Tuesday 18 September 2012

Persian yoghurt dips - Mast Esfanaj and Mast-o-khiar

I've been going through a bit of an oriental phase recently.   Making egg fried rice and spicy prawns with noodles, Thai green curries with chicken or butternut squash, duck with pancakes, and stir fries that you can make in minutes. They are pretty quick and simple to make and we all like them.

But A said that he's missing Persian food, so now that there seems to be a little more order at home I've had time to cook some of his favourite dishes. He asked me to make Istanbolli polow which is a very simple rustic rice dish. It's cooked with finely chopped or minced meat and green beans or cabbage in a garlicky tomato sauce. It's easy to make, just a little time consuming because you have to make the sauce first, cook the rice until it's al dente and then drain and combine the two before steaming them. I've written the recipe here if you want to try it. 

What I love most about Persian food is the whole table. All the side dishes. The meals are very well balanced. Foods are categorised as either  'hot' or 'cold' a bit like Chinese 'yin' and 'yang' and meals are planned to include a good balance of both. There's usually some kind of rice with a  flavourful sauce with meat/fish or vegetables that may even have fruit like sour plums, pomegranate or barberries added; or maybe herbs or ground walnuts.  A big dish of sabzi hordam, fresh herbs to eat along with the food. Amazing flat breads.  Salads like salad Tehrani a kind of salsa and two of my favourite side dishes, yoghurt based, Mast Esfanaj/Yoghurt with spinach and Mast-o-Khiar/Yoghurt with cucumber. 

Oh and amazing pickled vegetables too. 

To make Mast Esfanaj you will need:

  • Good quality yoghurt 
  • A couple of bunches of spinach leaves
  • One or two cloves of garlic
  • Sea salt and white pepper
  1. Wash the spinach very well to remove any soil or sand.
  2. Place in a saucepan with just the water that's in the leaves. Cover with a lid and cook until it's soft and dark green. Be very careful not to burn it...you need to stay close by.
  3. Chop the spinach in the pan and drain to remove any water.  I always reserve this to add to soups or stews. 
  4. Mince the fresh garlic and add along with seasoning.
  5. Put a couple of cups of yoghurt in a serving dish and add the spinach, mixing well. 

To make Mast-o-khiar you will need:
  • Good quality yoghurt
  • A small cucumber
  • A small white onion
  • Sea salt and white pepper
  • Wash and chop the cucumber into tiny pieces. 
  • Peel and chop the onion into tiny little pieces too.
  • Put a couple of cups of yoghurt into a serving dish and add the cucumber and onion and minced garlic. Mix well and  season.

There are a number of variations to these two dishes. Some people like to add extra herbs and spices even raisins but this is how we usually make them.  They are just very fresh light accompaniment to lots of different dishes. Delicious with fish and dill and broad bean rice or baked potatoes or even fried or poached eggs...mmm...


  1. I love love love your kitchen, at least what I see of it. It looks homey. My husband just made a tomato based curry and it was delicious. The best part was that I only had to make the rice :)

  2. Oh thank you Swanski...I like homes that look lived in. Mmm the tomato based curry sounds delicious. Seems we are both lucky, my husband likes to cook too sometimes if he has time. I love Indian food but haven't tried making very much.

  3. It looks and sounds so good Debby. I love to eat a wide range of foods, switching up day to day, so as not to get bored. I have to second Karen, your kitchen looks like a wonderful place to prepare meals and connect with family.

  4. We're lucky to have a big old school table in there...it's really too big for the room but I love when all the chairs are filled and everyone stays to talk long after they've finished eating. Those are the best meals.

  5. Yes, your kitchen looks wonderfully inviting and you photograph it so sensitively. I love your Persian posts and am always interested in seeing the differences and similarities with other cultures. We eat a lot of Greek-influenced food and I often make garlic yoghurt sauce for souvlaki or tzatziki (cucumber, garlic & yoghurt) as a dip. The kids love it.

  6. Oh hi Caz...it's good to hear from you. Thanks. Yes Persian cooking is influenced by so many other cultures and visa versa. I've just googled souvlaki sounds lovely.

    Take care.