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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.
Samin Nosrat conquered my heart. I first read her Salt, Acid, Fat, Heat (never mind the order) shortly after it was published, in 2017. While it did not quite manage to convince me that only those four elements are the key 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.
Then I watched the Netflix adapted Salt, Fat etc. and I was smitten by Samin’s easy manner, unselfconscious and totally unpretentious personality, and her (or her Ligurian mate’s) focaccia. Samin rules. I love in particular the fact that in spite of her Persian roots, she doesn’t flaunt her ethnicity which so many ethnic chefs do in excess. She was born in the US and she is into COOKING, all of it. Persian cuisine doesn’t have to be her speciality. My Italian mother-in-law cooked lousy pasta. I don’t do pierogi.
But of course Samin does Iranian too, and how. Baked rice with tahdig, herby sabzi salad, rice and broad beans. And this dip: mast o khiar, which 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.
Don’t bother with rose petals if you think ‘What?’ about them. The herbs in the mix can be all or some of the ones listed; dried mint may be hard to come by – but labneh is a must. Sometimes called yoghurt cheese, it’s full fat yoghurt strained until almost dry. The ideal apparatus for it is a jelly straining set, with the scaffolding to suspend the muslin bag from so that it drips freely. But if you line a sieve with muslin or cheesecloth and set it over a bowl, in the fridge overnight, you’ll come close.
mast-o-khiarServings: makes 1 bowlTime: 15 minutes plus making labneh overnight
- 500g (3 cups) natural full fat yoghurt or Greek yoghurt
- 20g (¼ cup) golden raisins or sultanas
- 3 tbsp. walnut pieces
- 2 medium cucumbers
- 2 tbsp. fresh herb mix (parsley, coriander, mint, tarragon, dill), finely chopped
- ½ tsp dried mint
- 1 garlic clove, pressed or crushed in mortar and pestle with a pinch of salt
- salt and black pepper
- 1 tsp dried rose petals (optional)
1. To make labneh, line a deep bowl or pot with a muslin cloth. Pour in the yoghurt, pick the corners of the cloth and suspend it over the container so it drips freely; if you have a jelly kit, use that; if not you can weave and tie the ends of the cloth through a cake rack and set it on top of the pan. Place the whole thing in the fridge for 24 hours.
2. After that time you can squeeze the muslin lightly to get rid of more whey (which is the liquid that is strained from yoghurt; excellent for making bread) and turn it out into a large bowl.
3. Rinse the raisins or sultanas with boiling water to plump them up. Toast the walnut pieces and chop roughly.
4. Dice the cucumbers finely and add to the labneh with the sultanas, half the walnut pieces, herbs and garlic. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
5. Crush some rose petals, if using and stir into the labneh. Serve sprinkled with the rest of the chopped walnuts and the rose petals.