One of the biggest sources of throwaway plastic in my kitchen used to come from empty yogurt containers. I eat at least a cup of yogurt every day, and I didn’t want to give it up. But I hated buying and trashing all that plastic! Even though the containers are supposed to be recyclable, we all know how that goes. Some communities do recycle them, some don’t. Besides, who can overlook how long it takes plastic to decompose, how little of it is actually recycled, and how much of it ends up in the ocean, regardless of recycling claims? I also wanted just yogurt. Not yogurt with additives. Not yogurt made with GMO ingredients. Not yogurt sweetened with high fructose corn syrup or icky fruit flavors. I figured it would be easy to make my own homemade yogurt and skip the plastic and additives altogether.
I was right! It turns out, making homemade yogurt is one of the simplest shifts you can make – not just for a plastic-free kitchen, but for a greener life all around. It is quick, easy, and doesn’t require any plastic after you get that first small cup of starter yogurt. What you add to it after you make it is completely up to you.
A word about the milk. I use a half-gallon of delicious fresh organic skim milk that I can get in a glass bottle from my local food co-op. The milk itself costs the same as a half-gallon of organic milk in a plastic jug or cardboard milk carton, plus $1.00 deposit on the bottle that is completely refundable when I bring the bottle back. If you can’t get milk in a glass bottle, the cardboard carton is preferable to the plastic jug. I haven’t tried making milk from powder (though I add a little powdered milk to my yogurt mix) and using that reconstituted milk for the yogurt. If you do, let us know how well it works out.
HOMEMADE YOGURT RECIPE
Milk (at least 1 quart; generally I use a half-gallon of milk, which will make at least 8 cups of yogurt)
Yogurt starter – 2 tablespoons (I get a small container of nonfat Greek-style yogurt to start, then reserve two tablespoons of the yogurt I make to start my next batch.)
Powdered milk – 2 tablespoons (Powdered milk isn’t essential, but it makes the yogurt thicker and more flavorful)
Microwave or Stovetop Pot
Oven or Heating Pad
* Pour the milk into the glass bowl.
* Put the glass bowl in the microwave and heat on high for 10-12 minutes, or as long as it takes for the milk temperature to reach 180 degrees. If heating in a pot on the stove, heat on medium high until milk reaches 180 degrees.
* Use a candy thermometer to test the temperature of the milk. Don’t rest the thermometer on the bottom or sides of the bowl, which may be hotter than the milk. Hold the thermometer in the middle of the milk where you can easily read the temperature.
* When the milk reaches 180 degrees, set it out to cool. You can hurry this along by setting the bowl or pot in a pan of cold water; otherwise, just leave the milk alone until the temperature drops to around 110 degrees.
* When the milk has cooled to 110 degrees, put a quarter of a cup of milk in a glass or small mixing bowl and add the powdered milk. Stir until dissolved (if all the milk doesn’t dissolve, don’t worry), then add the mixture back into the main bowl.
* Add 2 tablespoons of yogurt and whisk into the milk.
* Cover the bowl with a towel. Now it needs a low heat source to help the bacteria in the starter yogurt turn the entire bowl of milk into yogurt. Some people will heat their oven to warm and put the milk there. I set my bowl on a heating pad and drape the towel over the bowl and around the pad to create a nice warm environment for the yogurt. I turn the heating pad up to its highest setting for a couple of hours, then turn it down to low for the last couple of hours. It will take 4-6 hours for the milk to become yogurt.
Once your yogurt is made, put it in your refrigerator, either in the big bowl, or in individual glass jars. As you eat it, a pale yellow liquid will begin to pool in the yogurt. This is whey, and it’s good for you! Either stir it back into the yogurt, or drain it off and use it in pancake batter, milk shakes or protein drinks. If you want to make thick yogurt like the consistency of Greek yogurt, line your strainer (or a colander) with cheesecloth or a fine towel and pour your yogurt into it. The whey will drain off and leave behind your thick and creamy concoction. (Your yogurt should stay refrigerated, even if you are draining it.)
* Add it to fruit and granola for a yummy breakfast. Use it in place of milk for pancakes.
* Stir in dill, a little garlic powder, fresh ground pepper and salt, and a squeeze of fresh lemon and you’ve got a great veggie dip or salad dressing. Stir in thinly sliced cucumbers and serve it as raita with your favorite Indian food.
* Add cumin and garlic and use it to marinate chicken you then grill or broil. Or … ? Please share your favorite recipes for yogurt, and let me know how you improve on my recipe.