Introduction: Turn Cheap U.S. Store-Bought Yogurt Into "Indian Yogurt" (a.k.a. "Dahi" or "Curd")

This tutorial will show you how to make a quick-and-easy reusable "Yogurt-maker" to drain off excess liquid, turning your cheap U.S. store-bought yogurt into a fair approximation of real Indian yogurt/curd/dahi -- perfect for raita, or other yogurt-based dishes.

But first...

Is this really necessary? Is "Indian Yogurt" really that different from yogurt you buy in the U.S.?
For those of us non-Indians who like to dabble in Indian cuisine, you'll often see "Indian Yogurt" (or sometimes "curd" or "dahi") listed as an ingredient in recipes.  

- You'll see a lot of folks on the Internet saying that U.S. yogurt and Indian yogurt are essentially the same thing, and you can just use regular store-brand/brand-of-your-choice plain yogurt out of the carton.

- You'll see a lot of other folks insisting that there is a huge difference, that U.S. yogurt is full of unnecessary crap, and that it's "easy" to make your own yogurt from scratch.

In reality, while Indian yogurt isn't in an entirely different food category than off-the-shelf U.S. yogurt, it is made through a slightly different process, with the result that it is thicker and slightly more sour. 

Are we really going to turn store-bought yogurt into Dahi?
No! Absolutely Not!

Real Indian dahi is full-fat, usually made with milk from a water buffalo (instead of a cow), and gets its thicker texture (mainly, among other reasons) from setting in a clay pot where some of the water evaporates/is absorbed.  

But dahi is (1) Hard to find and (2) Expensive, when you can find it.

So, we're going to fake it by using the same straining process you'd use to make labneh or Greek yogurt -- just for a much shorter time frame.

So, what now? 
If you want authenticity in your cooking, you should really go find another tutorial and take the time to make homemade dahi.

But if you're lazy like me, and want the easiest possible way to get yogurt that's about the right texture: This tutorial is for you.  So, let's go!

Step 1: Supplies

For the Reusable Yogurt Maker
  • 1 or 2 Empty Yogurt Containers (Both should be the same size)
  • Cheesecloth or a coffee filter
  • A nail or knife

  • 1 Container of Plain Store-Bought Yogurt
    (I always use Fat-Free -- but you shouldn't.  It'll be closer in texture and taste if you use the regular all-fat-included yogurt)
  • Lemon juice

Step 2: The Yogurt Maker: Punch Some Holes for Drainage

Use the nail/knife to punch holes in the bottom of one of the empty yogurt containers.

Ideally, you want small holes spread all across the bottom of the container.

In reality, your hole punching technique really isn't going to make a difference, as long as the holes are big enough for proper drainage, but small enough so that you're not losing structural integrity.

Step 3: The Yogurt Maker: Line With Cheesecloth

Line the hole-punched container with a coffee filter or cheesecloth.*
Make sure it's positioned well enough so your yogurt isn't going to seep around the edges.  

* Coffee filters are great if you just want a small batch. You probably have you in your house already, and you can just pop it in.

But if you want to do a larger batch (i.e., the whole container at once, you're going to want to use cheese cloth instead, because a coffee filter isn't going to be big/tall enough. I've found that about four layers works best for me (placing double layers criss-crossing into the container).

Step 4: Make the Yogurt: Dump It All In

Place the hole-punched, filter-lined container into the second yogurt container.*
Depending on the size and how they fit together, there will be a good inch or two of empty space between them.

Spoon/pour or otherwise dump all of your store-bought yogurt into the top container.
Make sure the yogurt stays inside the cheesecloth/coffee filter and isn't getting around the edges.

* Of course, if you only have one empty yogurt container, you can temporarily place all of your yogurt into a bowl, and use the previously-full container as your base. 

Step 5: Make the Yogurt: Wait... and Refrigerate!

Put the lid on the top container, and place the yogurt-maker into your fridge.

Wait for several hours -- I've found that overnight/approximately 8 hours gives me the best results.  But depending on the brand and fat content, your yogurt may take longer or shorter.  Check it every couple of hours, until it is thick and creamy.


** Bonus Tip:  If you leave the yogurt for longer -- a full day or two -- you'll have a good approximation of Greek yogurt or Labneh.  If you wait a bit more than two days, you'll have full Arabic "Yogurt Cheese."

Step 6: Finished Products

Once the yogurt is the right texture, you can use it immediately* to make raita -- or any other favorite Indian dish of your choosing.
(Depending on the recipe, you probably want to stir in a small amount of lemon juice to add a little extra sour to your yogurt.)

*If you're not ready to use it right away: you can store your yogurt in a sealed container (e.g., the bottom piece of your yogurt-maker).  It will keep in your refrigerator for the same amount of time as un-drained yogurt.

You'll also notice that there is an inch or more of drained-off liquid in the bottom container.  You could just throw it out.  However, it's also fantastic to use as the liquid in bread, rolls, pancakes, etc. for a richer, slightly sour flavor. 

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