No one knows when yogurt was first discovered or created but legend has it that thousands of years ago a Nomad travelling with milk in his goatskin sack found the milk slightly soured and thickened. He drank it, did not get sick and its popularity was sealed for all time.
Yogurt or mast as it is called in Persia (Iran) provides a cooling base for many salads and drinks for the hot summer months. During Shavuot, which falls in late May or June when weather in the Middle East becomes quite warm, dairy-based foods are traditionally served. The association between the holiday and the food has been linked to the giving of the laws of Kashrut at Mount Sinai when no properly slaughtered meat was available and, most likely because all the newborn spring lambs and goats and cows meant milk was abundant.
The use of rose petals and rosewater for flavoring was popular all over the Middle East and spread to Europe during the Middle Ages. However rosewater fell out of favor once world exploration introduced Vanilla to America and Europe. Rosewater always maintained its prominence in Sephardic cooking.
According to food historian Gil Marks, rosewater is a traditional flavoring for foods during Shavuot, which Sephardim call the “Feast of the Roses”.
Persian Mast o Khiar-Cucumber Yogurt Salad
1 cup thick Greek Yogurt- preferably whole or 2%
¼ cup toasted walnuts, finely chopped
¼ cup golden raisins, coarsely chopped
½ of 1 cucumber cut into ¼ inch dice (approximately ¾ cup)
2 Tablespoons fresh mint, finely minced
2 Tablespoons fresh dill, finely minced
2 Tablespoons fresh chives, finely minced
2 Tablespoons fresh basil, finely minced
2 Tablespoons dried rose petals, crushed or minced
1 clove garlic finely minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Whole dried rose petals for garnish-optional
1 Tablespoon finely chopped walnuts for garnish-optional
1. Place thick yogurt in a 2 quart bowl. Stir with a rubber spatula so that yogurt is smooth.
2. Add the remaining ingredients and stir together. Check for salt and pepper.
3. Pour finished mixture into a serving bowl. Refrigerate for at least one hour or preferably overnight to allow the flavors to blend.
4. Just before serving, sprinkle bowl with some additional rose petals and chopped walnuts if desired.
5. Serve with soft Middle Eastern bread. This recipe can easily be doubled.
- Don’t panic about all the chopping! Using a Chef’s knife to chop and mince is actually much easier with a small child (See How to Chop and Mince).
- Definitely NEVER use a plastic serrated knife because they are much more dangerous; it is difficult to keep track of little fingers and, if cut, the serrated edge will most likely leave a scar as opposed to a smooth blade.
- If you can’t find rose petals substitute a few drops of rosewater you will be glad you did!
- Don’t use dark raisins, the flavor isn’t as good in this dish.