Dahi or ‘curd’ as we call it in India and ‘yogurt’ as it is known the world over, is the ultimate cool food! This soothing, creamy white food adds body, flavour and tang to a dish. Eaten on its own, flavoured with sugar, salt or spices, whisked into a thirst-quenching drink, added to a spicy curry or crisp raw vegetables in a raita, dahi is a must at any Indian meal and has been so for thousands of years. There are references to dahi in early Vedic texts describing it as an accompaniment to rice and barley dishes. The abundance of spices in South India led to dahi being flavoured with black pepper, cinnamon and ginger; and even today, Thaeer Saadam and Kozhambus - curd based curries - are popular dishes in the South. In the Moghul culinary traditions, dahi was used to marinate and tenderise meat and form the base of aromatic yakhnis. And our kadhis are legendary - every region in India has its own version of the dahibesan combination - Gujarat, Rajasthan and Punjab being the most popular. The health benefits of dahi are well known: it is easier to digest than milk; it has a soothing and healing effect on the gastro-intestinal tract, especially the colon (it is believed to reduce the risk of colon cancer); it is a rich source of calcium and protein and increases the absorption of calcium and B vitamins; it also boosts one’s immunity and is believed to lower cholesterol. All in all, dahi is a healthy food for people of allages. In this book, I have assembled from all the four corners of India, a number of recipes using dahi as a major ingredient. There are mouth-watering shorbas, raitas, kadhis, pulaos and biryanis, to be washed down with cool chaas, lassi or piyush. And to end the meal on a sweet note there is creamy Mango Bhapa Doi and Shrikhand. Food for the gods! Dahi is customarily made in homes where it has an important role in traditional cuisine. It can be made by adding a small amount of previously made or store-bought dahi to warm milk. This mixture is kept at a warm temperature for a couple of hours (depending on the climatic conditions), during which, the fermentation causes it to become dahi. For some recipes, the water content of the dahi is removed before it is used. To remove the water content, the dahi is tied up in a piece of muslin (malmal) and placed over a bowl for at least fifteen minutes to allow the excess water to drain out.
Here is a recipe for setting the perfect dahi:
1. Bring one litre (about five cups) of full cream milk to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer till it reduces to around four cups. Remove the milk from the heat and cool till it reaches a temperature of 45oC.
2. Stir in one tablespoon of good quality yogurt (dahi) with a spoon or whisk.
3. Transfer the mixture to an earthenware bowl and leave to set in a warm place (at 43oC) for four hours in summer, and longer in winter.
4. In winter or at high altitudes, wrap the bowl in a blanket or any other heavy fabric.
5. Refrigerate when set.
6.Before using, remember to set aside a small quantity to use as a starter to make fresh yogurt.