Monday, February 25, 2013

Persian Yogurt and Cucumbers - Maast-o Khiar

One of our favorite side dishes when I cook Persian food, especially hamburger or as it's called Koobideh, is to serve Maast-o Khiar or Persian Yogurt and Cucumbers.  It's a simple and healthy dish that does not take a ton of preparation.  As a child it was always one of my favorite things to eat and now as a mother it's something that's expected on those special nights when I cook Persian food.

My father came from Iran to study in the United States at the now Texas A&M at Commerce, or what it was then called ETSU, East Texas State University.  Both he and my mother received their bachelors and masters from there back in the 1960's and 1970's.  As the story goes he met my mother, married her, and together they had my two brothers and I.  People always wonder why I have such an olive you know!

When I was in the 3rd grade we moved from Texas so that we could meet our family and live in Tehran, Iran.  At that time there were hundreds of thousands of Americans there working for oil companies and such.  I attended Tehran American School and a Canadian/American School while at the Caspian Sea and enjoyed our time there so much! Little did we know during our years there that a revolution would make us move home earlier than expected.  

We lived there in Iran for a total of 2 and 1/2 years, from the fall of 1976 to two weeks before all Americans were evacuated in late January of 1979.  Thankfully, being the age I was, proved critical in the many wonderful memories I still have of our time there.  In all these years since then have I ever witnessed more beautiful gardens than there, eaten food more fragrant or rustic, or grown from any experience as I did from those life changing moments in my life.  My parents allowed us to witness the country first hand in our many excursions while we lived not only in Tehran, but by the Caspian Sea.  My mother was one of few women who drove there and she was fearless driving the long drives from the Caspian Sea to Tehran.  The bazaars and it's smells, the mountains in the distance topped with snow still have a place in my heart. I'll forever be thankful for our time there.  

As my girls, nieces and nephews grow older our favorite bedtime stories are of mine and my brother's adventures there.  They learn of our Christmas parade at school when Santa came in on a camel, to when we sat in the top of a cherry tree eating and spitting out seeds much to the dismay of my aunts and their gardener!  I tell them of our trips to the bazaars where you went from one shop to the next to purchase each food item, and how special it was to get care packages from my grandparents and uncles from the states!  With these stories, I want them to have a piece of our past that they can link to a country and kinship that I remember as beautiful inside and out.  

Now as a mother who is proud of her heritage from both countries, I've tried to instill a 'taste' of it in our families lives.  Someday it will be my pleasure to teach my girls how to cook our favorite meals.  Even at my age I'm still learning from my mother who is a fantastic Persian cook and from my growing number of Persian cookbooks.  My totally American husband loves the food as much as we do and to our surprise will eat the most authentic of Persian foods.

Some of my favorite food shopping trips are to middle eastern groceries when in Houston or Dallas to find our beloved Persian garlic pickles for Scott and Ilissa, or long grain Basmati rice. They will never compare to the bazaars I remember, but they at least allow me to enjoy the taste and partial smells once again.  

On each visit from my dad we are treated to our favorite Persian pistachios and fresh bread that we now use to make our homemade pizzas.  Thank goodness our country is a melting pot of cultures!


Persian Yogurt and Cucumber or properly said Maast-o Khiar is a traditional dish that you will find across the middle east and southern Europe like Greece in many different forms.  I like ours best and am very partial to it.  It's fantastic alone or served on top of white rice or served on top of chicken, steak, or hamburger kabobs.  If you serve it outside in the heat, make sure you place an ice bowl beneath it to keep it cool.  You can also place several ice cubes in the yogurt to substitute for the water, as it will allow it to melt and cool the yogurt at the same time. And just a note to ponder...think about all that pro-biotic yogurt in stores now.  For years middle easterners have known how to rid themselves of stomach bugs and the like by eating, yes, you guessed it yogurt!  When I was sick as a child or my kids are sick now, it's plain yogurt that we eat.  

I hope you'll try this dish below.  As we all try to watch our figures and want something light and refreshing, this recipe is a perfect one to try.  The mint gives it a truly fresh taste that I think you'll really enjoy.  

Persian Yogurt and Cucumbers - Maast-o Khiar

1 tub of Plain Yogurt - not flavored or vanilla (I love Chobani Greek Blended Non-Fat Plain Greek Yogurt in the 32 ounce container)
1 - 2 cucumbers, skin off and cut into small cubes with seeds in
1 - 2 teaspoons of dried mint, ground even finer in the palm of your hand
1/2 to 1 cup cold water, less is more and makes it thicker
add salt and pepper to your taste

In a medium sized bowl place yogurt, add water to desired thickness.  Add cucumbers that have been skinned and cubed.  If you prefer you can take the seeds out of your cucumbers. Grind the dried mint in the palm of your hand by taking your other hand and pushing into it.  Add the dried mint to your taste one teaspoon at a time.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  

Serve cold along side or on top of white rice, chicken, hamburger or steak kabobs.  Instead of the water you can add ice and allow it to melt to make the yogurt not quite as thick. And enjoy!  

This recipe is great the next day as well.  And always refrigerate as this will keep up to about 3 days.

Click here to get the printable recipe for Maast o Khiar on my site.

Alise @ The Ranch Kitchen

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sausage, Onion and Pepper Spaghetti

As a young cook I tried to experiment when I could.  As I have said before, I could not have lived without my mom's home written cookbook those first years, but I also think you have to step out on a limb from time to time.  Thank goodness my husband has always been daring with my creations and always honest.  

I think spaghetti sauce is under utilized in many kitchens.  You don't have to just use it for standard meat (beef) spaghetti.  I use several different varieties in my Chicken Spaghetti for a Crowd, and routinely serve it with the quick and easy dish I'm sharing with you today.  

My Sausage, Onion and Pepper Spaghetti is one of those dishes where you look in your refrigerator and realize the  bell peppers need to be cooked, the onions in your bin would be a nice addition, and that turkey or beef link Kielbasa sausage would be really tasty along with it!  Then with a can of 4 Cheese Spaghetti Sauce that most companies such as Hunt's or our local Brookshires grocery store brand Food Club carry, dinner is served in literally under thirty minutes.  Served with a green salad and some garlic toast, you have a dinner even the pickiest eaters like my youngest daughter love.  

If your a young cook or an experienced one, you can be creative with this recipe adding fresh zucchini, yellow squash, or even fresh cherry tomatoes to spice up this dish.  Also, if you prefer white or brown rice over noodles, this is fantastic over that as well.  

I hope you'll try it soon.  It's husband and kid approved around our ranch!  

Sausage, Onion and Pepper Spaghetti

1 package of Kielbasa Sausage, pork or turkey, cut in to 1/2 inch wide rounds
1 onion, quartered and sliced 
1 green bell pepper, cleaned of membrane and sliced
1 red bell pepper, cleaned of membrane and sliced
3 cups spaghetti or egg noodles, prepared according to package directions

Cook sausage in 1/2 cup of water over medium heat.  Water will cook out and sausage will brown evenly after about ten minutes.  ***Make sure you stir and turn sausage frequently until the rounds are browned on both sides.  Take out your sausage and drain on paper towels to reduce excess oil.  Saute onion, green bell peppers in the pan you cooked the sausage in along with one to two teaspoons of Canola, vegetable, or Grapeseed oil.  Cook vegetables until they are slightly limp, but still crisp.  Add back into the pan the cooked/drained sausage.  Add one can of spaghetti sauce on top of sausage/vegetable mixture.  Cook on low until mixture is bubbling.  Turn off and serve over prepared spaghetti  or egg noodles.  


Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Ranch Kitchen's Coleslaw Dressing

One of my favorite couples to visit and camp with are our dear friends Larry and Alicia Bishop.  We've known each other for nearly thirty years and along with our children's friendships, our own has grown with each year.

As you grow older, your friendships are not necessarily with those who are you age.  Larry and Alicia, and their sweet and beautiful children are a few years (7 years older than us), but are likes and dislikes mirror each other!  Larry is an avid outdoor man  and his love of Crappy fishing always benefits fish fry gatherings!  My girls nicknamed him "Larry Queen" as he owns the local Dairy Queen in town.  He delights the girls after each camp out dinner by bringing out Dairy Queen ice cream snacks. It wouldn't be a camping without them! Alicia is one of my girls favorite people, as is Larry and never tires of playing with my girls.  Lindsey, the oldest daughter is happily married and a nurse in Houston who is what I would call a 'gourmet cook' and married to the sweetest, most 'handy' young man who can do just about anything in or out of the house! Logan, is my oldest daughter Ilissa's partner in crime, high school buddy and dear friend.  He to can cook some 'mean' Crappy that Ilissa one night mistook out of his fridge as's a family joke now...  Logan is the hunter deluxe and spends his day running his outdoor store in Jacksonville, and then hunts deer, ducks, hogs, and anything that moves.  He is living the life as most men would love to live!

This past weekend we ran up to the lake to eat dinner with our friends the Bishops and enjoy one of my favorite fish, Crappy.  Crappy is a fish we find in most lakes in Texas and very delicate and without many bones if it is prepared 'cut' correctly.  To add to the meal I brought coleslaw, which is cabbage mixed with onion with a sweetened mayonnaise sauce.  It's a quick, easy preparation and in the deep south of the United States coleslaw is most always a side vegetable dish at fish fries. Most grocery stores in our area sell bottled coleslaw dressing.  However, making it yourself is very simple and I think my new recipes beats any I have ever tried.

You start making coleslaw by either cutting long thing strips out of your cabbage, once the hard core is removed, or you can cut the cabbage in to small pieces and pulse to the desired consistency in your food processor.  I really prefer thicker, chunkier strips of coleslaw that you can easily fork and not scoop with your utensils to eat.

I prepared my dressing in a separate bowl.  You can either wait until about ten minutes before you serve your coleslaw and mix the dressing with the cabbage or do like I did and mix them together two hours before.  Either way is fine depending on how soft or crispy you want your cabbage, as I like mine a little softer.

Most ingredients for my coleslaw dressing are readily in your pantry or cabinets.  The Salad Supreme is a seasoning that is hard to find to be honest.  But when you do, buy several and it's great on garlic bread or sprinkled over a green salad.

Next time you are invited to a fish fry I hope you'll try my dressing with coleslaw.  You can add any multitude of vegetables to it like thin sliced carrots, red or sweet white onions, red cabbage or even broccoli cuts.  Make it your own variation and your family will love it, I promise.  We had only seven people for dinner and one entire head of cabbage almost wasn't enough! With that said, a large head of cabbage may look like a lot for coleslaw, when honestly for a large gathering I'd double the recipe below so that you have plenty.

The Ranch Kitchen's Cole Slaw Dressing

1 head of cabbage, sliced in 1/2 by 4 inch cuts
1 red onion, sliced in 1 inch chunks

Coleslaw Dressing:
2 cups Real Mayonnaise
4 teaspoons Apple Cider Vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 - 2 tablespoons of Salad Supreme, optional

Mix Real Mayonnaise, Apple Cider Vinegar and sugar together in a bowl.  Add garlic salt and pepper and taste to see if you need more pepper.  Add 1 tablespoons of Salad Supreme seasoning and taste.  Add one more teaspoon of Salad Supreme to your taste (like or dislike).  The Salad Supreme adds a special seasoning to the dressing and nice pop of color.

Two hours or ten minutes before pour dressing over the coleslaw that is in a large bowl.  Mix well and serve in a chilled bowl placed on top of bowl full of ice if you are serving it outside in the heat.

Enjoy!  And let me know how you like it!