Monday, July 24, 2006

Oases: Yogurt and Cucumber (1 of 2)

I think that the climate gods are getting a wee bit overzealous on this Best Summer Ever business. The combination of record-breaking heat outside, and no air conditioning inside (the price you pay for the charm of built-in icebox, pedestal sink, hardwood floors) have brought me some of the hottest days I've experienced in Los Angeles. Steamy sweaty sticky hot. Mental capacity interrupted due to melting brain hot. Yeah, it's summer alright.

While I can't open my refrigerator door and crawl in like I really want to, there are some salves in there that do their part to soothe the scorch. Here I offer the first of two of them, both inspired by the kitchen of my childhood.

First, yogurt and cucumbers. You need to eat, but the prospect of cooking is the most odious thing you could think about. Lighting a fire in the kitchen would be redundant. On such days, my mom would make mast-o-khiar (literally, "yogurt and cucumber" -- clever name, eh?), perhaps putting some cut vegetables, pita, fresh herbs, and maybe some sardines or tuna on the table alongside. For lunch yesterday, I skipped the extras and stuck with the main course. Mine was a bit different than hers, as I took the Greek route. Nonetheless, it was a perfect meal. Fully satisfying without overdoing it, slightly tangy but cool and refreshing, with a juicy crunch from the cucumbers.

(Gushy digression: I've recently become very interested in yogurt, and have decided that Fage nonfat yogurt might very well be the perfect food: imported from Greece where they really know their yogurt, all-natural and consists of only 2 ingredients, and despite the lack of fat, perfectly creamy and luscious. It's also high on protein and active cultures that are good for your insides. Not to mention that it's available at beloved Trader Joe's, in containers small enough that they won't go bad before I have a chance to finish them. Really -- perfect.)

Cucumber and Yogurt Salad

fresh garlic, to taste (I used about 1/2 clove)
1 Persian cucumber, diced
3/4 C yogurt
1 1/2 T dried dill
1/3 C chopped walnuts
tiny squeeze of lemon juice

Mince garlic. Sprinkle with a dash of (preferably coarse) salt, and with the back of your knife, mash into a paste. Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper, stir well.

For Violet's version: Omit garlic (Saeed will not eat raw garlic) and lemon juice (never yogurt and lemon juice together -- why? because they used to say that if you eat whiteness and sourness together, you'll get freckles. wha?). Up the yogurt by about 1/4 cup. Replace dill with fresh mint, and add 1/3 C raisins.

Generously serves 1.


  1. I'd like to take this oppertunity to point out that Astoria is home to the largest Greek expat population outside of Europe... thus making it the epicenter of amazing homemade yogurts. If you can find it, you should try KESSO brand. Made right here in Queens (by crazy Greeks Fotini and Stavros Kessissoglou), it'll have you yelling "OPA!", its better than Fage! They make 400 gallons of tangy greek yogurt a day.

  2. FOr more info:

  3. Good call on something that you actually want to eat during this helacious heat wave. You can also go the easy way and buy Tzatziki from Trader Joe's or Costco, as I did today. I also picked up some of the yogurt you mentioned just to try. We'll see how it goes over with the clan.

  4. I'm telling you.... you are waaaay outta my league with your lingo! I am so green to anything but Italian heritage!

    Thanks for continuing to open up my horizons...gotta try that recipe! Heat in the midwest is a killer right now.

  5. annie - the best part of fage is the convenience, but i have no problem trying KESSO -- it sounds amazing! and i didn't know astoria was little greece! to think frappe was as close as the east coast all this time...

    tsp - true about store-bought tzatziki, but mine was better! what'd you think of the yogurt?

    tracie - it turns out i'm obsessed with italy and will surely be mentioning it here soon. you will have your chance to wow us with your intimate knowledge of the culture! stay cool! or at least try!!