Mast-o-Khiar (Persian Yogurt with Cucumber and Mint)

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Call it Greek tzatziki, Turkish cacik, or Indian raita, but to me, it’ll always be mast-o-khiar. It’s part of nearly every Iranian meal and couldn’t be easier to prepare. English translations will often call it a dip, and while it can be (raise your hand if you dipped your potato chips into mast-o-khiar while growing up), it’s really eaten as a side dish alongside a complete meal.

Mast-o-khiar can include variations like dried rose petals (how Persian, I know) or dried shallots (in which case it becomes mast-o-musir), but my favorite is this classic version, garnished with a light sprinkling of walnuts.

Mast-o-khiar

Ingredients:

2 cups Middle Eastern or Greek-style yogurt, plain
2 or 3 Persian cucumbers, finely chopped or grated
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons ground dried mint
2 tablespoons walnuts, chopped (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

1. Mix all of the ingredients in a bowl, reserving half a tablespoon of walnuts for garnish. Chill and serve cold.

Kotlet (Iranian Cutlet)

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Kotlet, or Persian minced meat and potato croquettes, are an ubiquitous picnic meal in Iranian households. Growing up, I’d look forward to these in warm lavash sandwiches for lunch and now that I’m older, I prepare them as an appetizer or light meal. Kotlet are easy to make and can be frozen for reheating later on.

Serve these with pickled vegetables and sliced tomatoes, or simply on their own. Lightly spiced and crispy on the outside, it’s nearly impossible to eat just one kotlet.

Kotlet

Ingredients:

2 potatoes, cooked, peeled, and grated
1 pound ground lamb, veal, or beef
1 onion, peeled and grated
2 eggs
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 cup vegetable oil, for frying
2 ripe tomatoes, sliced, for garnish
4 Persian pickled cucumbers, sliced, for garnish
Lavash bread

1. In a bowl, combine meat, onion, eggs, potato, salt, pepper, coriander, cumin, saffron water, and turmeric. Knead for 5 minutes to form a smooth mixture.

2. Using damp hands, shape the meat mixture into lumps the size of eggs. Flatten them into oval patties. Brown the patties on both side in hot oil over medium heat until browned on each side and cooked through. Add more oil if necessary.

3. Arrange the patties on a serving platter. Serve with tomatoes, pickles, and lavash bread.

Joojeh Kabab (Iranian Grilled Saffron Chicken)

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Ask an Iranian what their favorite dish is and they’ll invariably reply with “kabab.” Joojeh (chicken) kabab, kabob koobideh (ground meat), kabab barg (steak filet) — we’ve got kabab down on lock. It wasn’t until a few months ago that I actually learned how to prepare joojeh kabab on my own. Najmieh Batmanglij’s New Food of Life cookbook and a couple phone calls to the parentals ensured me I was on the right track.

Don’t skimp on the onion in the marinade. Despite the volume, it’s not overpowering after the chicken is grilled. Also, you can try this with different kinds of poultry — in fact, those are cornish game hens pictured below. Lastly, try to get your hands on these flat steel skewers at a Middle Eastern grocer, as they make for much easier turning over a flame.

Joojeh kabab on the grill

Ingredients:

1/2 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water
3/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 onions, grated
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons Middle Eastern or Greek-style yogurt
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
4 pounds of skinless chicken pieces (preferably legs and thighs)
5 tomatoes, halved (preferably Roma tomatoes)
Accompaniments: lavash bread, fresh herbs, and cooked, buttered basmati rice

1. In a large bowl, combine the saffron water and the lime juice, olive oil, onions, garlic, yogurt, salt and pepper. Add the pieces of chicken and toss well with the marinade. Cover and marinate for at least 8 hours and up to 1 day in the refrigerator. Turn the chicken once during this period.

2. Start a bed of charcoal 30 minutes before you want to cook and let it burn until the coals glow evenly.

3. Skewer the tomatoes.

4. Spear chicken pieces onto different skewers. (Try to group chicken parts together as they each require different cooking times.)

5. Grill the chicken and tomatoes about 15 minutes, until done. Turn frequently.

6. To serve traditionally, spread a whole lavash bread on a serving platter. Remove the grilled chicken from skewers and arrange the pieces on the bread. Serve alongside the grilled tomatoes, fresh herbs, and warm basmati rice.

Watermelon Agua Fresca

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Autumn may be in full swing, but lately I’ve been craving summer foods. One can only eat so many yams and butternut squash, right? I want melons. Watermelons, to be exact. I made this agua fresca a few times this past summer, and even though it’s cold out now, there’s really no wrong time to make this drink. It’s healthy, refreshing, and takes only minutes to blend.

Watermelon agua fresca

Ingredients:

1/2 watermelon
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup lime juice
10 mint leaves
2 1/2 cups water

1. Cut off and discard the watermelon rind. Cut the watermelon into large cubes, removing any seeds.

2. Put half of the watermelon in a blender, along with half the sugar, half the lime juice, half the mint leaves, and half the water. Blend until you have a smooth puree. Transfer the puree to another container and repeat with the remaining watermelon, sugar, lime juice, mint leaves, and water.

3. Strain the puree over a pitcher, discarding the solids. Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.

Thai Basil Gimlet

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I used to hate gin. It tastes like liquid bark, and who wants to drink bark? It wasn’t until I tasted a gimlet that I learned to love the libation, and this summer, I experimented with different versions. Cucumber gimlets, albaloo (sour Persian cherry) gimlets, you name it. This Thai basil gimlet is my favorite: herbal, tart, and complementary to the strong flavor of gin.

Thai basil gimlets

Ingredients:

7 large Thai basil leaves
1 3/4 ounces gin
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup

1. Put 6 basil leaves in a cocktail shaker and press them with a muddler or a wooden spoon. Add the gin, lime juice and simple syrup. Fill with ice, shake vigorously and strain into a small chilled glass over ice. Garnish with the remaining basil leaf.