Maast O’Khiar

Persian yoghurt & cucumber dip

Most of you will be familiar with this dip or similar-style dips eaten across the Levantine / Middle-Eastern and Mediterranean parts of the world. 

Maast O’Khiar is the Persian name for this dip, but you may know it as Tzatziki (Greek version), Cacik (Turkish version), Talattouri (Cypriot version), Jaan-e-ama (the Afghan version).

It is made with salted strained yoghurt or diluted yoghurt mixed with cucumbers, garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil, sometimes with vinegar or lemon juice, and herbs such as dill, mint, parsley and thyme. It is commonly served as a cold appetiser or as a side dish at Persian gatherings or restaurants. It is a creamy and fresh tasting dip, perfectly balancing Persian dishes ranging from the stews to the kebabs.  

Yoghurt was introduced to me as an accompaniment to a savoury ensemble of dishes so I have never fully engaged with it as a sweet breakfast option or a dessert.  Although I do eat sweetened yoghurt occasionally (I love Greek yoghurt drizzled with honey), it’s fair to say that 99% of my yoghurt consumption is related to dips like this one or Maast O’Moosir (Persian Shallot & yoghurt dip); Borani Laboo (Persian beetroot and yoghurt dip); and Borani Esfenaj (Persian Spinach and yoghurt dip) – all deliciously garlicky!

There are various ways of preparing this dip when it comes to the cucumber element. Some peel, de-seed and dice the cucumber or grate it. Others use the whole cucumber, including the skin. I prefer the latter method (the whole cucumber, as I hate the waste). Using thick strained Greek Yoghurt compliments the use of the full cucumber as it creates extra liquid for the dip. This helps to loosen the yoghurt to the perfect consistency. I also use a combination of dried and fresh mint, garlic and lime juice to flavour my Maast O’Khiar. If you are using a more watery yoghurt, then I recommend squeezing the liquid out of the grated cucumber. Keep the cucumber liquid and add it to a juice or smoothie. Otherwise just hold your grater over the bowl of yoghurt and grate it straight in.

Persians also vary their Maast O’Khiar by mixing in sultanas and walnuts and / or sprinkling with dried rose petals as a garnish, so feel free to mix it up if you fancy!

This is a super easy dip to make but, in order for the flavours to intensify and settle properly into the dip, I would recommend making it a day before you want to tuck into it. At the very least a 1 hour resting time.

This dip can be eaten with a variety of crudites and crisps, but ultimately if you are making a Persian spread of food, a bowl of this dip will compliment all the dishes as pictured below. 


Maast O'Khiar

Persian yoghurt & cucumber dip
Prep Time15 mins
Resting time1 hr
Total Time1 hr 15 mins
Course: Appetiser, Accompaniment
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian, Middle-Eastern
Keyword: Tzatziki, Cacik, Talattouri, Jaan-e-ama, mast o khiar
Servings: 6
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 500 g strained Greek Yoghurt (I use Total 5%)
  • 1/2 large cucumber (grated with skin and seeds)
  • 1 tsp dried mint
  • 1 tsp fresh mint (chopped)
  • 1 large clove garlic (crushed)
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (and extra to drizzle on top)
  • Juice of half a lime
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)
  • Fresh mint and chopped cucumber (to garnish)

Instructions

  • Take a bowl, add the yoghurt, grated cucumber, dried mint, fresh mint, crushed garlic, 1 tbsp of olive oil, lime juice, salt and pepper and stir. Taste and adjust seasoning or other flavours as desired.
  • Cover the bowl and leave in the fridge for the flavours to intensify and mix well through the yoghurt (no less than 1 hour). When you are ready to serve the Maast O'Khiar, drizzle some olive oil on top and decorate with fresh mint and / or cucumber and / or dried rose petals and / or dried mint.
  • Serve alongside a Persian spread, as part of a mezze-style spread of dishes, or as an appetiser. Or like some Iranians, sit in front of the telly with a bowl of Maast O'Khiar and a massive bag of crisps and dip away!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simit

Turkish Bagels

Simit is a circular bread encrusted with sesame seeds, which is common to the cuisines of the former Ottoman Empire and the Middle-East. It is widely known as a Turkish bagel in the USA and Koulouri in Greece. They are commonly eaten at breakfast and are a much loved street food available on many corners in Istanbul. They have a crispy exterior and a soft doughy interior, which can be created using a standard bread dough mixture.

The distinctive taste of Simit comes from a combination of toasted sesame seeds and a grape molasses glaze. Grape molasses can be found online or at Middle-Eastern supermarkets. Sesame seeds are widely available in their raw form, so you will need to toast them in a dry frying pan before coating the Simit rings.

I was first introduced to Simit during one of our holidays in Turkey. Many of us Iranians love holidaying in Turkey as it feels familiar but with the freedoms we cannot enjoy in our own motherland. In fact, I have travelled to Turkey more than I have to Iran. The hospitality, the food and the weather make for the perfect destination for my family and it feels like home. 

The variety of baked goods available in Turkey is incredible and Simit is no exception. My local artisan bakery has Simit sandwiches available to be toasted and eaten with a strong Turkish coffee to follow, which has become a favourite weekend brunch option for my husband and I. 

When I bake them at home, we either eat them with feta and halva (as pictured above) or with jam. We also love having them as an accompaniment to egg dishes (pictured below). The recipe foe Nargessi (Persian spinach Eggs as pictured) can be found here.


Simit

Turkish Bagels
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time25 mins
Proving Time x 21 hr 30 mins
Total Time2 hrs 15 mins
Course: Breakfast, Accompaniment
Cuisine: Turkish
Keyword: Simit, Turkish Bagel, Gevrek, Koulouri
Servings: 6
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

Simit Dough

  • 500 g strong white bread flour (plus extra for sprinkling on your surface when shaping the Simit)
  • 2 tsp fast-action yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 300 ml tepid water
  • A little olive oil (to oil the bowl the dough proves in)

Simit Topping

  • 100 ml grape molasses (üzüm pekmezi)
  • 50 ml water
  • 2 tsp flour
  • 300 g toasted sesame seeds

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 220°C / fan 200°C / gas 7 / 425°F. Place a baking tray in the oven.
  • Mix strong white flour, salt and fast-action yeast in a large bowl making sure the salt and yeast are kept apart at this initial stage. Make a well in the centre, then add 300ml water, and mix well. If the dough seems a little stiff, add another 1-2 tbsp water and mix well.
  • Tip onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for around 10 mins. Once the dough is smooth, place it in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with cling film. Leave to rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
  • Mix the grape molasses, water and flour in a large bowl.
  • Prepare the toasted sesame seeds. Take the raw sesame seeds, toast in a dry pan until golden, shaking and stirring the pan regularly. Take care not to burn the seeds. It should only take a few minutes to toast the sesame seeds.
  • Once the dough has proved, cut the dough into 12 equal sized pieces. Sprinkle some flour on the surface and roll each piece into a long sausage about 25cm long. Take two of the rolled dough pieces and place them alongside each other. Squeeze the ends together and roll the ends in opposite directions, causing them to braid. Squeeze the two ends together to form a ring. Repeat with the remaining dough.
  • Dip the simits into the grape molasses mixture until covered. Cover completely with sesame seeds. Stretch the dough a little as you do this to ensure the Simit is even but don't worry if it is not perfect - rustic is a great look! Place the ready Simits on a piece of baking paper, cover with a tea towel and let prove for a further 30 mins.
  • Bake in two batches until cooked through and golden brown on the outside, 20 - 25 minutes. Check the Simit occasionally to make sure it doesn't burn and turn the heat down if necessary.
  • Leave to cool on a cooling rack. Simit is best eaten while still warm so if you don't eat them straight away, reheat in the oven before consuming.

 

 

Mirza Ghasemi

Smoked aubergine dip

After a little hiatus from writing recipes, I am back and ready to pick up where I left off with a gem of a recipe.

Mirza Ghasemi is a probably one of my favorite Iranian dishes. I remember the first time I ate this delightful dish. I had never tasted anything like it.  The smoky aubergine, extraordinary amount of garlic, tomatoes and eggs were comforting and moreish. I found I couldn’t stop eating it, scooping up this warm dip-style appetiser with Persian flat-bread (Sangak or Barbari – as pictured). And I still do the same when people serve it at their homes or when we go to our favourite Iranian restaurants.

As a family, we were quite late to the party with Mirza Ghasemi being one of our go-to dishes. The dish is from the Northern and Caspian Sea region of Iran (specifically Gilan), where there tends to be more vegetarian dishes such as Kal Kabab and Baghali Gatogh. My mother and father had left Iran to travel west in the 60’s and 70’s and had brought with them their family favourite recipes, which tended to be meat orientated. So it didn’t feature in our lives until I was a teenager. As our Iranian community diversified in the 90’s with friends and extended family being from different regions such as Gilan, Shiraz, Tabriz and Esfehan, so did our dishes. 

Mirza Ghasemi is not just eaten as an appetiser with bread but also as a main dish served with rice, therefore feel free to upgrade it to a regular main meal in your household. The recipe below would provide two generous portions or four humble portions to be eaten with rice. To make it heartier, make four holes in the Mirza Ghasemi, while it is simmering, and crack four eggs into the holes. Then place a lid on top to cook the eggs to your liking. Otherwise serve it, as I love it, with a platter of fresh herbs, feta and flat-bread (as pictured above).

If you are vegan then leave out the eggs and replace with scrambled style silken tofu. Equally delicious!


Mirza Ghasemi

Persian smoked aubergine dip
Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time1 hr 30 mins
Total Time2 hrs
Course: Main Course, Dip, Appetiser
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: vegetarian, vegan option, smoked aubergine, Middle-Eastern Food
Servings: 4 (as an appetiser or 2 as a main)
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 3 large aubergines (or 5 medium aubergines)
  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 1 medium brown onion (finely chopped)
  • 1 medium whole garlic (peeled and cloves crushed)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 3 medium plum tomatoes (chopped)
  • 3 tbsp tomato purée
  • 1 tsp Maple Syrup or Sugar
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 2 large free-range eggs (beaten) - plus more if eating as a main course
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)
  • Chopped fresh chives and/or crushed walnuts (to garnish)

Instructions

  • Smoke the aubergines whole over an open flame (gas hob or BBQ) until blackened and the flesh has softened.  The idea is to get the smoky flavour into the final dish.  Alternatively, grill the aubergines to get the same effect - charred skin and soft flesh. Place the cooked aubergine in a large dish and cover with clingfilm for about 10 to 20 minutes. This will help when peeling the charred skin off.
  • Peel the skin / scoop the aubergine flesh out of the skins and leave to one side.
  • Put a frying pan on a low / medium heat and add your olive oil and your chopped onion and a pinch of salt. Cook the onion until it has turned translucent / caramelised. Then add the garlic, gently stirring into the onion mixture making sure the garlic cooks slowly and does not burn. Then add and stir in the turmeric.
  • Add the tomatoes and cook until tomatoes have softened and broken down.
  • Stir in the aubergine flesh and mash the mixture gently. Add the tomato purée, water, maple syrup and seasoning and cook for approximately 10 mins, stirring gently now and then.
  • Make a few holes in mixture and add the beaten eggs. Once eggs start to gain a little colour and firm a little, stir them in until evenly distributed through aubergine mixture. Let the mixture simmer gently on a low heat and with a lid on the pan for a further 10 mins.
  • [If you are serving as a main dish, feel free to bulk up with extra eggs, cracked and poached in the Mirza Ghasemi while gently simmering - cover with a lid to cook the egg through. See notes above].
  • Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of chopped fresh chives and / or crushed walnuts as a garnish alongside fresh herbs, feta and flat bread like Barbari / Kateh or Chelow.  Ideally served warm and not piping hot.  

Maast O’Moosir

Yoghurt & Persian shallot dip

Maast O’Moosir (or musir) is a yoghurt dip commonly served as an appetizer or accompaniment in Persian cuisine. You may have eaten this dip at a Persian restaurant as it is usually offered as part of our mezze-style appetiser platters.

Moosir is described in English as a Persian shallot and similar to a Solo or Elephant garlic and, like the Solo and Elephant varieties, has a flavour profile similar to garlic but slightly sweeter and softer in its spiciness. They grow wild in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains, and have to be found and dug out of the earth – a similar process to truffles. It adds an amazingly distinctive flavour to dishes. You can buy moosir from most Middle-Eastern food shops or online. It is available in its dried form and needs to be rehydrated by soaking in water overnight.

You can serve this dip alongside main meals, it goes particularly well with kababs (Persian or other cuisines). Alternatively serve it as a dip with crudités, or crisps, or flatbread. I have served the one in the picture above with pitta chips (cooked by drizzling olive oil and toasting in a hot oven). We Iranians often just sit with a bowl of this dip and crisps, happily dunking away and it is loved by the young and the wise in our families.

If you are going to make this dip, remember that you will need to soak the moosir over night and also to leave the dip, once made, for no less than an hour for the flavours to fully infuse and intensify.


Maast O'Moosir

Yoghurt dip with Persian shallot
Prep Time10 mins
Resting time1 hr
Total Time1 hr 10 mins
Course: Appetiser, Accompaniment
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: dip, musir
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 8 heaped tbsp Greek yoghurt (preferably 5% fat)
  • 8 discs dried moosir (rehydrated in water overnight)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste) (pepper is optional)
  • Drizzle of olive oil, dried rose petals and dried mint (to garnish - optional)

Instructions

  • Drain the rehydrated moosir discs and rinse. Mince finely with a sharp knife, discarding any tough parts.
  • Take a bowl, add the yoghurt and the moosir. Stir and add salt and pepper (pepper is optional) to taste. Cover the bowl and leave in the fridge for the flavour of the moosir to permeate through the yoghurt (no less than 1 hour).
  • When you are ready to serve the Maast O'Moosir, decorate with dried rose petals, a sprinkle of dried mint and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve with pitta chips as pictured, crisps, vegetables or part of a mezze-style spread.

Zeytoon Parvardeh

Olives marinated in a herb, walnut & pomegranate paste

This delightful appetiser heralds from Gilan Province in the North of Iran, a region I visited in my mid twenties and one my family has become more familiar with over the last 20 years. Gilan Province lies along the Caspian Sea bordering Russia. The Province is lush and green with many delicious dishes, particularly vegetarian, originating from the Province, including Mirza Ghasemi (smoked aubergines and eggs) and Baghali Ghatogh (eggs with broad beans and dill). 

The North of Iran loves walnuts and pomegranates and a number of their dishes use this combination including Zeytoon Parvardeh. The ingredients are olives; pomegranate juice, molasses and arils; walnuts; garlic; and a herb called chuchagh. Chuchagh is a rare herb and is found in certain areas In Iran. In order to emulate its flavour for this dish we replace it with mint in the UK. I have also added a bit of coriander and parsley to my recipe. I use large pitted green olives like gordal olives. By using pitted olives, it allows for the marinade to seep into the olives and also makes it easier to eat them. The flavour profile of this dish is sweet and sour and incredibly moreish.

It is an easy and quick dish to prepare and ideally made the night before so that the flavours blend and intensify. I often make a small bowl of this appetiser and slowly work my way through it with cheese and crackers – I hasten to add that eating it as an accompaniment with cheese is not authentically Iranian but it works!

Zeytoon Parvardeh can be eaten with pre-dinner drinks (wine, cocktails or hard liquor – whatever you fancy), as part of a mezze-style platter or array of dishes, or with cheese and crackers which is my favourite way to eat it.


Zeytoon Parvardeh

Prep Time15 mins
Course: Appetiser
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: vegetarian, vegan
Servings: 4
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 7 whole walnuts (or 14 halves)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 10 g fresh mint
  • 10 g fresh coriander
  • 10 g fresh parsley
  • 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 1 tbsp olive oil (extra virgin preferably)
  • 2 tbsp pomegranate juice (squeeze this out of the pomegranate or use 2 tbsp of the arils)
  • 350 g large pitted green olives (drained weight approx 160g)
  • 1 to 2 tbsp pomegranate arils (to stir through and garnish)
  • Ground walnuts (to sprinkle as a garnish)

Instructions

  • Add the walnuts and garlic to a food processor and blitz until the walnuts are finely ground.
  • Remove the mint leaves from the stems. Remove the tougher parts of the stems from the coriander and parsley. Then add the herbs to the walnut and garlic and pulse in the food processor until finely chopped.
  • Add the pomegranate molasses, olive oil and the pomegranate juice. Pulse in the food processor until it is a coarse paste.
  • Mix the paste with the olives in a bowl. Stir through some pomegranate arils, reserving some for a garnish. Cover and leave in the fridge to marinate (preferably overnight).
  • Serve with ground walnuts and pomegranate arils sprinkled on top.

Kashke Bademjan

Aubergine dip with kashk

This dish literally translates as ‘kashk and aubergine.’ Although it is described as a dip, as with many dip-style dishes from the Middle-East, it is substantial and can be eaten as either an appetiser or a main dish. In our family we tend to serve it as a starter with flatbread before the main event at our larger family gatherings. At home, as a family of 3, we eat it as a main course with a hearty salad like tabbouleh, Noon-e Barbari and some fruit for afters as pictured.

We have other delicious aubergine dip-style dishes like Mirza Ghasemi (tomato based with beaten eggs folded through) and Kal Kabob (made with walnuts and pomegranate molasses) both from the North of Iran. But my heart belongs to Kashke Bademjan as it is the one I grew up eating regularly and the depth of flavour that comes from the ingredients coming together is incredible.

There are various iterations of this recipe but the one I have shared with you is the one I have developed and includes aubergines, garlic, turmeric, caramelised onions, dried mint and kashk.

So what is kashk, I hear you ask. Kashk is a range of fermented dairy products used in Iranian, Turkish, Balkan and Arab cuisines. Kashk has been a staple in the Iranian diet for thousands of years.

Persian “kashk” is a fermented / preserved food that comes in liquid or dried form and is traditionally made with the whey left over from cheese-making. It is used in dishes like Ash-e Reshteh (a herb, lentil, bean and noodle soup), Kashke Badamjan (recipe below) and Kaleh Joosh (a soup made with walnuts, onions and mint). In its dried form it needs to be soaked and softened before it can be used in cooking.

The taste of kashk is distinctive and almost indescribable. It is well worth purchasing and not substituting with an alternative, such as yoghurt. Kashk provides a sour, salty, creamy and slightly cheesy flavour to the dishes it is added to. I may not be selling this to you but I promise if you make this dish you will not be disappointed.

When I was growing up, my maman used to have the dried balls of kashk which she would soak in a bowl in preparation for using them in one of dishes above. Apparently before she knew she was pregnant with my sister, a relative surmised she was as she saw her sucking on kashk like they were sweets! Nowadays, you can buy kashk in liquid form in jars from Middle-Eastern food shops or online. I use Kambiz Kashk and buy it online here or by popping into a local Middle-Eastern supermarket.

I fry the aubergines, as do most Iranians when they cook this dish. But if you would prefer not to, instead of following step 2 to 5, you can oven roast the aubergine, after brushing them with a little oil, for about 30 – 40 minutes or until they are cooked through and soft (oven temp – 180°C (fan) / 200°C (conventional) / Gas Mark 6). Also, if you roast your aubergine, you will need to add a little oil to your frying pan at step 6 to cook the garlic.

We garnish the dish with fried onions, a mint-infused oil, diluted kashk mixed with saffron and ground walnuts.


Kashke Bademjan

Aubergine dip with kashk
Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time1 hr
Total Time1 hr 30 mins
Course: Main Course, Appetiser
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: kashk-e bademjoon, kashke bademjan
Servings: 2 (generous portions as a main or 4 as an appetiser)
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Vegetable oil (plus more if required)
  • 3 large aubergines
  • 2 large onions (sliced very finely)
  • 5 cloves garlic (crushed or minced)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 250 ml water
  • 2 tbsp kashk (plus a little more diluted in a little water for the garnish / topping design)
  • 1 tsp dried mint
  • 1 tbsp ground walnuts
  • 1/8 tsp ground saffron (bloomed in 2 tsp of water - for decorating the dish - optional)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

Instructions

  • Peel the aubergines and cut them lengthwise (approximately 1 inch thick slices). Salt them and leave them in a colander for 30 minutes to remove some of the water content. This will help to reduce the amount of oil that is absorbed and to reduce the cooking time required. When you are ready to cook them, dab them with a paper towel to remove the moisture.
  • In the meantime, take 2 tsp of vegetable oil and heat in a small pan on a low heat with 1/2 tsp of dried mint. Let it infuse on the low heat for 10 seconds and then remove and leave until you are ready to garnish the dish. Be careful not to burn the mint.
  • Place a large frying pan on a medium / low heat. Add 2 to 3 tbsp of oil and add the onions with a pinch of salt. Fry them gently until they caramelise and start to turn a little crispy (they will get crispier once removed from the oil). Be careful not to burn them otherwise they will be bitter. Once cooked, remove them and place them on an absorbent paper towel on a plate / bowl for use later.
  • Add half of the remaining oil to the frying pan and fry your aubergines in batches until they are golden brown. Top up the oil in the pan, if required, after frying each batch. You want to make sure the aubergines do not have a green tinge to them and are fully cooked through. Using the back of a fork press down on the aubergine while it is frying to aid the process.
  • When cooked, remove the aubergines from the pan and place them on an absorbent paper towel on a plate / bowl for use later.
  • You can re-use the pan you fried the aubergines in for cooking the next stages but if you do, make sure you give it a wash. Place the pan on a medium / low heat. Some oil will have formed on the top of your aubergine, drip this into the pan - just enough to sauté the garlic.
  • Add the garlic and let it sauté for only 10 seconds. Then add your aubergines and stir until it has mixed with all the garlic.
  • Add the turmeric and 125 ml of water and stir. Then mash the aubergines using a fork or potato masher. Add the rest of the water (125ml) and mash and stir further until it has a stringy texture.
  • Add 1/2 tsp of dried mint, half of your onions (reserve some of the fried onions for the topping / garnish) and 2 tbsp of kashk. Mix until everything is fully incorporated. Taste the mixture and then season further with salt (if required - as kashk is quite salty you may not require any) and pepper. Let the mixture gently heat through and stir occasionally. The dish only needs to be warm for serving.
  • Turn the heat off and spoon the aubergine mixture into a serving dish of your choice. Spoon off any extra oil which may have formed on top before garnishing.
  • Garnish with the fried onions, diluted kashk, saffron water (you can mix some of the kashk with the saffron water to make a yellow kashk as I have in the picture above), mint oil and ground walnuts in any design you like. Serve with flatbreads and salad.