I have moved countries four times in my life. I have changed homes many more times. In every newly inhabited space, the acclimatization process wasn’t easy; it took me time to get used to the new walls, the temperature, the people and, of course, the food.
On my family’s first night in Israel, I tasted a revelation. The texture, the coolness, the flavor and, of course, the slight hint of fruit in that plastic yogurt cup nearly blew my six-year-old mind. Now, before you click the exit button and get the hell out of dodge (“what kind of a food writer talks about yogurt as a revelation??”), hear me out. Until that point, I had never tasted yogurt.
Don’t get me wrong – I came to Israel fully acquainted with the tart, thirst-quenching taste of kefir, a cultured dairy drink favoured among many post-Soviet nations (I think the idea of pretty much letting milk go bad on the counter and then still drinking it was definitely the saviour of many a Soviet household during the food rationing days). Yet I was also deeply familiar with the nausea it would provoke in my small six-year-old stomach, a feeling that would arise just as soon as I smelled the vile concoction.
So as you can imagine, my parents really weren’t very hopeful upon that first night in a new country, following a harrowing 20-something-hour flight, with their sweating, scowling eldest daughter looking at them with eyes that practically spelled hunger, and nothing to offer her but yogurt, jello cups and fresh fruit (I was also not a big fan of jello cups). But they took the risk, and after sufficient complaining, I relented… and so began a decades-long affair with sour dairy.
That is pretty much how I felt the same day I made my first lactose-free yogurt. You see, since I realized I couldn’t consume lactose anymore, what I missed the most wasn’t fresh milk, pungent cheese, or rich butter. I missed all those things, for sure, but what I dreamt about every afternoon was my customary cup of yogurt. No soy yogurt came even close to that mythical taste: fresh and cooling, with a sourness that can be easily tamed with just a dab of honey or jam. I just had to find a solution, or risk living life without yogurt.
And you wouldn’t want that, would you?
Next time, what do we do with all of that leftover whey?
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- 1 litre of lactose-free milk (The percentage doesn’t really matter, though I go for 2 per cent. This is now fairly easily available in North America. In other countries, unfortunately, this ingredient presents more of a challenge)
- 1 cup of pre-made yogurt, with live cultures (most regular yogurt is fine, but aim for full fat and absolutely no flavoured stuff!)
- a big pot
- a big glass bowl or casserole dish with a lid
- a warm spot: on top of your fridge, the inside of your turned-off oven with only the lamp on, or even a plastic cooler with blankets.
- Fill a clean sink halfway with very cold water. Go on, you can even dunk some ice cubes in there.
- Take your cup of yogurt out of the fridge and let it rest at room temperature.
- Pour all of your milk into a big pot, and set it to medium-high. Cover the lid, and sit and watch the pot. They say a watched pot never boils, and you don’t want this thing to come to a full boil. After 5 minutes, test the milk by placing a very clean finger in the pot and then dabbing that drop on the outside of your other palm. When the milk feels hot and is very gently starting to bubble in the pot, take it off the stove (this could take anywhere between five and fifteen minutes).
- Alternative: you may also want to invest in a thermometer. The ready milk should measure about 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Take the lid off and place the pot in the half-full sink. Wait about 10 minutes before you start the same testing. This time, the milk should feel cool to touch.
- On a fancy thermometer, this would be about 100 degrees Farenheit.
- Now, pour your milk into the clean glass bowl. Dump a cup of room-temperature yogurt into your milk, and stir gently with a wooden spoon.
- Cover your bowl with a lid.
- Now, comes the fun part: place your glass bowl into a pre-determined warm place (on top of your fridge, the inside of your turned-off oven with only the lamp on, or wrapped in blankets inside a plastic cooler). I always go for the oven.
- Leave it alone overnight. Or, if it’s midday when you’re testing this (and it should never be midday. Yogurt-making is for lazy people who want time to do their work for them, and it goes best with a full night’s sleep), wait six to eight hours.
- Taste your yogurt. At this point, it’ll be sour and warm, and quite runny. It’ll harden in the fridge, after which you can ladle it into about 500ml pre-washed glass jars.
- For silky, creamy Greek yogurt, line a plastic colander with about four layers of cheesecloth large enough that the ends drape over the sides of the colander. After your yogurt has sat overnight in its warm nest, pour it carefully into the colander, and let it drain. If left at room temperature, about one hour should be enough (check for desired consistency). In the fridge, it can rest comfortably for two to four hours, but you may have to add some of the pooled whey back. And voila, you got some delicious Greek yogurt!