Homemade yogurt and poached quince

Nov 19, 2015

     In Greece there are three different types of yogurt, depending on the milk (goat, sheep or cow) used to make it. 
     Yogurt made from cows’ milk is the most popular because of its mildness; it has a less sour taste compared with yogurt made from the milk of goats or sheep.
     In Greece we call yogurt ‘’strained ‘’ if it has undergone a straining process after it has been created. As a result it has far less whey than plain yogurt. Its dense silky texture makes it ideal for cooking too. 
     If you are lucky enough to have access to fresh milk from local farms, you should definitely try at some point to make yogurt at home and experience its wonderful taste. If you have kids, they will be fascinated by the process that magically turns milk into yogurt.
     We make yogurt at home when we have extra milk that is close to its expiry date; this way we give it at least an extra week of shelf life. To be honest, we don’t always strain it to turn it into the so-called ‘’Greek yogurt’’ but you should try straining it at least once and see what works best for you.
     The process is very easy. You only need two tablespoons of plain yogurt per liter of milk. A cooking thermometer too would be ideal to be sure about the right temperatures. Many home cooks claim that within 3-4 hours yogurt has set and it is ready to eat, but I always let it ferment overnight and by the next morning it is ready for breakfast.
     I like to eat yogurt with honey, fresh or poached seasonal fruits, and in many desserts and savory dishes that you can find on my ‘’recipes page’’ on the main menu. Here I also offer the recipe for poached quinces that are in season as I write this.

Homemade yogurt

1litre milk
2Tbsps plain yogurt (not one containing gelatin)

In a pot over medium heat, heat up the milk and, as soon as it reaches 80 C, remove it from the heat.  Then let the temperature of the milk drop to 45 C.
In a small bowl mix the 2 tablespoons of yogurt with a few tablespoons of the warm milk in order to warm and dilute the cold yogurt. Then pour the yogurt mixture into the pot with the warm milk and mix to incorporate. Cover with cling film and place the pot in an isothermal bag like the one you keep your beers cold in at a picnic. If you don’t have an isothermal bag, wrap the pot in a blanket. Let it stand undisturbed overnight. On the following morning the yogurt is ready to eat or to put in the refrigerator.  
If you want to make Greek strained yogurt, place the yogurt in a very fine sieve or a sieve lined with a cheese cloth and place it over a bowl to collect the liquids. If the weather is hot put the bowl with the sieve in the fridge. Let the yogurt strain until it reaches the desired thickness. This might take several hours. Discard the liquid collected in the bowl.
Keep in mind that straining will reduce the amount of yogurt by more than 30%. 

Poached quince

600gr peeled and seeded quince wedges
300gr granulated sugar
500gr (0,5litre) water
1tsp liquid vanilla 

In a cooking pot over medium heat add water and sugar and bring to a boil. Add quince wedges and vanilla and cook for 15min. Let cool and serve with yogurt. You can keep quince refrigerated for a week. 

Hilopites: making fresh or dry pasta for winter soups and stews

Oct 17, 2015

     I can’t recall any summer of my life that we didn’t make dry pasta at home for the winter. What has changed through the years is my role in this family tradition. When I was little and we spent the whole summer at our cottage, my mother, together with the other housewives in our neighborhood, would organize a ‘’hilopites week’’. During this week they would gather at a different house each day and help each other with the hard work of making enough of this pasta for the rest of the year. More hands can make the process easier, faster and actually fun, with lots of laughter, cakes, coffee breaks and gossip. I and the other kids were given a piece of dough to use as a ‘’play dough’’ so as not bother the mums who were working with their rolling pins and knives. 
     Nowadays we make even more pasta for the tavern, and not just in summer but during winter as well. Rolling pins have been replaced with pasta machines and my adult role calls for fast hands on the bench. 
     Summer’s hot weather is. of course, ideal to dry the pasta in only  two days, but you can make pasta indoors all year long as long as your house is not humid and there is proper heating and fresh air. It just takes a few more days for the pasta to dry indoors. 
Hilopites  are the most common type of traditional pasta in Greece. Though the shape can vary a little from short ‘’linguine’’ to small squares, there is no right or wrong. Here in Peloponnese we make the small squares, shapes that can be easily used in soups, stews and savory pies. The type of flour used is ‘’bread wheat flour’’ but it can be substituted with all purpose flour and, if you like, some fine semolina too can be added to the mix. The other three ingredients are eggs, pasteurized milk, and a little salt for taste and the preservation of the dry pasta.
 Of course you can use this recipe to make fresh pasta too. The nice thing with homemade pasta is that after only three minutes of cooking and some grated cheese added, you have a lovely meal.