If we were playing that silly “what if you were stranded on a deserted island, what is the one food item you would take with you” game – my answer without hesitation would be yogurt.
Plain, un-adulterated – nothing added – yogurt.
If I were a poet I would compose volumes of love sonnets declaring my eternal love and devotion to yogurt. I would weave my words together with golden thread – describing it’s creamy, silky, smooth and nutritious goodness.
Yogurt is a staple in Persian homes – and in our home growing up the container of yogurt was always present at the table. As it still is – a constant companion to pretty much any meal – rice, stews, soups, salads…
As a child, if I showed little interest in a particular dish, some yogurt would be added to side of my plate. And miraculously, by adding a little yogurt to each bite the food was somehow transformed and made more enjoyable. And since I had no taste for milk, yogurt provided most of my calcium. Cereal was not part of our breakfast routine, but for a time there was the Corn Flakes craze. My five year old self could not think of anything less appetizing. Cold milk poured over dry flakes – which then turned to mush – first thing in the morning. But it had to be good; after all, that’s what everyone ate in America. Was there something I was missing? My solution: skip the milk and cover every single rooster-crowing flake with yogurt. Still not great, but at least palatable.
I suppose it was only inevitable that I would start making my own yogurt. I am just surprised it took me so long to do so. Strained (what’s referred to as Greek yogurt) or not – a lot of yogurt is consumed in our house on a daily basis. The girls have also inherited my love for yogurt. It’s one of those foods referred to only in Farsi – mast (sounds like cost). A typical after school snack: mast and honey. And if it’s not the container of plain yogurt making itself right at home at the dinner table, then it’s mast o khiar.
Mast o khiar literally means yogurt and cucumber. Typically it is considered a dip or a side dish. In our house it is consumed by the bowlful. Drew routinely commits the cardinal sin of smothering his rice and stew dishes with it (but since over the years he has so lovingly and enthusiastically embraced so many of our idiosyncrasies, he gets a pass for this), Soleil and Luna like it on the side of their dish. A little bit of rice, a little bit of stew and a little bit of mast o khiar – creating the perfect bite. Or it can be found right next to the hummus, and other similar dips, perfect for crudites, a cracker, warm bread or my favorite (and weakness) – a chip. You will never find any left over either. Just like it used to be in my childhood home – my brother Ramin and I keeping a close eye on the mast o khiar bowl, waiting to pounce, to see who would be the lucky person to get to eat the last remaining spoonfuls right out of the serving bowl. And when no one was looking lick clean the inside of the bowl. Nothing more comforting.
Mast o khiar comes in many different variations. But its simplest preparation – and what you will find on most nights at our table: good quality organic plain yogurt, cucumber, and a pinch of salt. From there, I build on this canvas depending on what’s in my fridge, spice cupboard, or just delivered in my farm box (like fresh dill or fresh mint!). You can chop up your cucumber, or grate it. If you grate your cucumber don’t get rid of the excess cucumber juice. All the flavor is in that juice. I am rather reluctant to give actual measurements of ingredients here. This really is one of those dishes you can make to suit your taste. Work with what you have. Even if you don’t have a cucumber – the real hero here is the mast.
Yogurt – my late night confidant, my consigliere, always there to share in my triumphs and heartbreaks, in the mundane and the extraordinary, over three continents, consistent and unconditional.
MAST O KHIAR
2 cups yogurt , strained (Greek) or regular, or a combination of
1 1/4 cups cucumber, chopped or grated, approximately 1/2 english cucumber or 3-4 Persian cucumbers *
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon dried or fresh mint or fresh or dried dill and more for garnish
small pinch of black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground dried rose petals and more for garnish (optional)
1- Mix all ingredients in a bowl.
2- Garnish top with ground dried rose petals, mint and/or dill. Adjust all ingredients to taste and serve.
*I usually peel the cucumber except when using Persian cucumber. In which case it is best to use organic.
Will keep in the fridge for up to 2 days.