Sunday, March 30, 2014

Homemade Yogurt - एक राते दही

Homemade Yogurt - Yogurt Made Overnight - Ek Raate Dahi - (एक राते दही) 

Do you feel like making homemade yogurt today?

Yogurt, called Dahi, दही, in Nepal, is considered one of the most country's important dairy products.  It is consumed throughout the country in different forms. Making yogurt at home is simple and easy, and does not require any special skills.  Most of the equipment needed to prepare it can be already found in your kitchen.

I was born in a family where home-made yogurt was made almost everyday.  We called the yogurt "ek raate dahi" - एक राते दही, which translates to  "yogurt made overnight" or "one-night yogurt." Most Nepali households make a small amount of yogurt on a daily basis with just two ingredients: fresh milk and live and active yogurt cultures (usually from a previous batch).   A warm place to rest for the culture to incubate and a "do not disturb sign" are also important. The delicious yogurt will be ready in 6-8 hours.  Yogurt made this way is typically consumed within a day or two before it starts to acidify and turn sour.  

Nepalese like their yogurt fresh, plain, thick with best flavor and texture, but not runny.  Sour yogurt is called amilo dahi, अमिलो दहि, and it is not liked by many.  Due to lack of refrigeration in Nepali local life, after the homemade yogurt is set, it is kept at the room temperature in the kitchen until used.  Yogurt that is left in the natural stage starts to sour immediately. The longer you leave the yogurt at room temperature, the more sour the yogurt will be. If the yogurt has become too tart, it is possible to mix with gram flour (besan) and several spices to make a creamy soup-like dish called dahi kadi, which is eaten with freshly steamed rice. Some Nepalese believe that when the yogurt starts getting sour, it actually preserves the spoilage.

The origins of yogurt are unknown, but many of my friends believe that it originated in the Eastern European or the Middle Eastern countries centuries ago.  Yogurt is now popular worldwide.  Yogurt has been made basically the same way for centuries, by carefully controlling the temperature of the milk and adding a starter culture and wait until it starts to ferment.  Basically, it is a semi solid stage of fermented milk.  Although most of the yogurt in Nepal is prepared from cow or water buffalo (bhaisi) milk, yak and goat-milk yogurt are also popular in certain mountain regions.

Yogurt in Daily Life - Yogurt is not only used for culinary purpose, but it is also deeply routed in Nepali cultural traditions, rituals, and religions.  For example, yogurt is eaten to purify during religious fasting days.  It is also consumed as an auspicious blessed food, before departing from home to travel.  Many Nepalese believe that yogurt brings good luck, so a fresh container of yogurt is placed in the entrance ways for a special welcome and departure.  The fresh plain yogurt is used in the preparation of achetaa ko tikaa, which is a red paste, prepared by mixing together rice grains, red vermillion powder and yogurt.  On auspicious occasions, the red achetaa ko tikaa is carefully applied on the forehead for family blessing. 
Religious offerings during the festival time

Yogurt is considered one of the purest forms of food to be offered to the deities during religious festivals.  One of the most essential divine liquids called "Pancha Amrit" (five nectar of immortality) is offered to deities during religious festivals which consists of yogurt, milk, clarified butter, sugarcane juice and honey. Plain yogurt is also offered to deity as a sacred offering, and later eaten as a blessed food.  In the picture to the right, a Nepalese woman is on her way to a temple holding a brass pot (tasalaa) filled with sacred offerings for deities. The colorful offerings consist of flowers, pure holy water, uncooked rice, betel nut, samay baji, traditional sweets, butter lamp, red and yellow vermillion powder and incense stick.  In the middle of the tray, you will also notice a small bowl of plain yogurt.

Below, I have added three photos of the auspicious food of Samay Baji Festival with "Yogurt in a clay Pot" -- To get a complete Nepali experience, please see my previous blog posts for more information on samay baji and juju dhau. You will also notice several festival delicacy such as laakha mari are placed around the food display -- please click here for a detail description.   
Decorated yogurt container in the festive food - here is a picture of Samay Baji food display at the Indra Jatra Festival in Kathmandu  - Samay Baji is a ritual Newari dish that is prepared during the festivals and offered to deities. Hundreds of devotees celebrate the festival and later the blessed food will be shared and distributed as an auspicious (prashad) food. The religious offering symbolizes the expression of gratitude for making the devotee healthy, happy and prosperous and bringing peace in their daily life.
Another image of auspicious food display Samay Baji with yogurt - ritual offerings consists of several items - flattened rice flakes (cheura or baji),  puffed rice (samaya, swaya baji), black soybean (puka-la, bhuti), marinated and fried, fresh ginger rhizomes (palu, aduwa), julienne and  fried,  marinated grilled or boiled meat (chowella), dried fish fried in oil (sanya, sidra-maacha), boiled-fried eggs (khen), fresh fruits, lentil patties (baara, woh), several variety of Newari mari breads, and alcohol (ailaa).  The festival delicacy laakha mari, and other Newari traditional sweets are placed around the display symbolizing good luck, fortune, prosperity and the round bread symbolized family reunion.  All the food items are selected according to traditions and customs.
Juju Dhau, the sweetened custard-like yogurt in a red clay container from Bhaktapur, Nepal, is one of the most important component for the feast during the festival. 
Yogurt is also known as an ancient healing food.  It is used in different forms to cure indigestion and intestinal infection and recognized as a cure for hangovers.  Yogurt is also eaten to obtain soothing effect in the stomach after eating rich, spicy and greasy foods. "10 Reasons Yogurt is a Top Health Food" - please click here to read the article.

The most popular delicacy juju dhau, the king of yogurt, is a rich-creamy-smooth yogurt from Bhaktapur, Nepal, is a must for all the festivals, feast and celebrations including weddings, Annaprashan, Dashain festival, Tihar-Bhai-Tika, Mother's & Father's day and so on. The yogurt made in a decorative clay pots (kataaro) are also presented to families to show gratitude and good will.
My Homemade Yogurt - The habit of making homemade yogurt stayed with me even after coming to the USA. I usually make large container of yogurt every week that lasts almost 8-10 days in the refrigerator. The yogurt is best if used within one week, but as the yogurt starts aging, it becomes sour. I usually make yogurt before going to bed and the next morning I am rewarded with a perfectly incubated overnight-creamy yogurt.  For festive occasion, I use my decorative clay pots (earthenware pots in different size and shapes) called kataaro in Nepali.  I have never used a thermometer to check the temperature of boiled milk, I just use my fingers to judge the temperature.  If you like to eat yogurt often, you can try to make homemade yogurt today.  Everything you need to make "ek raate dahi" is probably already in your kitchen, so let's get started with my step-by-step tutorial photographic examples with homemade yogurt.
1 gallon whole milk -  (you can use reduced fat milk (2% fat), low-fat (1% fat) or skim (no fat), whatever you prefer - the fat content of milk you use will dictate the consistency of your yogurt: the higher the fat content, the creamier the yogurt will be).
3/4 to 1 cup plain yogurt with active culture
Heat the milk in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat.  Stir constantly to prevent sticking and remove any skin that forms on the milk.  Once it is boiled, remove the pan from the heat and let it cool.  You can speed up the cooling process by setting the pan on top of a bowl of ice and stir continuously until the milk has cooled.  Test the temperature of the milk by dipping in your clean finger; when the milk is lukewarm it is ready.
In a small bowl, mix 1/2 cup of the lukewarm milk with the starter yogurt culture, and stir well.  Return the mixture back to the warm milk.  To mix thoroughly, I pour milk into another bowl, transfer it back to the clay pot, back and forth 2 to 3 times.  This way, beautiful tiny bubbles forms on the milk surface and gives a decorated touch to set yogurt. You can use your own method to stir until completely incorporated.  Transfer the mixture to clay pot and cover it with a lid.
My favorite method of incubating the yogurt is on top of the food warmer tray.  Place the clay pot on a rack on top of the food warmer tray, and  adjust the heat setting to the lowest setting. Use whichever method of keeping the milk warm works for you (see Helpful Hints below), but it is important that the yogurt is kept undisturbed until it sets.  Do not shake or stir the milk during this process.  Remember to maintain a warm temperature when incubating the milk and it will take at least 6-8 hours for yogurt to set. 
To test if the yogurt has set, slowly tilt the container.  if the yogurt pulls away from the side of the container in one piece, then it is ready.  Once the yogurt has set, refrigerate immediately, the yogurt will thicken up further once chilled.  Don't forget to save 1/2 cup of yogurt to make another batch of yogurt.

Getting ready to decorate the freshly made yogurt with pistachio nuts (sliced-chopped), raw pieces of cashew (halved), raisins, dried coconut chips, dates, almonds-pecan nuts, the seeds of cardamom pods and saffron strands.  You can use any combination and any variety of dried fruits or fresh fruits.  Let your imagination run wild!

Here is my delicious yogurt decorated with dry-fruits to create a flower - having friends and family come over to enjoy this!

Home cooked traditional Nepali Daal-Bhaat-Tarkaari with a bowl of plain yogurt
Freshly made plain yogurt served with the raw natural cane sugar.  A sprinkle of raw sugar provides a sweet touch, but you can also add coarsely chopped almonds for a crunch.
... serving Nepali mid-afternoon snacks with milky tea and cheura (pressed rice flakes) - here in the picture, you will see Nepali fried fish, cauliflower-potato-peas vegetable, carrot desert, and a flavorful achaar that go alongside with a fresh container of yogurt
For a taste of an authentic Nepali daal-bhaat-tarkaari, try Thakali food - accompanying dishes are buttered rice in the center, with seasonal vegetables, chicken curry, black daal, achaar dish, and a bowl of yogurt.
Helpful Hints
If you prefer to make a smaller quantity of yogurt, use 1 quart of milk and 1/4 cup plain yogurt with active cultures.

If you use low-fat or skim milk, the yogurt will have a less creamy consistency.  You can thicken it, by boiling it until reduced and thickened or add 2 to 3 tablespoon of dry milk powder before heating the mixture.

Longer fermentation will yield a more tart yogurt. If your yogurt is too watery, this may have been caused by insufficient starter culture or the culture that was not properly mixed with the milk, or the mixture may have been disturbed or shaken during the incubation period.  If the temperature is too high or too low during incubation, the mixture will result in a nearly liquid yogurt.

If there is a large amount of whey floating on top of the set yogurt, your incubation period might have been too long.

You may use an electric oven to incubate the yogurt.  Preheat the oven to its lowest setting for 10 minutes, turn it off, and place the milk container inside.  To maintain the temperature, you may also leave the oven light on.

You can place the yogurt inside a gas oven to incubate the yogurt.  There is no need to turn on the oven; the yogurt will set from just the heat of the pilot light.

Some people use a cardboard box to incubate the yogurt.  Line the box with a clean kitchen towel and leave the box in a warm place to maintain a steady temperature until yogurt has set.

- here is a wide range of flavors and texture - serving my traditional daal-bhaat-tarkaari meal with the combination of "ek raate dahi".
Yogurt is a specialty at Nepali kitchen, and is served with almost every meal.
Collection of my clay pots in different size and shapes for making yogurt. 
Creative spin on homemade yogurt and juju dhau - The three images below shows how the plain yogurt has become "show-stopping centerpiece". When we think of juju dhau, we typically think of creamy, custard like yogurt made in clay pot, but these days the sweet yogurt is decorated with bright colorful creative designs made for special occasions.

Here is a picture of decorated juju dhau that is made specially for a Nepali wedding - transforming the basic yogurt to a work of art  - photo courtesy Rajesh Madhikarmi, Bhaktapur, Nepal
Decorated yogurt for "Supari Pathaune" ceremony during Newari wedding traditions - one of the fun activities family and friends get to contribute is decorating the yogurt.  Bright and colorful yogurt (above) is decorated with dry fruits (almonds, golden raisins, cashew nuts), whole cloves, dried shredded coconuts, fruit jellies, carrots and fresh cilantro springs.  Photo courtesy - "Little Black Yellow Seeds" blog.  I am happy to introduce the blogger, here you will find a very informative and entertaining blog about "Newari Wedding Tales".  Please visit the site here.
Homemade yogurt made for an anniversary party - creative fruits and dry-fruits toppers - photo courtesy Prarthana Singh
Here are some interesting links about yogurt culture, "Eternal Yogurt: The Starter that Lives Forever" from Please read more about it here.  Another informative link, "Yes, it's worth it to make your own yogurt" by Nicole Spiridakis, please click here to read the entire article.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Rahar ko Daal – split yellow pigeon peas (without skins)

Simmer a pot of the Rahar ko Daal (रहर को दाल)  for your weeknight Daal-Bhaat-Tarkaari meals - all time favorite of many Nepalese!

From my pantry - dried beans, lentils and peas - they come in wide variety of colors, shapes and sizes. A great way to add protein to your diet!

Daal-Bhaat-Tarkaari is the traditional meal of Nepal.  It consists of daal (legumes), bhaat (rice) and tarkaari (vegetables), and is is mostly eaten two times a day in rice-cultivating regions.  No Nepali meal of rice is complete without daal - made from any dried legumes, such as beans, lentils and peas.  When cooked daal is paired with rice, the meal is called daal-bhaat. In my next blog post, I will add more pictures and recipe of daal-bhaat.

Daal is very easy to cook and does not require any special skills. Today's recipe is a delicious, easy to make comforting daal that is slow-simmered in low heat with fresh ginger, turmeric, bay leaves, cinnamon, salt and clarified butter (gheu). The daal is cooked until creamy and tender, not mushy or crunchy.  It is then finished off with extra spices that are fried in clarified butter and added to cooked daal for extra flavor.  This process is called tempering or "daal jhanne" by Nepalese.  Many Nepalese prefer rahar ko daal over many other nutritious and hulled-split daals because of its pleasant taste and flavor.  Nepalese generally prefer soupy daal rather than thicker porridge-like forms of it, making it suitable to eat over boiled rice.

The scientific name of Rahar is Cajanus cajan (L.) Millsp, and the common name is Pigeon Pea, Red gram, Cajan pea, Congo pea, yellow dahl (English);  ambrévade, pois d’Angole (French);  straucherbse (German);  arhar, tuver or toovar (India);  feijoa-guandu, guandú, guisante-de-Angola (Portuguese);  cachito, gandul (Spanish);  kachang (Asia) - source Wikipedia.

Pigeon peas are usually sold split without skins.  The daal has a slightly nutty taste, is easy to digest, and resembles yellow split chickpeas.  In Nepal, rahar ko daal is considered the king of daals.  They are available dry or lightly coated with castor oil. The oily kind looks glossy and the oil preserves freshness and discourages spoilage.  If you are using the oily type, make sure to wash them several times in hot running water to remove oil completely.  They are cooked by themselves or can be mixed with other legumes.  All imported daals (sold in burlap sacks)  must be picked over for tiny stones, dirt, or any foreign matter.  To clean daal, spread it on a large platter, pick through it carefully, and discard foreign matter.

Here is a close-up picture of
rahar ko daal that is hulled and split into two rounds. My mother's kitchen help, Thuli Bajai, suggests "not to add salt while simmering the daal, because it slows down the cooking time" -- she always emphasizes her method and tells me in Nepali  - "नून हालेर बसाल्यॊ भने, दाल गल्दैन - खालि पानि मात्रै हाल्येर पहिले बसाल्ने" In my experiment with several batches with or without salt, I did not see much difference and I am back to my regular method of simmering with salt.

Images of freshly picked pigeon pea pods -  I picked up some pods from the plant just to take pictures.  The farmer, Tek Bahadur Thapa who showed me the plant told me, "we leave the pods on the plant until they have completely dried up and leathery before harvesting them." The next four pictures are the images of pigeon peas and the plants in the village near Narayan Ghat, Terai section of Nepal. They are usually sold dried, but fresh ones are also eaten as a cooked vegetable.

Images of freshly picked and shelled pigeon pea pods and refreshing Bottle Brush flower from the local farm.
Pictured here is the vine that is loaded with podded pigeon peas -  this picture was taken during my morning walk in the village.  The plump pods are shinning with morning dew drops.

Pictures of freshly shelled pigeon peas.  The name "pigeon peas" has nothing to do with pigeon, but they are a well known protein powerhouse.  These peas are dried, split into two rounds, and the the skins are removed.  The finished product is pale-yellow to golden in color.  They are one of the most delicious daal and has a wonderful taste. They are sold in the Nepali markets as "rahar ko daal." 

Here is a recipe for a delicious and a quick way of cooking rahar ko daal from a skinless, split yellow daal.  There are two basic steps steps in cooking this recipe, first slow-simmer the beans with several herb and spices, then temper with aromatic spices and clarified butter.

1 cup split yellow pigeon peas, without skins
2 tablespoons clarified butter (gheu)
1 (1-inch) stick cinnamon
1- 1/2 teaspoon peeled and finely minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 small bay leaves whole
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
 2 whole cloves
A small pinch ground asafetida (less than 1/8 teaspoon)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon of lime juice
Chopped cilantro

Combine the daal, 1 tablespoon of the clarified butter, cinnamon, ginger, salt, turmeric, bay leaves, and 3-4 cups of water in a large deep, heavy pot.  Bring the mixture to boil over medium-high heat, uncovered, stirring occasionally to make sure the mixture is not boiling over or sticking and lumping together.  There is no need to skim away foam that rises to the surface, because it contains flavorful ingredients.  When it comes to a full boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer, stirring from time to time, until the daal have swelled to double their dry volume, softened and fully cooked, 25 to 30 minutes.  if needed, add more water to attain a soupy consistency.  Simmer for 5 minutes everytime you add water.  Remove the pot from the heat and set aside.

In a separate small skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons clarified butter over medium-high heat.  When hot, add the cumin and saute until lightly browned and fragrant, about 5 seconds.  Add the cloves and asafetida, remove the skillet from the heat, immediately pour the entire mixture into the cooked daal, and stir well.  Cover, and allow the seasoning to soak in and develop the flavor for 5 minutes.  Mix the lemon juice, transfer it to a serving dish, sprinkle the cilantro on top and serve.

... learn to recognize a different variety of daals ...
... freshly cooked rahar ko daal  is a great partner with freshly cooked rice
... best home-cooked daal-bhaat-tarkaari... served with seasonal vegetables, rahar ko daal, goat curry and home-made refreshing yogurt.
....start off the dinner with Nepali flavor - consists of rice with the combination of rahar ko daal, fiery tomato chutney with green chilies, pan-sauteed asparagus, and fish curry - all made with minimum spices.
Perfectly cooked rahar ko daal at Thakali kitchen - lovely presentation of authentic daal-bhaat-tarkaari
The above picture of Rahar ko daal is cooked with onion, ginger, garlic, tomato along with other tempering spices which gives a unique flavor  - My mother-in-law, Aama Hazoor was an excellent traditional Nepali cook and I learned a lot from her.  In her way of traditional way of Nepali daal cooking method,  she would never add onion-garlic-tomato.  I knew she would never approve of me putting these, but when she tried the daal here, I saw a smile on her face.  She said, "It's hard to believe the delicious flavor onion-ginger-garlic-tomato gives to daal."
Delicious, super easy and a family favorite daal!
Picture above is chanaa ko daal (split, hauled brown chick-peas) and picture bottom is rahar ko daal (split, hauled pigeon peas)  -   one gets easily confused by seeing the similarity of these daals. They are almost same size and both have golden yellow color.  If you notice closely, the yellow split chanaa daal is a little thicker-larger-rounder and takes a little longer to cook, but rahar ko daal is slightly flatter and smaller and has a shorter cooking time.
... there's not much that is as delicious as a simple bowl of daal ...

The New York Times recently published an article "The How and Why of Daal" by Davis Tanis. Please click the link to read the entire article.

  I left an online comment after the article was published, and would like to share it with you -  "Beautifully written article by David Tanis and love the pictures ... I come from Kathmandu, Nepal and our main signature dish is "Daal-Bhaat-Tarkaari" - which translates to daal-rice-vegetable combination. Daal is our simple everyday dish and we cook in simple ways - a pinch of "hing" aka Asafetida, is a must spice in our daal along other spices like ground turmeric, fresh ginger, garlic - when you eat daal combined with rice, it is suppose to remove bloating and act as anti-flatulent diet. You may want to check how Nepalese cook their black daal (maas ko daal) in an iron pot (tapke), simply tempered with "jimbu" Himalayan herb and clarified butter".

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