Editor’s note: Columnist Christine Burns Rudalevige is on vacation this week, so food editor Peggy Grodinsky stepped in. Rudalevige’s column will return next week.

Cooking projects have become much easier for me during the pandemic, because my home “office” is exactly three steps from my kitchen. It’s in my pantry, in fact (could any place be better for a food writer?). In the last two years, that proximity has allowed me to tackle the kind of cooking that, while it doesn’t necessarily require hands-on time, does require time.

Yogurt, for instance. At the office, I might take a minute to stand up and stretch or refill my coffee cup; at my home office, I use those moments to step into the kitchen and monitor a simmering stock, a bubbling pot of beans or yogurt in the making.

I happen to use a recipe from the New York Times to make my yogurt. I’ve got the recipe memorized; that’s how easy yogurt-making is. But I’ve looked at others, and they all are more or less the same. You heat a lot of milk on the stovetop. Then you cool it for 20 to 30 minutes after which you mix in a little yogurt you’ve saved from your last batch. You leave the liquid be in a warm spot for a long time, checking on it after 2 hours, then 3, then 4 and so on until it jells, at which point, you have yogurt; it will continue to solidify a little after you put it in the refrigerator.

The process is ridiculously easy, but it does require you to open the oven door every once in a while – the turned-off oven is where I usually let mine ferment – to check on the yogurt’s progress. Plus, especially the first few times you make it, you may suffer through some heart-in-mouth moments wondering if it is ever going to jell. Have faith. It will. (And if not, drink it as kefir.)

Even if you cook a lot, there is something especially satisfying about making the sort of thing you usually buy, say mayonnaise, sourdough bread, jam or, yes, yogurt. I can’t say my own is better than some of the excellent locally made yogurt that I used to buy. But it’s awfully good, and it’s less expensive, too.

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Even better, it saves me from contributing any more than I already do to the insane amounts of single-use plastic in the world, which require fossil fuels to make and then never break down — the chemicals seep into our water and micro-plastics pollute our oceans. Plastic kills wildlife, too, when creatures eat it or become entangled in it. The less I use of it, the better.

And while years ago I felt good simply recycling my plastic containers, now I realize that doesn’t do much good. Recycling plastic is notoriously challenging. According to the EPA’s latest statistics, just 8.7 percent of plastics are recycled in the U.S. On the hierarchy of waste reduction, reduce comes in first and recycle last.

There are so many ways for you to use your homemade yogurt, I don’t even know where to start — as a base for a morning bowl of granola, an ingredient in pancakes or coffee cake, a sauce for salmon or eggs, the foundation for dip or salad dressing, a dollop on soup, a marinade for meat, or about a million other delicious things, including a mango lassi.

On chillier days, it helps to wraps the jar with yogurt-in-process in a kitchen towel before leaving it in a warm place to ferment for several hours. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Easy Yogurt

This recipe is lightly adapted from the New York Times. For reliability, I use a thermometer to make it.

4 cups milk
1/4 cup yogurt, with live, active cultures
2 to 3 tablespoons instant nonfat dry milk powder (optional)

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Coat the bottom of a Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot with a 1/4-inch layer of water (to prevent sticking). Set the pot over medium-high heat. Add the milk and scald it, heating until just before it comes to a boil. You will see bubbles start to form around the edge. (If I am using 2 percent milk, as opposed to whole milk, I whisk 2-3 tablespoons of instant nonfat dry milk powder into the liquid milk before heating it for added creaminess. The whole milk makes richer yogurt, of course. )

Take the pot off the heat and cool the milk to 130 degrees, about 30 minutes. Use a thermometer to check.

Meanwhile, at the bottom of a glass jar that can fit 1 quart, place 1 teaspoon of the yogurt. When the milk has cooled to 130 degrees, whisk in the remaining yogurt until it dissolves. Pour the milk mixture into the glass jar.

Put the jar, with the lid slightly askew, in a warm spot. I use my oven. In the winter, I leave the light on and wrap the jar in a dish towel for added warmth. Leave it there until the yogurt is slightly wiggly but jelled, checking every hour after 2 hours. The process can take 7 hours or so.

Among the many excellent uses for homemade yogurt? A mango lassi. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Sweet, Pale Orange, Mango Lassi

This recipe comes from Madhur Jaffrey’s “Quick & Easy Indian Cooking.” Like the yogurt itself, it barely requires a recipe, but because of the ice cubes it does require a blender or food processor with a strong motor. On my copy of the recipe, I’ve scribbled, “Yummy. How could it not be?” Ataulfo, or honey, mangos are in season right now, in Mexico, and I don’t mean Mexico, Maine. But at a time of year when we’ve got very little local produce, for me, along with the snowdrops in my garden, they signal spring.

Serves 2-3

1 ¼ cups plain yogurt
1 cup chopped, ripe mango
3 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom seeds
8 ice cubes

Combine all the ingredients in an electric blender and blend. Immediately, pour into 2-3 glasses to serve.


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