Yogurt, plain and simple

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.

mise en place

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.

heating the milk

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).

nestled inside the oven

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.

plain goat milk yogurt

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!

Homemade Yogurt

Yields 1/2 gallon

Components

  • 1/2 gallon milk
  • 3 Tbsp plain yogurt (starter)

Putting them all together

  1. Bring milk to a rolling boil, stirring occasionally to make sure the milk does not stick to the bottom of the pot.
  2. Remove milk from heat and cool to 110-115ºF (43-46ºC). If you don’t have a thermometer, the milk ready to incubate when you can keep your pinky submerged for 15 seconds. The milk should still be warm.
  3. Mix a couple spoons of the warm milk into the yogurt starter. Pour the yogurt starter into the pot of warm milk and stir for 30 seconds to make sure it’s well combined.
  4. At this point you could dispense the inoculated milk into mason jars, a clay pot, or keep it in the original pot. Cover milk with a lid and wrap it in a large towel. Keep in a warm, undisturbed part of the house for 6-8 hours (preferably overnight).
  5. Confirm that the yogurt has set and transfer to the refrigerator until ready to use.

Notes: Make sure the plain yogurt you use as your starter has “live active cultures.” These are the micro-organisms that transform milk into yogurt. Pick your favorite brand. I usually use 2% cow’s milk as the base, although you could use whole milk if you want a richer flavor.

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26 thoughts on “Yogurt, plain and simple

  1. Great post Tony! I especially love the video! My dad also makes homemade yogurt using a similar method. He tells me that I should write a post on it. If he badgers me enough, I just might.

  2. Great post! I always remember my teta’s blue blanket that she used to cover the yoghurt with! Your explanations make it look easy, which it is, but not many people know that!

  3. Simple, basic but yet so wonderful. Back at home we also make the yogurt at home. If i ever told my dad to by some from the store he’d kick me out of the house, and let me how lazy and useless i am …lol
    We don’t use a yogurt starter though. Just a spoonful of yogurt from the previous batch does he trick :p

  4. I totally agree that making yogurt is so so so simple! Except that we do it differently. The ‘starter’ that we use is just yogurt that we have made the previous time. So as each batch goes, the yogurt just gets better and better. Of course, for the first time, we need to use a good quality store-bought yogurt, preferably one that is unsweetened. The next time, I will try having them in the oven overnight.

    By the way, what is the lowest setting of your oven as mine is a dial and the lowest is about 50C.

  5. Thanks, Kamran! There can never be too much yogurt — you should blog about it 🙂

    Enjoy, Diana! Naan is my weakness… I think I know what I should do with the remaining jars of yogurt I have in my fridge 😀

    Merci Joumanana!

    I hope you do give it a try Kirstin. It’s worth it; especially if you love goat or sheep milk yogurt.

    Alépine, I’m glad you liked it 🙂

    Kate: haha! Your dad is serious about yogurt — as he should be 😛

    Lydia: lol… shh! Actually, I sometimes find washing dishes to be therapeutic … oh, gosh… I hope my mom never reads this. She’ll never let me get out of washing dishes again 🙂

    Mrs.Ergül, thanks for your comment! I probably should have cleared the oven part a bit more. What I meant to say is that I turn on the oven to the lowest setting (mine is 170F/76C) and turn it off after 4-5min — before it even reaches that temperature. What this does is barely warm up my oven so that it gives the yogurt a warm and cozy place to incubate 🙂

  6. Great video clip Tony! My mom also showed me how to make yogurt and it’s amazing how the similar the approach is with your aunt.

    We use plastic tubs. Go to a deli and ask if you can buy some or they may even just give you some if you’re a regular customer.

  7. You know I have been meaning to dabble in making yogurt at home and and have yet to try. You’ve made it seem so simple a task that I have no excuse now!

  8. LOL..we make yoghurt the same way at my home too. But I like the idea of the individual jars instead of the big old pot – your grand-aunt is SOOO right about that annoying pool of water that collects up in the pot. Cute video, I couldn’t help smiling when the other voice kept cutting in…=)

  9. Tony, this is the most straightforward and well-illustrated account of homemade yogurt I have seen yet! I love the idea of reusing jars. I will be (finally) trying this very soon.

    Where do you get your goat milk? I don’t get to Whole Foods often, but I think they might have it there?

  10. مرحبا طوني

    أنا بعمل لبن ولكن أستعمل طنجرة كبيرة للترويب ليش إنتا مستعمل أواني صغار شكل اللبن كان بشهي

  11. i was musing just yesterday about how i would make soy yogurt myself without a ‘maker’. thank you for being the only man to read a woman’s mind weeks before i even thought it.

  12. هاي توني كان شكل اللبن طيب و كتير وبشهي أنا بحب اللبن كتير لأنو كمان بطعم الأكل

  13. Fantastic post! I love yogurt but always thought you needed fancy equipment or special ingredients to make it. Now you’ve made it look gloriously simple! And the yogurt looks so creamy!

  14. LOL!

    My grandma makes it in a different way, she uses the live cultures and pieces of cloth and medri shu… but in the end all she needs are a few jars and pieces of cloth!

  15. I am looking for a recipe for “shanklish.” I would like
    to begin making it as it is still a wonderful childhood
    memory. Thank you.

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