Growing up, I ate fresh dahi (Indian yogurt), nearly every single day. My mother had a nightly routine of soaking lentils for dhokla or sprouting and boiling milk to make yogurt. Because that is how important dahi is in the Gujarati household. It’s a tradition that started thousands of years ago, as yogurt was the best way to preserve milk in the days before refrigeration. I’ve only recently learned about the convenience of making dahi in the Instant Pot, and I want to share that technique here.
According to Colleen Taylor Sen, “90-100% of East Asians and 70% of South Indians are lactose intolerant, and falls to 30% for North Indians and 5-15% for Northern Europeans.” Most animals become lactose intolerant after infancy, but many human populations are different, adapted for consuming milk. This has much to do with how the cow was revered in Hindu culture.
Many Indians are lactose intolerant, but milk is still historically important to their diet. How can that be? The answer is yogurt. When milk is fermented, the cultures in the yogurt produce the missing enzymes to allow for the digestion of yogurt, even for those who are lactose intolerant. This must have made it possible for Indians to rely on dairy products for sustenance throughout history.
And dahi is deeply a part of our food and culture. Yogurt, or a mix of sugar and yogurt called “dahi sakar,” are eaten in many Gujarati (and other Hindu) households before leaving the house. It is believed to bring good luck and prosperity.
Dahi in Vegetarian Cooking
Not only is dahi eaten on its own, it is an essential ingredient in many vegetarian recipes like Kadhi, Vaghareli Rotli, curd rice, and aloo gobi matar. Dahi is also an important ingredient in fermented foods like dhokla and handvo.
Dahi for Meat
Dahi has long been my greatest “trick” for cooking amazing meat. And it is a tradition in Indian cooking that goes back thousands of years. A recipe mentioned in the Arthashatra (3rd Century BCE) specifically notes cooking meats with yogurt. I learned it first from making tandoori chicken, which is marinated in a spiced yogurt sauce. The yogurt is what makes the chicken so soft and tender. When you marinate with yogurt, not only does the acidity of the yogurt tenderizes the meat, but when you cook it, it condenses and carmelizes, forming that amazing crust.
Dahi is also used in saucier marinades, such as for long pepper chicken and beef curry.
Dahi as a Condiment
One of my go-to quick foods is paratha with a side of yogurt. As I write this, I’m recalling my lunch today. It’s a Sunday, and I had to squeeze lunch in between errands, so I took some stuffed paratha from the freezer, heated it up, and served it with plain yogurt dusted with toasted cumin and salt.
Traditional butter, called “makhan” in India, is made not from cream but from yogurt. The fermentation of the yogurt gives the butter a characteristic tang. Although there are other ways, this butter can then be used to make ghee. This post, called “Traditional Desi Ghee and Makhan,” explains how to make yogurt, makhan, and ghee the traditional way.
Dahi Based Drinks
Whole Milk – you can make yogurt from whole, low-fat, or skim milk. I only make it from whole milk, and that is how I recommend it, but if you prefer to cut the fat, it will still work. However, if you plan to make makhan from your yogurt, you want the most fat you can get.
Cream (optional) – Typically, the milk in India is actually from water buffalo. Water buffalo has a higher content of milkfat, 7-8% rather than 3-4%. For making makhan from cow’s milk yogurt, I augment the milk for the yogurt with cream.
The Instant Pot
The Instant Pot replaced my pressure cooker a long time ago, but I’ve only recently been taking advantage of its other uses, such as for steaming dhokla and making yogurt.
It isn’t difficult to make yogurt like my mom always has, but boiling the milk, cooling it, and fermenting it on the countertop. But if you look at my very old, original post where I describe this method, you will find a number of comments from people who struggled to get the yogurt to set. I’m not going to say the Instant Pot method is foolproof. But it’s close.
The principle is the same, but the Instant Pot does some things for you. The first is the gift of simplicity, requiring just one pot.
The second big advantage of the Instant Pot is how it controls temperature. By providing a steady, perfect temperature, the Instant Pot ensures efficient and reliable fermentation. It won’t matter if it is a cold day out or a hot day. Your yogurt is going to set, I promise. And if you do this before you go to bed, set it on 8-hour fermentation, and your yogurt will be ready when you wake up.
Refrigerating your Homemade Yogurt
Your homemade yogurt is like the yogurt you buy at the grocery store. It has the same active cultures that yogurt has. Like your store-bought yogurt, it can sit in your refrigerator for about two weeks.
Dahi: Indian-Style Yogurt in the Instant Pot
- 7 cups whole milk
- ¼ cup plain or Greek yogurt for starter
- 1 cup whipping cream optional
- Add milk and cream to the Instant Pot. Press the yogurt button until the Instant Pot says “boil.” Put the lid on the Instant Pot with the whistle set to “vent.” Wait for the Instant Pot to beep to tell you the milk has started to boil, about 20 minutes.
- Remove the lid and take the inner pot out of the Instant Pot, and set it on the counter. Let it cool to about 105-115°F. This will take up to an hour. You can use a thermometer to check the temperature or test with your clean fingers. If the milk is cool enough to touch, it has cooled enough. It won’t cause any issues if it cools too much.
- Add the yogurt starter to the milk. Stir or whisk it in. Return the inner pot to the Instant Pot and add the lid with the whistle set to “vent.” Press the yogurt button until it says 8 hours.