A couple of years ago, I was dining in Istanbul at a fabulous restaurant that specialises in regional Anatolian Turkish food. My local food guide and I were discussing the many similarities between Turkish and Indian food words (peynir/panir, corba/shorba) when I was offered Ayran, a drink made by mixing yoghurt with water and salt.
It instantly took me back to the chilled chaas my Kutchi grandmother served with every meal. Only, she would stir in toasted cumin and salt.
Kutchi cuisine values chaas and yoghurt so much, mainly for their cooling properties in the harsh summers, that chaas is called 'Kutchi beer' because it was made in large quantities and used to be served in glass beer bottles at get-togethers and family gatherings.
It is not possible to pin down where yoghurt originated; it was probably discovered in different places simultaneously. But it has become an indispensible part of Indian cuisine, serving as ingredient, side dish, accompaniment, digestive and dessert.
Across the length and breadth of the country, it takes various shapes.
The royal kitchens of yore used yoghurt to temper meat for meltingly soft dahi kebabs flavoured with saffron, and as the base for burhani, a digestive dish of curd spiced with garlic and chilli prescribed by the royal hakim or doctor - and still available in some five-star kitchens today.
As an ingredient, yoghurt is used to tenderise mutton for succulent dishes such as the Kashmiri yakhni or envelope slices of fish in the delicate Bengali doi machch, to bring piquancy to the plate in the rich vegetarian avial in Kerala and to signify the end of a meal, as thayir saadam or curd rice in Tamil Nadu or the slightly sour-mostly sweet shrikhand in Gujarat and Maharashtra.
There are also dishes made from yoghurt alone - like the savoury kadhi-chaawal that takes various forms across the country, and, of course, those dahi vadas we so love.
But put tried and tested recipes aside this summer. There are still a thousand new ways to use yoghurt. Here are some of my favourites.
Kaffir lime buttermilk: There is always buttermilk in my fridge in summer, flavoured with toasted cumin powder like my Nani makes it, or Surti style, with rock salt, coriander and green chillies. But a recent discovery I am rather proud of is my kaffir lime buttermilk. I de-stem kaffir lime leaves and fry them in ghee with green chillies and garlic, then drain the extra ghee (which is now flavoured and can be used in mung dal tadka) and pound the fried flavourings to paste with sea salt. Then just stir into thin buttermilk.
Buttermilk chicken: Make traditional north Indian tempered chaas, topped with cumin, garlic and green chilli fried in hot ghee, and then use the buttermilk to slowly poach chicken. Take off flame when cooked and use the gravy as a lovely summer soup, or cook till dried out for a wonderfully soft, delicately sour chicken. Through the summer, this chicken is a regular on our menu - hot, cold, in sandwiches, wraps and salads. The recipe works well for potatoes, boneless lamb and mutton too.
Yoghurt bowl: Hang yoghurt overnight and you will get a lovely, soft ricotta cheese-like bowl of thick yoghurt. This is great to have in the fridge, to stir into soups and gravies as a thickener. Combine with finely chopped herbs of your choice (I favour parsley, spring onion or coriander), crushed peppercorns and/or fried garlic and serve as a dip, salad dressing over potatoes and chickpeas, or topping for crackers.
Tzatziki: This Greek version of our cucumber raita involves a couple of cucumbers (white part only), grated, salted, squeezed out and then stirred into a cup of hung yoghurt with a handful of fresh dill (sowa), a clove of crushed garlic, a drizzle of olive oil, lemon juice and salt to taste. Serve cold, with crackers or pita bread.
(Rushina Munshaw-Ghildiyal is an author, blogger and food consultant. Look out for Spice Route on the first Sunday of every month)