(For the recipe, go directly to the bottom)
In 1981, when I was attending a master’s program in Spanish at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I developed a secret crush on the driver of the campus shuttle bus I took every day (this was at a time and place before Mahmoud!) His name was Andy, and it was definitely his soulful eyes that got to me.
But evidently he had noticed me too, because within a couple of weeks of my becoming a regular passenger, he asked me out one sunny fall day, when I was the last one to exit the bus!
Our first “date” was lunch in his bachelor apartment, a meal sweetly prepared by his own hands. But for the life of me, and to my embarrassment, I can’t remember what Andy served me that day. That is, all but a side dish that struck me as strange: a bowl of gleaming white yogurt. Plain. Stark. And unsweetened at that!
Okay, I got it. One glimpse at Andy’s build and it was clear the guy must have been working out regularly. Apparently, he was committed to a healthy diet to match. When I said, “I see you eat your yogurt plain,” as casually as I could, I was surprised and relieved when he just laughed out loud and playfully finished my secret thought for me, saying “Yeah …what’s up with that?”
As it turned out, Andy’s glaring bowl of stark white yogurt led to a fun discussion. About the fact that Andy actually preferred the taste of plain, unsweetened yogurt to the popular, ready-made, jam-laced variety in the grocery stores. That he liked the creamy, rich, whole milk version over the low-fat variety. And that if I were to give myself half a chance, I might develop a taste for it, too.
Little did I know that twelve years later I would be living in a whole other region of the world, joining my husband and his Iranian family in a feast of amazing dishes, among which included—now get this—little bowls of gleaming fresh white yogurt, waiting for someone to scoop up a dollop of it with a wedge of Persian-style flatbread! Go figure.
And little did I know that thirty years after that, I would be sharing with you, my readers, one of my favorite recipes for a hot summer day! A Persian recipe that can serve as a main dish, a side dish, a cool and refreshing soup, and yes, even as a dessert! A dish whose main ingredient consists of—yes, you guessed it—creamy, white, rich, refreshing yogurt! And with all kinds of delicious, natural ingredients in it. Like diced cucumbers. And fresh mint. And dill. And green onion. And walnuts. And golden raisins. But not jam. Or added sugar. What do the Iranians call it? Mast-o khiar (mahst-o-khee-yar)—literally meaning “yogurt and cucumber.” My review? It’s light, it’s refreshing, it’s healthy and flavorful, with just enough “sweet” and just enough “savory.”
Are you intrigued at all, or at least curious? I hope so, because then maybe you’ll check out the recipe for yourself (below). As my friend Andy told me, if you give yourself half a chance, you might find you enjoy it—especially on days it’s too hot to cook! If you do try it out and you like what you taste, please let me know in the comments section!
Happy eating—and enjoy the summer! The mast-o khiar recipe follows below:
Yogurt and Cucumber: Mast-o Khiar*
1 long burpless cucumber
½ cup golden raisins
3 cups plain yogurt (whole milk recommended)
½ cup sour cream
¼ cup chopped scallions
1 tablespoon chopped mint
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill weed
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 tablespoons chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
½ teaspoon chopped fresh or dried mint for garnish
1 dried rosebud and a few petals (optional)
Variation: This may be transformed into a refreshing cold soup by adding one cup of cold water and two or three ice cubes to the mixture.
*Please note: This recipe is shared by permission of Ms. Najmieh Batmangli, master chef and author of Food of Life: A Book of Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies (1986). Washington D.C.: Mage Publishers, Inc.
[Finally, confidentially to Andy: Wherever you are, thank you for introducing me to plain yogurt: You were right on target! I wish I could send you this recipe to thank you with!]
Dr. Leslie Ahmadi discovered her intercultural calling in her parents’ home at age four--where between the jazz, the spirituals, and the rock ‘n roll music, she heard folk songs in languages from around the world. Thirty years later she had a doctorate in foreign language and culture education--and her folk song guitar never far away.