One of our favorite side dishes when I cook Persian food, especially hamburger or as it's called Koobideh, is to serve Maast-o Khiar or Persian Yogurt and Cucumbers. It's a simple and healthy dish that does not take a ton of preparation. As a child it was always one of my favorite things to eat and now as a mother it's something that's expected on those special nights when I cook Persian food.
My father came from
Iran to study in the United
States at the now Texas
A&M at Commerce, or what it was then called ETSU, .
Both he and my mother received their bachelors and masters from there
back in the 1960's and 1970's. As the story goes he met my mother,
married her, and together they had my two brothers and I. People always
wonder why I have such an olive skin. East Texas State University
When I was in the 3rd grade we moved from Texas so that we could meet our family and live in Tehran, Iran. At that time there were hundreds of thousands of Americans there working for oil companies and such. I attended Tehran American School and a Canadian/American School while at the Caspian Sea and enjoyed our time there so much! Little did we know during our years there that a revolution would make us move home earlier than expected.
We lived there in Iran for a total of 2 and 1/2 years, from the fall of 1976 to two weeks before all Americans were evacuated in late January of 1979. Thankfully, being the age I was, proved critical in the many wonderful memories I still have of our time there. In all these years since then have I ever witnessed more beautiful gardens than there, eaten food more fragrant or rustic, or grown from any experience as I did from those life changing moments in my life. My parents allowed us to witness the country first hand in our many excursions while we lived not only in Tehran, but by the Caspian Sea. My mother was one of few women who drove there and she was fearless driving the long drives from the Caspian Sea to Tehran. The bazaars and it's smells, the mountains in the distance topped with snow still have a place in my heart. I'll forever be thankful for our time there.
As my girls, nieces and nephews grow older our favorite bedtime stories are of mine and my brother's adventures there. They learn of our Christmas parade at school when Santa came in on a camel, to when we sat in the top of a cherry tree eating and spitting out seeds much to the dismay of my aunts and their gardener! I tell them of our trips to the bazaars where you went from one shop to the next to purchase each food item, and how special it was to get care packages from my grandparents and uncles from the states! With these stories, I want them to have a piece of our past that they can link to a country and kinship that I remember as beautiful inside and out.
Now as a mother who is proud of her heritage from both countries, I've tried to instill a 'taste' of it in our families lives. Someday it will be my pleasure to teach my girls how to cook our favorite meals. Even at my age I'm still learning from my mother who is a fantastic Persian cook and from my growing number of Persian cookbooks. My totally American husband loves the food as much as we do and to our surprise will eat the most authentic of Persian foods. Some of my favorite food shopping trips are to middle eastern groceries when in Houston or Dallas to find our beloved Persian garlic pickles for Scott and Ilissa, or long grain Basmati rice. They will never compare to the bazaars I remember, but they at least allow me to enjoy the taste and partial smells once again. On each visit from my dad we are treated to our favorite Persian pistachios and fresh bread that we now use to make our homemade pizzas.
Persian Yogurt and Cucumber or properly said Maast-o Khiar is a traditional dish that you will find across the middle east and southern Europe like Greece in many different forms. I like ours best and am very partial to it. It's fantastic alone or served on top of white rice or served on top of chicken, steak, or hamburger kabobs. If you serve it outside in the heat, make sure you place an ice bowl beneath it to keep it cool. You can also place several ice cubes in the yogurt to substitute for the water, as it will allow it to melt and cool the yogurt at the same time. And just a note to ponder...think about all that pro-biotic yogurt in stores now. For years middle easterners have known how to rid themselves of stomach bugs and the like by eating, yes, you guessed it yogurt! When I was sick as a child or my kids are sick now, it's plain yogurt that we eat.
I hope you'll try this dish below. As we all try to watch our figures and want something light and refreshing, this recipe is a perfect one to try. The mint gives it a truly fresh taste that I think you'll really enjoy.
Persian Yogurt and Cucumbers - Maast-o Khiar
1 tub of Dannon Plain Yogurt - not flavored or vanilla
1 - 2 cucumbers, skin off and cut into small cubes with seeds in
1 - 2 teaspoons of dried mint, ground even finer in the palm of your hand
1/2 to 1 cup cold water, less is more and makes it thicker
salt and pepper to taste
In a medium sized bowl place Dannon Plain Yogurt, add water to desired thickness. Add cucumbers that have been skinned and cubed. If you prefer you can take the seeds out of your cucumbers. Grind the dried mint in the palm of your hand by taking your other hand and pushing into it. Add the dried mint to your taste one teaspoon at a time. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve cold along side or on top of white rice, chicken, hamburger or steak kabobs. Instead of the water you can add ice and allow it to melt to make the yogurt not quite as thick. And enjoy! This recipe is great the next day as well. Always refrigerate!