Some people are prickly lots and a trial to deal with. In Farsi we have a saying for challenging beings like that: “bah yek man asal ham nemish’eh khord’esh” which translates to: “you can’t eat ’em with even a bushel of honey.” That’s unpalatable personality for you. In pleasant contrast, some people are unassuming rays of sunshine who effortlessly brighten up anything and everything by the virtue of their mere presence.
Now if this type of person (the delightful one) was a Persian food, it’d be mast’o khiar: a cool, simple and healthy side dish that is particularly perfect during the dog days of summer and remains a welcome addition to the dinner table year-round as well even in the dead of winter; a dish that goes well with meat, rice, bread, and almost all Persian food (except let’s say fesenjoon!) and enhances whatever you serve it with. I personally am a devotee of the Iranian custom of enjoying a side of yogurt with most dishes and this classic cucumber & mint yogurt concoction, fragrant and crunchy and still creamy, takes it to the next level. So simple, so good. You won’t need honey to force this honey down your throat.
There are minor variations on making mast’o khiar but for our bare-bones basic version you just need: yogurt, dried mint, good firm cucumbers, and mad dicing skills. That’s it. (Some people also like add a couple of cloves of minced garlic into the mix. We heart garlic but … no, not with mast’o khiar.) This foundational formula can be easily amped-up by adding fresh mint sprigs, roasted walnuts and raisins; and traditionally, particularly if it is to be served at a dinner party, one sprinkles mast’o khiar with a Jackson Pollock flourish of dried rose petals (pretty!) for enhanced sensory charm.
So simple. So good.
- 2 cups yogurt (Greek yogurt is best, alternatively strain ordinary yogurt over cheesecloth for an hour to thicken texture; also whole yogurt is preferable and strongly recommended for best results)
- 2 Persian cucumbers, or 1/2 of a large English cucumber, diced 1/2″ (take seeds out)
- 1 1/2 tea spoon dried mint ( 1 tea spoon for the mix and the 1/2 for the garnish)
- Optional items to take it to the next level – highly recommended: 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped walnuts, 1 tablespoon seedless raisins, 2-3 sprigs of fresh mint (chopped) and 1/2 tablespoon dried rose petals
- salt & pepper to taste
- Peel and dice cucumbers – 1/2″ sized cubes are ideal. (Tip: give an ice-water bath to your cucumbers to revive them if they are a bit on the melancholy side.)
- Pour yogurt in to a serving bowl and stir in: 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon dried mint, and the chopped fresh mint if you’re using that. Mix well.
- When ready to serve, mix yogurt with diced cucumbers. If using walnuts and raisins (and you really should) now is the time to mix them in as well. Taste and adjust salt and pepper to taste.
- Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp of dried mint as a decorative garnish. Finish with a flourish of dried rose petals (coarsely ground rubbing between your palms) sprinkled artfully for a touch of amplified sensory delight. Serve!
Note: This dish is best served immediately as it does not keep well. The culprit is cucumber because it gets watery pretty quickly – thus diluting the yogurt mixture and spoiling its its texture and pizazz. However, there’s a way around this for those willing to go the extra mile: after dicing cucumbers sprinkle with a restrained touch of salt and put in colander and drain for half an hour. Taking this step should allow you to keep it for at least a day or two.
Customarily, mast’o khiar is served as an appetizer or side dish; but it also can do double-duty as a marvelous and healthy dip, makes for a darn good snack, and can be a refreshing and light stand-alone repast (specially if you mix it in with the walnuts and raisins ) with some bread.
Make it and enjoy it and noosheh jaan!