Let’s Eat — A Writer’s Guide to Cooking

Luckily, the healthiest things to eat are often the easiest things to make. Yogurt is one such food.

First, a few words about the word yogurt itself. In our house, we don’t say yogurt. We say madzoon. Madzoon (the “a” is pronounced “ah”) is the Armenian word for yogurt. Yogurt is a Turkish word. I grew up eating madzoon. Therefore, it is quite unnatural for me to say yogurt. So from this point on, I will use the word madzoon, not yogurt.

Making madzoon is easy. My first advice is this: forget what you’ve heard or read about needing the so-called proper equipment. You don’t need a double-boiler, you don’t need a thermometer, you don’t need fancy lids or containers of any kind. All you need is some starter, some milk and a pan to heat it in, a spoon, a dish towel, a heavy bowl for the madzoon, and a dish to cover it with.

Don’t let the word “starter” scare you, either. Starter is nothing but madzoon itself. And you don’t need much, just a few tablespoons. The best source of starter is the Armenian family next door. If no one in your neighborhood makes their own madzoon, however, don’t despair. Simply go the grocery store or a health food store and buy a small container of — darn it! I knew this was going to happen — yogurt. Be sure of two things: 1) that it contains “live, active culture,” and 2) that it is plain.

The recipe that follows is for plain madzoon. I use whole milk, but lowfat (2%) also works. It’s not quite as tasty, but it comes out fine. It should also be noted that the longer madzoon sits in your refrigerator, the more sour it becomes. This is natural. Some people like sour madzoon, others don’t. If you don’t, you either need to make less at a time or eat it faster. Also, the more often you make it, the milder it becomes.

I make madzoon half a gallon at a time. I use the same three-quart stainless steel pan I use to make Wild Bill’s Spaghetti Sauce. Pour in the milk and heat on medium-high. You don’t want the milk to boil too quickly. A slow buildup is better. After fifteen minutes or so, you will notice a fine layer of bubbles on top of the milk. In the early stages of boiling, the layer thickens to a foam and begins to rise. Pretty soon, it creeps closer and closer to the top of the pan. This creeping period lasts about four or five minutes, depending on your heat setting.

When the milk threatens to boil over, lift the pan off the burner and, if you’re using an electric oven, turn off the heat. When the milk goes down, lower the pan to the heat again; when it threatens again, raise it. Do this a few times to keep it lightly boiling. Then, when the burner cools down a little, put the pan down again and let it boil a little longer with whatever heat remains. If you are using a gas oven, don’t turn off the heat completely, but turn it to low for a short time instead so the milk will boil roughly in the same manner as above. (Boiling the milk helps disperse some of its water content, but the timing is not crucial. Boiling also changes the milk, so that when the starter is added later, it will react properly.)

Okay, that’s all for now. The milk needs to cool. Leave it where it is, on the burner. Two or three hours later, or whenever you get around to it, it’s time for the second and final phase. First, take the pan to the sink and remove the layer of “skin” that formed during boiling. (If a piece or two breaks off and gets lost in the milk, don’t worry about it, you’ll never find it later.) Next, put the pan on the burner and heat once again on medium-high. The milk needs to be a certain temperature when it is added to the starter. I’ll explain how to check this momentarily. While the milk is reheating, put some starter in the bowl and stir it so it’s nice and smooth. Have a dish towel handy, and a dish that will rest comfortably on top of the bowl and serve as a lid. A perfect seal is not necessary.

Now that your madzoon bowl is ready, check the temperature of the milk by placing your clean little finger directly in the liquid. If the milk is still cool, wait a minute. If it’s warm, then you’re getting close. When you can count to ten with your finger in the milk, and when the heat bites your finger on eight, nine, and ten and makes you want to pull it out, that’s the right temperature. If the milk is much hotter than that, the madzoon will come out thin and lumpy. If it’s very much cooler, it might not turn into madzoon at all. And that’s all there is to it. (If the milk bites on three, four, and five, you should turn off the heat and wait a minute for it to cool slightly.)

Next, pour the milk slowly into the bowl, at the same time stirring gently. The starter will blend right in. When you finish pouring, stir just a little more. Then put the dish on and wrap the bowl with the dish towel to help maintain the temperature for awhile. Note: I usually make madzoon in the evening and leave it on the counter all night. Whenever you make it, keep it in a protected place, not by a drafty open window. In the morning (about ten hours later), I remove the towel and drain off the water that has condensed on the underside of the dish.

The madzoon is done. It is firm and thick, and smooth on top. Refrigerate. Prior to the first serving, let the madzoon chill completely.

1. The pan will be much easier to wash if you let it soak for awhile.
2. Once you’ve used part of a bowl of madzoon, the next day you will notice a little water in the area where the madzoon was scooped out. This is normal. Just take it out with a spoon.
3. You should never have to buy starter again. We have been using the same madzoon for years and years. In fact, the madzoon we are eating today is directly descended from the starter my grandmother gave my mother when she and my father were first married, back in 1943.
4. There are several tasty dishes that can be made with madzoon. One of these days, if I live long enough, I will explain how they are made.

Also by William Michaelian

Winter Poems

ISBN: 978-0-9796599-0-4
52 pages. Paper.
Another Song I Know
ISBN: 978-0-9796599-1-1
80 pages. Paper.
Cosmopsis Books
San Francisco

Signed copies available

Main Page
Author’s Note
A Listening Thing
Among the Living
No Time to Cut My Hair
One Hand Clapping
Songs and Letters
Collected Poems
Early Short Stories
Armenian Translations
Cosmopsis Print Editions
News and Reviews
Highly Recommended
Favorite Books & Authors
Useless Information
Flippantly Answered Questions
E-mail & Parting Thoughts

Top of Page
Current Entry
Old Eats