Posted on Thursday, August 12, 2010.
Guys, today’s the day. I’m thrilled to introduce Pomato Revival’s first guest blogger: None other than my sister-in-law, Katherine Sungarian Gagliano. Much as we Gaglianos are livin’ the Sicilian-American dream, the Sungarians have been rockin’ the Armenian-American dream since Katherine’s parents immigrated from Bulgaria in the 60’s. She is a master at keeping their heritage alive. She’s compiled entire cookbooks of Armenian recipes, and even spent a year (probably more!) gathering recipes from my family to make me a personalized cookbook as a wedding gift (yes, those are tears of joy). And beyond the recipes, her family’s language, traditions, and culture are alive in her house every day. I’m honored to be sharing her yogurt recipe here, passed down from her grandmother.
By Katherine Sungarian Gagliano
My grandmother always had a knack for making delicious dishes look easy to prepare. When asked to share techniques, she would respond with only marginally useful comments like, “oh, just stick your little finger in it to make sure it’s the right temperature.” Or “Knead the dough until it’s the consistency of my earlobe.” Before she passed away I spent several years convincing her to dictate approximations of her recipes to me and scribbling them on scraps of paper. Since then I have been trying to reproduce the smells, sounds, rhythms, and flavors of her kitchen. It wasn’t until I tried making some of her recipes myself when I realized that the real trick to any recipe is practice.
|Katherine and her grandmother, 1989.
I’ve made my grandmother’s madzoon recipe (that’s mahd-ZOON, and it means yogurt in Armenian) many times. What I like about making yogurt is that you get the sense that you’re nursing it to health—which you basically are. Bacteria are the guests of honor in yogurt, and if you don’t treat them with kindness you simply won’t get to eat any yogurt. But what I especially love about yogurt is its heritage. To each batch of yogurt you make you’ll need to add a small amount from the previous batch. (Some people claim to be using the same strain for decades). In the same way this yogurt recipe is one that has been passed down from mom to daughter for generations. I am so grateful to my grandmother for sharing with me such an ancient Armenian family recipe, so, Berdji Medzmama, this one’s for you.
½ gallon whole milk
½ cup yogurt
Bring the milk to a boil in a large saucepan. Once it’s boiling, remove it from the stove and pour into a storage container (glass or ceramic is best). Insulate the container by wrapping a kitchen towel around it. Wait for the milk to cool enough so that you can hold a finger in it for about 5 seconds without being burned (to the more exacting among us, this is 125 degrees Fahrenheit).
In a separate bowl, gradually blend together a spoonful of the warm milk and the pre-made yogurt (this is your “starter culture”). Add the culture into the remaining milk and gently mix it.
The mixture needs to be kept warm in order for it to solidify into yogurt. (If you allow it to cool too much the bacteria will die or go dormant.) To keep it warm, surround the bowl with a dishtowel and drape another over the top. A trick my grandma used to prevent the towel from falling into the yogurt was to rest a small grill or two chopsticks over the edges of the bowl before placing the towel over it. Choose a warm part of the kitchen in which to set the yogurt aside and allow it to rest at room temperature for 3 to 4 hours. Transfer it to the refrigerator once it has achieved a firm consistency.
Hint: Once she immigrated to the US, my grandma started to add 1 cup of half and half to this recipe to make the yogurt thicker. Store bought whole milk isn’t as rich in this country as was in her hometown.
Disclaimer: In my experience it’s taken longer than 3-4 hours for the yogurt to set. Achieving the ideal environment for the yogurt can be a challenge. If after 3-4 hours you don’t have yogurt, just set it aside a little while longer (or overnight).