When something is on my mind, it usually ends up in my cooking. For instance, the minute I returned from a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia, I tossed lemongrass and nuoc mam into just about everything I cooked. After reading an article about the bustling night market of Audrix, France, where townspeople enjoy weekly dinners en plein air, there were breakfast tartines on the table every morning and walnut oil in all my salads.
Lately, Iran has been on my mind. My heart goes out to all the Iranian people who had their hopes for freedom dashed in the recent election. In solidarity, I invited some of my Persian friends over this week to show me how to make some of their favorite dishes, which they learned from their mothers and grandmothers. Happily, my kitchen is still filled with aromas of saffron, cardamom, mint, dill, sour plums and toasty rice.
This cool and summery salad (Maast-o-Khiar, or Cucumber Yogurt) makes a great mid-afternoon snack or a tangy cold sauce for grilled or poached fish. With each bite simultaneously creamy, crunchy, tart, salty and sweet, it covers all the bases. My friend Isabelle makes it every day for her three children as a healthy after-school snack. I prefer dicing the cucumbers rather than grating them, as in some versions, to retain a refreshing crunch. I also drain the salad while it is chilling, to eliminate the watery puddle at the bottom of the bowl.
Warmest thanks to Isabelle, Natasha, and Shoshana for graciously sharing part of their delectable tapestry of Persian cooking with me. You’ll find more of their richly fragrant recipes on my blog this summer. And to the people of Iran, may you be only a few spoonfuls away from the possibility of liberty and justice for all.
Serves 8 as a side dish or sauce
6 Persian cucumbers (or 2 hothouse cucumbers), peeled and small diced
1 (32-ounce) container Greek-style nonfat yogurt
2 whole scallions, chopped finely
1 bunch fresh mint, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped finely
1/2 cup currants (optional)
1. In a medium bowl, combine cucumbers, yogurt, scallions and mint. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
2. Stir in the walnuts and currants, reserving a few for the garnish. Transfer the salad to a sieve lined with paper towels and place a bowl underneath. Allow to chill and drain in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
3. Scoop the salad into a serving bowl and sprinkle with reserved chopped walnuts and currants.