Saturday, November 24, 2012

Yogurt and Labneh

We go through a pretty shocking amount of yogurt in this house. I eat it sometimes with honey (and occasionally a sprinkle of black pepper), or sometimes with jam. Of course, I also use it for baking and mashed potatoes and lots of other things. We also make a lot of labneh, because Ross will eat about a pound a week of that while he's at work. And since a good quality yogurt (for a pound or so) is around $4, I've tired of spending the money on it and have chosen to just make my yogurt. Consequently, I'm sharing the method I use with you, so you can do this as well if you like. This is more methodology based than recipe based, so just be aware of that since my writing format will be more prose than standard recipe. Hope you enjoy!

Making yogurt is pretty easy. It's easier if you use a crock pot, but it's easy even if you use a pot/double boiler. Basically, however much milk you use is how much American-style yogurt you'll get (you have to drain the whey for Greek or Arabic style, which is what will be happening in my house when it's done, but you obviously get less yogurt as a result. On the other hand, you also get whey to use when you're making bread, or I suppose to make ricotta from if you're so inclined). You can also freeze yogurt for up to a year, and once it's thawed it's basically the same as before it was frozen (I have to freeze some to use as my starter culture, or it'll wind up getting eaten). 

So basically what I'm doing is this:

3 quarts milk (I typically buy 2% milk since I'm not a milk drinker and that's what Ross likes, but I prefer whole milk yogurt) into a crock pot. Let it sit there, on high, covered, for 2-3 hours, or until it's 185F (if you hold your milk at 185 for 30 minutes, it'll be thicker/creamier than if you just bring it up to 185 and move on with your day). Grab your thermometer and check the temp. If it's 185, neat. If it's cooler, not neat and give it a little longer. You could also put a probe thermometer in your crock pot before you put the lid on, and then you won't have to check for time since it'll beep when you hit the right temperature.

Once it's 185, turn off the heat and let it sit for an hour or so, until it's cooled to 110F. Then whisk in 3T - 1/2 C of yogurt either into the whole crock, or into just a couple cups of the heated milk (and then return that small batch of milk and yogurt culture to the crock pot and whisk it in).

Wrap it up with a big towel or a blanket or whatever, and stick it in the oven (or in a cooler, or wherever it will be warm and insulated but not too warm) overnight (7+ hours). Uncover, and you should see separation, and possibly green liquid, or whatever. All of that is okay. If you like American style, stir to combine the whey back into the yogurt and put it in container(s) and in the fridge (this is where it will both thicken, and stop souring). If you aren't into the American style, do this anyway and chill it for a few hours or overnight, then, put some cheesecloth in a strainer, and the strainer in a bowl, and pour the yogurt into the cheesecloth (and fold the tops of the cheesecloth over it) and stick it in the fridge (this is what I do). Two hours or the next day, take the yogurt out of the strainer and package it for consumption: you'll have Greek strained yogurt and some whey in the bowl. You can freeze the whey for later use if you're saving it to make ricotta cheese. You can make a sort of lemonade from it instead, drink it as is, put it in protein shakes, use it in soups, bread-making, cooking pasta, or all sorts of other things. I mostly use mine for bread-making.

Now, if you want to make labneh from your yogurt, you will need to strain however much yogurt you'll be using for this for ANOTHER day to two days to remove what's left of the whey, and you'll also want to mix some salt into that yogurt before you restrain it (or after. I often forget to salt the yogurt until after it's labneh). Then you can either have the cream cheese-like labneh in a container when it's done (and you can use it exactly the same ways you'd use cream cheese or marscapone), or you can shape it into balls, stack the balls lightly on coffee filters or cheesecloth on a plate (in the fridge or not; I prefer not because then I don't have to worry that the fridge is drying my coffee filters out), and check it daily to see how much moisture is left on the filters/cloth. Once you've come back and there's no moisture, the balls are done and you can roll them in mint (or not) and gently place them in a mason jar that you then cover with olive oil (you could use other oils if you want. Normally when I buy them this way, they're in safflower oil but I think they taste better in olive). Then eat them as you see fit. I eat them in sammies, with some pickles, za'atar and a drizzle of oil. But take them out of the jar with a spoon and not a fork because they're delicate and break apart easily.

If you just want to eat the yogurt, and you aren't into plain yogurt, you can mix into your portion honey (which is sometimes nice with a tiny pinch of black pepper), jam, fruit, granola, or whatever it is you like in your yogurt. Also, you can make dips and stuff like that, or have fresh yogurt on hand for cakes and stuff.

As an aside, the total cost for this, for me, is $2.61. From that $2.61, I get about a pound of strained yogurt and slightly more than 2 pounds of labneh. For your $2.61, if you like American-style yogurt, you will get a full three quarts of yogurt. Or you can get 2 - 2 1/2 quarts of strained yogurt. And you know EXACTLY what is in it.

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