On the verge of a move to Casablanca, Morocco, for the next four years, I spent a month there this summer to dip my toes figuratively — and literally, into the Atlantic — into my new life. I became almost accustomed to the ongoing calls to prayer and cooked with gorgeous produce acquired from my neighborhood souk. I drank all sorts of delicious and cheap fresh-squeezed juices at the cafe up the street and watched cars and donkey-pulled carts pass by in equal measure. I ate too many French-inspired pastries, and I made my own yogurt.
Now, that last endeavor may be a surprise. It makes sense I’d tuck into multiple plates of couscous and avail myself of locally grown tomatoes. But make my own yogurt, especially when I could buy it quite easily at the Marjane supermarket?
My years in San Francisco — for better or worse — have made me into a bit of a purist. When it comes to dairy, I like my milk organic and my yogurt unsweetened. I was surprised in my initial Moroccan grocery forays to discover that most of the yogurt was flavored and a bit overladen with sweeteners for my taste. I am rather boring in my yogurt preferences: plain, please, with no sugar added, and preferably low-fat. While I did manage to find a “natural” brand of unsweetened yogurt at the store that was pretty good, I still yearned for my old familiar brands.
I do know that living a month in a new place is hardly enough time to find a good lunch spot, let alone explore all of the shopping options. I have no doubt I’ll find the yogurt of my dreams once I’m living in Morocco full time. In the meantime, though, I decided to make it myself.
I experimented with making homemade yogurt years ago, as much for the scientific fun of it as for the finished product. But I’d nearly forgotten about those efforts since yogurt is easily accessible in the states and comes in as many flavors and varieties as you could wish for.
And yet, when embarking upon a new life, why not explore new(ish) culinary techniques as well? Even if you’re not moving anywhere out of the ordinary, the feeling of satisfaction from making something yourself is worth the effort. Besides, it’s not as if making yogurt from scratch is difficult — it’s actually incredibly easy, almost laughably so. For control freaks like me, the ability to know exactly what’s going into it is another bonus.
Basically, you take a small amount of store-bought yogurt, whatever kind of milk that you like (dairy, soy, etc.) and mix it together. Then you let it ferment overnight and like magic: homemade yogurt.
As you make more batches of your own yogurt, you can use your previous batch as the starter, meaning that the original store-bought base eventually is whittled down into oblivion. Stir in a bit of fruit, honey or maple syrup if you like a touch of sweetness or leave it completely untouched. What I love about this method is that I get to decide exactly what goes into it: nonfat milk or whole, a drizzle of honey or not, a handful of chopped strawberries or not. (You could also puree fruit and yogurt in a food processor or with a stick blender for a smoother fruity version.) The options are endless.
In North Africa, I started straining my yogurt to make a sort of Greek yogurt: thick, creamy and perfect for serving with slices of the luscious nectarines and a drizzle of the eucalyptus honey that had quickly become my new favorite thing during my weeks in Casa. I also made an ersatz tzatziki with quickly smashed garlic and finely chopped cucumber. I’ll make the real thing when I have access to my food processor again, but we certainly enjoyed it on a hot night when all we wanted to eat were cold dips and raw vegetables.
Though I spent only a month in Morocco (I’ll be back at the end of the year for the duration), it was immediately clear that I have a lot of change ahead of me. I will have new languages to learn, new streets to traverse, new running trails to find, new vegetables to discover, a whole country and continent to explore. So much will be new that my head is already spinning with it all.
And I now feel confident I will have yogurt.