stonyfield Plain Yogurt. You’ll also get better results by using full-fat milk — 2% milk won’t get nearly as creamy.