Growing up, whenever I went to visit my father, he would cook up a big ol’ Persian feast. It was his way of keeping up family traditions, and also introducing his kids to the flavors of his homeland. There was always a giant pot of aromatic basmati rice cooking away on the stovetop, plenty of meat and veggies on the grill, and a lively game of backgammon perpetually in progress.
Without a doubt, my favorite part of the meal was the Mast-o-Khiar – a cool, refreshing mix of yogurt, cucumber, and mint. It’s a side dish that’s served alongside almost every Persian meal, sort of like Greek Tzatziki, Indian Raita, or Turkish Cacik.
The Mast-o-Khiar I remember from my childhood had very few ingredients, but they worked together perfectly: yogurt, cucumber, dried mint, lemon juice, and salt. My father would typically make a double batch (at least) because me and my brother would eat so much of it scooped up alongside our Polo Shevid Baghali (Persian Dill + Lima Bean Rice), Kabob Koobideh (grilled ground beef kabob), Lavash (a thin, unleavened flatbread), and grilled onions and tomatoes.
Earlier this summer, my father was visiting the U.S. to spend some time with us, and I told him that I just had to get him in the kitchen and learn his ways. We had a wonderful time cooking together, with me taking copious notes the entire time.
As we were making the Mast-o-Khiar, he offhandedly mentioned the traditional way to make it includes walnuts and raisins, too.
Apparently my family abroad eats it this way all the time, but I had never tried it! I felt like I had been missing out on something major for my entire life up to this point. And we were at my brother’s house, mid-meal prep when he mentioned this, where there wasn’t a walnut or raisin to be found. Not even one!
So I made a mental note to try those additions the next time I was at home and rarin’ to eat a big Persian feast.
Let me tell you – the crunch from the walnuts and the pops of sweetness from the raisins make a dish that I already absolutely adored even better.
A few quick tips – I like to rub the dried mint between my palms as I let it cascade down into the bowl. I’ve found dried mint to sometimes be a bit large, and this not only helps break it down, it also releases all of its… mintiness.
And I love to save the Stonyfield quart container to house leftover Mast-o-Khiar. My family of 3 usually eats just enough of the batch for the leftovers to fill it up to the brim.
In a medium bowl, stir together yogurt, cucumber, walnuts, raisins, lemon juice, mint and salt. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.