DIY Yogurt and Yogurt Cheese

I recently stopped by my daughter-in-law’s house to visit her mother, Viji, and her grandmother, Hema. Knowing how much I love her cooking, Viji, whose kindness and generosity know no bounds, asked if I was hungry and offered to prepare a bowl of biryani and rice for me. I gratefully accepted.

Usually, when Viji makes biryani, she serves it with a bowl of raita, a refreshing yogurt-based condiment that tempers the spices in biryani. This time, Viji offered a bowl of plain yogurt (known as perugu in Telugu) which she often serves over rice and curries. I scooped up a few spoonfuls and poured them over the biryani. As I licked the spoon, I was struck by how sweet, tangy, and light her batch of yogurt tasted. It was unlike any yogurt I had had before. I asked Viji what brand it was and she told me she made it herself. As soon as she said the yogurt was homemade, my hand was already searching the depths of my purse for a pen and a piece of paper. I had to learn how to do this.

Viji explained how making yogurt was something she and her family have been doing almost daily their entire lives, both in India and in the United States. In describing how she made it, she didn’t use off-putting words like “live cultures,” “starter,” or “fermentation.” Instead, she told me simply to heat milk in a microwave until just before it starts to boil, allow it to cool until you could comfortably stick your finger in it (not scalding and not lukewarm — somewhere in between). When it got to that temperature, I was to add a spoonful of yogurt from the last yogurt batch, stir it, cover it with plastic wrap, and put it in the warmed microwave to set undisturbed overnight; it would be yogurt in the morning.

She sent me home me with a small jar of yogurt for “starter” and an encouraging smile. Here is a photo of Viji and our daughter, Meera, from a cooking class they taught to Meera’s friends a few years ago.

I made my first batch that same evening. When I checked the microwave the following morning, the preparation had thickened. I had made yogurt! I felt so accomplished. Surprisingly, it tasted exactly like Viji’s batch: sweet, light and tangy. Delicious in its plainness. Out of sheer delight in creating something as universally known as yogurt,  I proceeded to share a few spoonfuls with everyone who walked in the door for the next few weeks.

How does milk become yogurt?

Milk is made of water, fat, proteins, minerals, and a milk sugar known as lactose. When the milk is heated, its native bacteria are killed. As the milk cools and the new, live bacteria in the starter culture are introduced, the new bacteria feed on the milk’s lactose (sugar) and turn it into lactic acid. As it does this, the milk is transformed, or ferments, into a soft curd — yogurt.

It is a very simple and time-honored process. People have been making yogurt, kefir, and cheese from milk, using bacteria, yeast, or fungi, for thousands of years to preserve milk’s shelf life. It is only in the last one hundred plus years, with the advent of refrigeration, that people have been able to store milk in liquid form in their homes.

The Starter Culture
You can make your own yogurt using a starter culture that has been given to you, as I did, or you can buy commercially prepared yogurt with “live” or “active” cultures from the grocery store. To make this recipe replicable for readers,  I purchased four different commercial brands of plain, unsweetened yogurt to test the process and each brand worked. As long as the container of yogurt has these two live bacterial strains listed, you will be able to make yogurt: Lactobacillus bulgaricus ( L. bulgaricus) and Streptococcus thermophilus (S. thermophilus). Other strands of bacteria are often added by manufacturers to create the unique taste and texture of each brand.

This label is from a container of Trader Joe’s plain yogurt.

This label is from a container of Desi, a nice plain yogurt I bought at Patel Brothers, a fabulous Indian grocery store on Nolensville Road in Nashville.

All four brands of yogurt produced a semi-solid yogurt that tasted identical to the batch from which the starter came. Words to the wise: be sure you like the taste of the plain yogurt you choose because that is how your homemade batch will taste.

The Milk
Any whole or reduced-fat milk will do. You could also use soy or coconut milk, although I have not tried these.

Ingredients:

4 cups milk
1 tablespoon plain yogurt with live cultures

Instructions:
Pour milk into a tempered glass bowl suitable for heating.

Heat milk uncovered in the microwave, or on the stovetop, until it reaches 180º. In my microwave, this takes nine minutes. If you do not have a digital thermometer, heat milk until it just begins to boil. Do not let it boil over.

Remove hot milk from the microwave to a padded surface and allow it to cool to 115º.

Add a spoonful of yogurt starter and stir. I add one tablespoonful of starter when using four cups of milk and a heaping teaspoon when using two cups. Cover mixture with plastic wrap and let rest, undisturbed, for 8-10 hours in a warm, dark place like a microwave, an oven, or on a shelf in a kitchen cabinet.

If it doesn’t set, let it sit a little while longer. For some reason, it took twelve hours for one of the brands to form a curd. I am not sure why, but it did eventually set. Once set, refrigerate the yogurt. Be sure to set aside a small amount to use as starter for the next batch!

Yogurt Cheese (aka Labneh and Greek-Style Yogurt)

Since making that first batch, I’ve started draining yogurt to make “cheese yogurt.” This process of draining yogurt to separate out the whey is also how Greek yogurt and labneh, a Lebanese cream cheese, are made.

The resulting soft cheese is delicious spread on bread and topped with honey or preserves.

Or, it can be served as a savory dish and spread on pita or toast and topped with olive oil, freshly chopped herbs, slivers of green onion, sea salt, and freshly cracked pepper. The flavor is amazing!

To make yogurt cheese, I place a cheesecloth over a fat-separator which has a built-in colander. You could also line a regular colander with cheesecloth.

Allow yogurt to drain for a few hours or overnight in the refrigerator.

This method produced two cups of whey and two cups of yogurt cheese from a four-cup batch of yogurt.

I’ve been making two batches of this yogurt cheese, which is rich in protein and calcium, every week for the last month. Our family cannot get enough of it. The good news is if you don’t feel like making your own yogurt, you could buy commercially prepared yogurt and drain it.

Toast and yogurt cheese are delicious served with one of these preserves, too:
Roasted Strawberry with Rosemary Preserves
Crabapple Jelly
Grape Jelly

To have recipes delivered right to your inbox sign up to become a subscriber!

© 2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Fettuccini with Rapini (aka Broccoli Rabe) and Garlic

I love this dish! There is something about taking a bite of mildly bitter sautéed leafy greens, that at first taste says, Not sure about this, and then quickly turns to, Got to have another bite. The bitterness is surprisingly addictive.

dsc_0411

Such is the case when rapini, also known as broccoli rabe, is sautéed with green onions, garlic and crushed red pepper flakes in olive oil and then tossed with fettuccini, lemon juice, and parmesan.

dsc_0327

Rapini is a bitter leafy green found in most grocery stores in the produce section where other greens like escarole and curly endive are found. The leaves, stalks, and florets are all edible and have identical taste levels. When purchasing, look for bright green perky leaves, and florets that haven’t blossomed.

img_5219

I like to use freshly made fettuccini noodles with this dish when I can find them. Otherwise, these dried noodles work nicely.

dsc_0387

Yield: 4 Servings

Ingredients:
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 large cloves garlic, smashed and sliced
1 bunch green onions, trimmed and sliced
1 pound bunch of rapini (broccoli rabe), trimmed, peeled, and chopped into 2-inch sections
½ -1 teaspoon sea salt (to taste)
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
juice of one lemon, squeezed over cooked rapini
½-¾ pound package of fettucini noodles
grated Reggiano Parmesan cheese

Mise en Place:
dsc_0361

To prep garlic, flatten cloves with the flat side of a knife and slice into pieces. Do not mince, as garlic is easy to burn when chopped too finely.

dsc_0332 dsc_0334

Prep the green onion by trimming the roots. Use a scissor to snip off shriveled or flat leaves as these will likely burn while sautéing.

dsc_0336

To prep rapini, wash the leaves under cool running water. Place stalks on a large cloth towel and pat dry.

dsc_0314

Trim base of stems. Use a pairing knife to peel the stringy, tough skin off of each stem, just as you would for broccoli spears. This will help the stalks cook as quickly as the florets tend to do when placed in a pot of boiling water.

dsc_0318

Next, take a stack of 3 or 4 trimmed rapini stems and chop them into 2-inch segments as shown in the picture below. Continue in this way until all the stems are chopped. If peeling the thin stems is going to be a deal breaker for making this dish, leave the skin on and cut the stems into smaller pieces so they will cook faster when blanched in the pot of boiling water.

dsc_0341

Instructions: 
To cook the rapini and pasta: Bring a pot of water with ½ tablespoon of salt to a boil. We’ll use the same pot of water to cook both the rapini and the pasta.

While waiting for the water to come to a boil, warm olive oil in a large six-quart heavy bottomed sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add onions and garlic and sauté gently for about 4-5 minutes. Do not allow garlic to brown as browning will cause it to become bitter. Watch carefully and stir frequently. Stir in red pepper flakes and ½ teaspoon of salt. Set aside.

dsc_0365

When the water in the pot comes to a boil, blanch the rapini. To do this, add the rapini and stir. The pile of leaves will quickly collapse into the water as you stir them down.

dsc_0374 dsc_0379

As soon as the water returns to a boil, set a timer for one minute and allow the rapini to simmer. After one minute, use a serrated spoon to immediately remove the leaves from the hot water and place in a small bowl. This is called blanching. You do not want to overcook the leaves and florets. We are trying to keep the florets intact and the leaves bright green. Also, save the pot of water to use to cook the fettuccini.

dsc_0382

Use tongs to lift the rapini out of the small amount of water that has collected in the bottom of the bowl, and add it to the onions and garlic in the sauté pan. Cook over low heat, stirring gently, for about one minute, to meld the flavors of the vegetables.

dsc_0389

Bring the pot of water (now full of rapini “liquor”) back to a boil and use it to cook the fettucini. It typically takes only about three minutes to cook the noodles. Read the directions on the package. There is nothing worse in Italian cooking than overcooked, waterlogged pasta. Drain noodles in a colander.

Mix the pasta and vegetables and squeeze the juice of one lemon over all of it. Stir gently.

dsc_0403

Sprinkle fettuccini with lots of Reggiano parmesan before serving.

Technique Tip:

Two things to know about grating cheese: let the cheese come to room temperature before grating, and never hold the cheese with your bare hands because in doing so you might encourage mold to grow on the cheese. Save the cheese rinds in the freezer for soups.

dsc_0420

If you would like to turn this into a more filling meal, add cannellini beans and grilled Italian sausage or roasted chicken to this dish.

PS: Rapini seeds planted today.

2017-02-23-11-54-36-1

Related Posts:
Fresh Marinara Sauce with Pasta and Mozzarella
Rachelle’s Italian Sausage, Onions, and Peppers
Italian Pasta and Bean Soup, aka Pasta e Fagioli
Roasted Ratatouille

To have recipes delivered right to your inbox sign up to become a subscriber!

© 2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Mrs. Lombard’s Portuguese Kale Soup (aka Caldo Verde)

If I were to play a word-association game with my brothers about the elderly babysitters we had growing up in the Sixties in Bay View, our beloved, bucolic coastal neighborhood in Massachusetts, it would go like this:

Sting (sic) Bean Casserole”: Mrs. DeMers
She was elderly, gentle, and lived across the road from us. Her voice was thin and wispy just like she.

“Mulligan Stew”: Mrs. Townsend
She and Mr. Towsend were retired, very Irish, and lived next door. It seemed like she always had a pot of mulligan stew simmering on the stove. Mulligan stew is a beef and vegetable stew similar to burgoo. If we got locked out of the house, the Townsends had the spare key.

“Kale Soup”: Mrs. Lombard
Mrs. Lombard was Portuguese, retired, and had buried three husbands by the time she came to live with us as a housekeeper and babysitter. She stayed with us on weekdays and went to her own home on weekends.

She arrived at our house on the heels of many promising live-in sitters who lasted only a few days. Apparently, five children were a lot to manage. Not so for Mrs. Lombard. She drove up our driveway in her silver-green 1953 Chrysler New Yorker land yacht with her strong, solid build and pinned-up long dark hair, fully confident in her ability to wrangle up and care for our large family.

001

Mrs. Lombard was tough and her unfiltered comments to us kids and our friends were legendary. For example, my brothers’ socks were so dirty they “stood up by themselves,” and I had “male nails,” short and wide fingernails that would “always be that way.” Sadly, she was right about that. She was our Mrs. Doubtfire. She kept us in line and took care of our hard-working mother, too. The last time I saw her was at my wedding. She was in her nineties. It was lovely to be in her presence, to hear her voice again, and to know she was still full of vim and vigor.

The only meal I remember Mrs. Lombard ever making for us was kale soup, also known as caldo verde (green broth). I can still see the tall Revere soup pot on the stove filled to the brim with knobs of white potatoes bobbing in and out of a sea of dark-green kale. The broth was tinged with orange from the juice of the linguica sausage. I have worked for years to recreate this beautiful, tasty soup and finally figured it out by reading through many versions of it in my mother’s vintage collection of plastic spiral-bound community cookbooks from that geographical area and time period.

Kale Soup

dsc_0217-1

A few words about ingredients:

The key ingredient in kale soup is a smoke-cured Portuguese sausage called Linguica (lin-gwee-sah). Linguica is made with pork and paprika, garlic, pepper, and sometimes cinnamon, coriander or cumin. There is another Portuguese sausage that is very similar called chouriço (not the same as chorizo, a Mexican sausage). In the absence of linguica, I would use either chouriço or andouille. Or, and I have done this before, use a spicy Italian sausage and make it an Italian Kale Soup.

dsc_0730-1

I suggest using unsalted chicken broth instead of a salted broth. The linguica brings plenty of saltiness of its own. Too much salt can quickly make this soup go from tasting delicious to tasting like a briny bath of sea water. Carefully add salt to taste.

If you are using a fresh bunch of kale, prepare it the same way I prepped the collards for this recipe only cut the logs of kale into two-inch wide slices. I would not use young leaves of kale as they will disintegrate too quickly when cooked. Some people prefer their caldo verde with collards. That works just as well. Occasionally, I add a half cup of chopped cilantro or parsley to the soup during the last minute of cooking, for more flavor and to make the broth greener.

Lastly, many cooks from our area of the southeastern coast of Massachusetts add a pound of lima beans to the soup. I enjoy that, as well, but I’ve come to prefer the simple and pure flavor of just the kale, potatoes and sausage.

Yield: 4 quarts

Ingredients:
dsc_0062

⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 pound linguica smoked sausage, sliced (sold locally at Publix)
1 medium onion (2 cups or ½ pound), peeled and roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, smashed and sliced
4 large Yukon Gold potatoes (about 5 cups or 2 pounds), unpeeled
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
4 cups unsalted chicken broth
4 cups hot water
1 pound kale, chopped into 2-inch pieces (could substitute collards)
Add more sea salt and black pepper to taste
½ cup cilantro or parsley, chopped (optional)

Mise en Place:

Rinse and dry linguica sausages. Slice into bite-sized pieces.
dsc_0735 dsc_0737

Prep onions and garlic as described and set aside. Prep potatoes into bite-sized chunks and set aside. Gold potatoes hold their shape better than white potatoes and have a nice buttery taste, so I suggest using them.

dsc_0073

Instructions:

Coat bottom of a six-quart sauté pan with olive oil. Add linguica to warmed oil and sauté for about three minutes on medium-high heat. Avoid overcooking the linguica which makes it leathery and tasteless.

dsc_0076

Use a serrated spoon to remove sausage into a small bowl. Set aside meat.

Add onions and garlic into the linguica flavored oil that remains. Sauté for five minutes over medium heat until the onions are soft and translucent.

dsc_0081

Add the potatoes, broth, salt, and crushed red pepper. Bring broth to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer for ten minutes.

dsc_0083

Remove 1 cup of potatoes and 1 cup of broth from the pan and put them in a food processor. Purée for about 15 seconds until mixture is smooth. Set aside.

dsc_0094

Add four cups of hot water to the potatoes in the sauté pan and bring to a boil. Once the water boils, add about half the kale to the pan. Stir it down. As the kale collapses, continuing adding more kale until it all fits in the pan. Add the puréed potatoes and the linguica and stir everything together.

dsc_0095

Simmer for about 15 minutes on low heat. The soup will taste equally delicious the next day. I’ve never tried freezing it.

dsc_0101

Serve with a nice crusty bread.

Other great soups:
Aunt Bridget’s Chicken Soup with Little Meatballs
Sick Soup, Sometimes Known as Snow Day Soup
Kelly’s Duck Stew
Mrs. Walker’s Cranberry Nut Pie

To have recipes delivered right to your inbox sign up to become a subscriber!

© 2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.