Mast-o-khiar, meaning ‘yoghurt and cucumber’ in Farsi, is precisely that: a Persian yoghurt and cucumber dip. Similarity with the Greek tzatziki is obvious but mast-o-khiar is seven times more delicious.
What is labneh?
Mast-o-khiar is commonly called a yoghurt dip, but it is made from a yoghurt product called labneh.
Labneh or labaneh is sometimes named ‘yoghurt cheese’ as it’s made from strained yoghurt, resulting in a thick, creamy consistency. It originates from the Levant region of the Middle East, where it has been a commonly used ingredient for centuries.
Traditionally, labneh is made by draining the whey from yoghurt, allowing the remaining curds to develop a more concentrated flavour and a consistency similar to cream cheese. The longer the yoghurt is strained, the thicker labneh becomes.
What is labneh used for?
Its creamy texture and tangy flavour make it an incredibly versatile ingredient in the culinary world.
Spreads and dips: labneh can be enjoyed as a spread on bread or toast, often topped with herbs, spices or olive oil. It will take on decisive flavours happily, to make a dip with roasted garlic or a spread with za'atar.
Salad dressings: it can also be thinned with some water, lemon juice or olive oil to create a creamy dressing for salads. Its tanginess adds depth of flavour to both leafy greens and roasted vegetables.
Desserts: labneh can be sweetened with honey or sugar and used as a topping for desserts, pretty much the same as cream cheese. It pairs well with fresh fruit, nuts and even dolloped onto warm pastries.
Marinades and sauces: due to its thick consistency, labneh makes an excellent marinade or sauce base. It adds a creamy element to grilled meats, roasted vegetables or even pasta sauces.
How to make labneh?
The process of making labneh is straightforward and can be accomplished with minimal equipment.
The ideal apparatus for it is a jelly straining set, with the scaffolding to suspend the muslin bag from, so that it drips freely. You can also make a DIY scaffolding by weaving the cloth ends through a wire rack and propping it over the bowl.
But if you just use a sieve, a bowl and muslin or cheesecloth and see the instruction below, you’ll get there too.
Start with good-quality yoghurt.
Use plain, full-fat yoghurt for best results, Greek yoghurt being a good start option as it’s thick already.
Strain the yoghurt.
Line a sieve or colander with cheesecloth or a clean kitchen towel. Place the sieve over a bowl to collect the whey. Pour the yoghurt into the lined sieve and chill in the fridge for 12 to 48 hours, depending on the desired consistency. The longer you strain the yoghurt, the thicker the labneh will be.
Shape and store.
Once the desired consistency is achieved, transfer the labneh to an airtight container. It can be eaten immediately or kept in the fridge for up to two weeks.
The recipe is taken from New York Times Cooking and its author is Samin Nosrat, of course!
Samin Nosrat has been my favourite cookery writer ever since I read her Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat shortly after it was published, in 2017.
While it did not quite manage to convince me that only those four elements are the keys to mastery in cooking, I was completely taken with Samin’s style and ideas. She inspired my first braised roasts, the most versatile cake base and numerous salad dressings.
And of course, when it comes to Persian cuisine, Samin is probably unrivalled: baked rice with tahdig, herby sabzi salad, rice and broad beans to mention just a few excellent recipes.
This dip, mast-o-khiar, is so good I want to put it on everything I eat, desserts included. It is sometimes compared to tzatziki but in my view the latter is not a patch: it is to mast-o-khiar what ordinary mayo is to exquisite, silky hollandaise.
Once you’ve made your gorgeous labneh, and made lots of it to store in the fridge because you’ll want to use it all the time, assemble the rest of the ingredients.
Apart from cucumbers, which should be the mini or baby type because they are the least seedy or watery, there is sweetness from raisins or sultanas, the crunch from toasted walnut pieces, lots of fresh herbs and a crushed garlic clove. Plus salt and black pepper to taste.
If you do have some dried rose petals, they will additionally make it look pretty but won’t add anything much to the taste.
All mixed, you just need fingers of warmed pita bread for the most wonderful lunch, snack or a starter dish.
More dip recipes
Whipped feta and hazelnut dip is heavenly spooned on cherry tomato halves. Snacking does not get much healthier than this!
Muhammara is a roasted red pepper and walnut dip, flavoured with pomegranate molasses and Aleppo pepper flakes. This should be a firm fixture in your next meze!
Smoky tomato butter with incredible flavour is a creamy spread, sauce, condiment, everything. The most gorgeous way to use a glut of summer cherry tomatoes.