Dahi, curd or yogurt, whatever you call it, has always been a non-negotiable part of my household. In mom’s house, it would be made twice a day. And we were so pampered, we would reach out for the fresh ones, leaving mom dad to finish the old versions (even if it was just made the day before). And there would be a strict protocol to scooping it out of the round vessels, which were designated only for dahi-making. You had to start at the outer layers, and then reach the middle. Should you decide to plonk your spoon in the center, you would be met with frowns and stares to say the least.
You can perhaps imagine my relationship with dahi, when I tell I outright rejected potential grooms because they came from households who wouldn’t eat dahi. And if you know the jeevansathi.com ad where the dad runs behind potential grooms with a turban, picture the same in our case. Only this time, my parents have known to utter the line – his mom makes very good dahi, so you won’t miss it in your sasural. (Yes, it has known to happen, and I am not making it up!) You see, my parents were rather concerned about my dahi-eating habits and it became a point of contention in the choice of grooms. For we ate copious amounts of dahi, which no self-respecting Maharashtrian does. And I have shudderingly seen only a small wati of dahi being set for the entire family (of five) to last for atleast three days! What horror! Isse to mera galla bhi geela nahi hota 😉
So you can only imagine the look that came into my eyes, when I discovered the Scientist is an equally voracious dahi-eater. A mix of gratitude, pride and relief, something akin to the look Kiran Kher gives her son, when she discovers he is not gay in Dostana – you get the drift right?
I learnt how to set it very early on. How the milk had to be the right temperature, depending on whether it’s summer or winter. And how the yogurt culture needed to be mixed up, like you do with your filter kapi in an Udupi restaurant, pouring it from one tumbler to another, leaving a big frothy, foamy milk layer on the top. And yes, to leave the saay of the milk in, which would turn into amazing dahi-saay layer on the top. And no prizes of guessing who would covet that top layer! This was one willing chore that would be left to me every night, and I never had to be reminded of it.
In my forays abroad, however, I never managed to set it at home. The weather was too temperamental, and I was discovering the ease of just buying store bought yogurt over making it at home. And I was not disappointed. Nestle, Danone had it ready for me, in Hong Kong and UK. Not so in Taipei. To my utter disappointment.
There was one vendor who would sell dahi every Wednesday on the premises of this research institute. We managed to go and buy 3-4 boxes to get us through the week. But it didn’t taste the same. He was known to inject the milk with the bacteria culture, and that was how he set it. But if you were to take this culture, and make your own dahi, it would stubbornly refuse to set. Or turn bitter. And when it did, you ended with slimy, mucousy layer of whey (or whatever that liquid is). Which would make you want to throw it away, and you would. You tried fresh milk, whole milk, different brands, from California to Australia, to no avail. And life continued…
It was alright when I was a visitor to Taipei. It was definitely not ok, when I decided to move here lock, stock and barrel. So I made it my mission to make dahi at home. Or die trying. By then, a couple of local companies had started selling yogurt at the supermarkets. I bought the both the labels, and decided to experiment. Both failed, dismally. The weather, being wet and rainy, didn’t help. I reached out to mom, who asked me to keep it in a warm place. Wrapped in a kitchen towel. Didn’t work. I tried keeping it in the rice cooker. It was still liquid milk, after 24 hours. I added some water to the pot, and set to warm it. I ended up with something like a chewy paneer-y texture. So that was no go.
And then there was an Eureka moment! You see, I was trying to set it in a steel pot. Which would invariably go cold, in no time. Try the ceramic or glass containers, the Scientist suggested. Yes, I had almost figured it out, I rolled my eyes. So a fresh carton of milk and tubs of yogurt were bought in. And I tried it again. Yay! The next day, fresh nearly set dahi greeted me. So this was the trick! I had, after months of experimenting, finally nailed it. Then I tried it with different milk and dahi cultures. All set wonderfully, and I finally could have my dahi-bhat in peace. Now I warm the oven for a couple of minutes, and set this ceramic jug in. And all my dahi dilemmas are solved, for now.
The Wednesday chap? He just lost his regular customer.