Whether it’s Greek tzatziki or Indian raita, the refreshing trifecta of cucumber, mint, and yogurt is one that is well known and loved in many cuisines. The salad adds a cooling effect to dishes, and Mayada especially likes serving it with richer meat- or grain-based dishes such as Baked Kofta (pages 60 and 62) or Maqluba (page 112). Though Syrian food is usually served family-style, when Mayada makes cucumber yogurt, everyone at the table gets their own small bowl of it. Her kids like to mix the rice and yogurt all together, but Mayada takes alternating, separate bites of her main dish and the yogurt—one bite of rice, one bite of cucumber yogurt—so that each can be enjoyed on its own while complementing the other, the yogurt acting as a chilled, creamy palate cleanser.
The dried mint Mayada uses isn’t the typical dusty bottle you find in a regular grocery store. She purchases large high-quality bags of it, where you can see the dried whole leaves and stems. The large quantities disappear fast, whether in her cooking or in piping-hot sweet mint tea. If you don’t have dried mint, you can substitute 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint for every 1 teaspoon dried mint.
Note: Mayada’s preferred consistency for the cucumber yogurt is thinner, almost like a chilled soup. If you prefer a thicker end result, start with less water and slowly add it until the yogurt reaches your desired consistency.
SERVES 4 TO 6
- 1 pound cucumbers (about 4 large), skin on, cut into 1⁄2-inch cubes
- 1 1⁄2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt (not Greek)
- 1 clove garlic, smashed into a paste with pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon crushed dried mint leaves
- 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons to 1⁄4 cup water
In a large bowl, combine the cucumbers, yogurt, garlic paste, mint, and salt. Stir in enough water to reach the desired consistency (see Note). Chill before serving.
TIP: To make garlic paste, Mayada pounds garlic cloves with salt using a mortar and pestle until a paste forms. If you don’t have a mortar, chop the garlic with the salt as finely as possible with a large knife. Turn the knife blade on its side and smash the chopped garlic. Scrape it together, then smash again. Repeat until a paste forms.
“This is a book to cook from and to learn from, a beautiful invitation to engage with Syrian home cooking. In warm and graceful writing, Jennifer Sit sets forth Mayada Anjari’s very accessible recipes, cooking wisdom, and story of her family’s journey from Syria to the United States. Bravo!”
— Naomi Duguid, author of Taste of Persia: A Cook's Travels Through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, and Kurdistan