We all have someone who inspired us to cook and remember that person through stories and family recipes, often passed down for generations. In Iran’s family-oriented culture, where we grow up with our grandparents—especially grandmothers—always nearby, most of us have memories of a matriarch running the kitchen.
My mom’s mother, Roghieh, was my best friend from the time I was a small child. She also happened to be a great cook. I spent so much time with her in the kitchen, and I cherished listening to her stories about cooking, love, and her marriage while I helped her with minor tasks.
Roghieh’s father was a gardener from the ancient Persian capital, Esfahán. Her mother gained a reputation as such an excellent home cook that she became a chef in the palace of Reza Shah Pahlavi, the first king of Iran’s last dynasty.
Grandma Roghieh made incredible meals, but she always said her creations were nothing compared with those of her mother. I know I’ve got a long way to go, but I aspire to bring some of that homegrown flavor from the kitchens of my childhood to my new life on the other side of the world.
One thing my grandmother always said was that every season has its own food, based on when ingredients ripen as well as the weather dishes are suited to.
Ab-doogh-khiar is perfect food for the summer. Its name translates as “water, yogurt drink, cucumber,” and it really is almost that simple. The soup is quite light, made for hot days when our stomachs don’t crave heavy foods. It is so refreshing that Iranians believe it kills the heat in our bodies. While it is easy to prepare, it’s important that the ingredients be as fresh as possible.
Some serve ab-doogh-khiar as an appetizer, but many consider it ideal for a light dinner, often adding a helping of dried bread to make it more filling. It has been part of Iranian culture since the ancient Persian era, and it is the most popular summertime dish in our cuisine. It is usually served chilled—sometimes with ice cubes.
Servings: 4 to 6 in small bowls
6 Persian cucumbers
2 shallots (optional)
2 cloves garlic (optional)
⅓ cup cream (half-and-half works well)
1 small bunch mint
1 small bunch of basil
1 small bunch tarragon
A few sprigs dill
2 cups Greek yogurt
½ cup crushed walnuts
½ cup raisins, rinsed
Crunchy bread (pita chips work well as a substitute)
4 ice cubes
Salt and black pepper to taste
Dried rose petals and dried mint for garnish (optional)
Peel the skin of cucumbers. Take four of the six cucumbers and slice each lengthwise into four thin strips. (If you are using big cucumbers with big seeds, scoop them out with a teaspoon before slicing them.) Then dice into small pieces (less than half an inch). Set the cucumbers aside.
Peel and dice the shallots and garlic. Put the shallots, garlic, and two remaining cucumbers into a blender. Add the cream and blend until completely smooth. Set aside. (Not everyone does this, but it’s a trick I learned from my grandmother.)
Chop the fresh herbs into tiny pieces, using only the leaves. Put Greek yogurt, crushed walnuts, raisins, the first batch of diced cucumbers, herbs, and crunchy bread into a mixing bowl. Then add pureed cucumber, shallots, garlic, and cream to the bowl. Add ice, then salt and black pepper to taste. Mix all the ingredients together. The consistency of the soup should be smooth without any lumps. Not too watery or too thick. If it is too watery, add Greek yogurt. If it is too thick, add two or three cubes of ice. Place the soup in the fridge to chill before serving.
Prior to serving, stir well once more and garnish with dried rose petals and dried mint. Some people like their bread crunchy, so they add it right before serving; others add it at the time of chilling for softer bread.