A new Iranian cookbook puts the spotlight on yogurt and whey

New York Shuk Eggplant. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Scott Suchman

Two weeks before the launch of Homa Dashtaki’s book “Yogurt & Whey,” she threw a party at the California Zoroastrian Center in Westminster, southeast of Los Angeles. For several days she and her parents shaped spiced ground meat for kebab koobideh around swordlike skewers to sizzle over charcoal, streamed tart pomegranate molasses into the stew fesenjān, and poured steeped saffron, like marigold ribbons, into Persian rice. Garlands of oranges and their leaves ran down the center of feast tables, a homage to the culture’s agrarian roots.

As members of the Indigenous Iranian Zoroastrian community – arguably the first monotheistic religion in the world, dating back to the 5th century BCE – Dashtaki’s family had lived in the belly of the adobe village, Yazd, Iran. When she was a girl, they immigrated to America. The friends who had embraced them decades earlier gathered around her on this night. “My book is launching in two weeks, and before I give it to anyone else, I need you to have it,” she said to her guests. “This is for you.”

For anyone living within a 20-mile radius of the White Moustache, the yogurt business she founded in Brooklyn, Dashtaki’s expertise is well-established. The yogurt’s unique tang is delicious, eaten plain or in Persian-inspired flavors such as date and sour cherry. At the outset, skeptics couldn’t imagine that making yogurt would lead to success. Her choice of work is poignant given that as a teenager she wanted nothing to do with any food that would set her apart from her peers in the high school cafeteria.

Beyond celebrating her rich birthright, the book explores Dashtaki’s most significant business problem. Some of the whey is strained off to achieve the yogurt’s velvety texture, leaving the nutrient-rich “almost neon green” extract. In a shockingly anti-capitalist move she calls “intentionally unsavvy,” she capped production for a period to search for a way to use it. Throwing it out was cheap but didn’t sit right with her.

She tried selling it in bottles with little luck. Recently she’s made whey tonics and ice pops with it, and there’s still whey left to sell to restaurants and bakeries. “I’m wildly ambitious and am always percolating ideas,” she says.

From a distance in a bookstore, it isn’t apparent that “Yogurt & Whey” is a cookbook; it’s international in design, with no food shot or smiling celebrity chef on the cover.

Saffron yogurt for New York Shuk Eggplant. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Scott Suchman

“Cookbooks have leaned so heavily on beautiful photography on every page, but it can get tiresome,” says creative director Sarah Cave. “We wanted to create a graphic abstract to look like pools of spilled cream in a color reminiscent of poured plaster.”

The handful of photos inside often reference the ancient Zoroastrian food culture and their sophisticated hospitality. You’ll catch glimpses of Dashtaki’s father Goshtasb’s bushy mustache that inspired the business name. Recipes are set on the page with plenty of white space, giving the book a meditative quality. Throughout are charming illustrations by Iranian multidisciplinary artist Roksana Pirouzmand. Talk to any of the collaborators, and it’s clear there was an abundance of pleasure working as a community on the project.

Most cookbooks are made in a two- or three-year breakneck cycle from the proposal stage to bookstore shelves. Dashtaki took nine years. “I’m so grateful it was allowed to cook and incubate as long as it did,” she says. The long production infuses it with a mature intelligence. The subject may be niche, but the cookbook has the confidence and singular vision of a classic.

“It’s a grown-up book,” says Nicola Miller, the British food writer behind the newsletter “Tales From Topographic Kitchens.” “I’d expect to find it alongside Patience Gray’s ‘Honey From a Weed.'”

“Yogurt & Whey” is part literary. It reads like a novel – the recipes and chapters are wrapped in stories written by the kind of cook you want to have a long talk with in the kitchen.

“One of the books I emulated was ‘Like Water for Chocolate.’ I loved its emotion,” Dashtaki says. “I was writing about my life, including ingredients like lemons, walnuts, and mint.” Modern and traditional recipes punctuate the narrative – the lush New York Shuk Salad with its creamy roast eggplant and saffron yogurt finish, the fresh whey ceviche, and whey pancakes to please everyone.

In the current zeitgeist for all things fermented, it surely will appeal to anyone curious about wild cultures – from sourdough to brines.

“I am Armenian, and yogurt has been a big part of my life,” said Andrew Janjigian, the food writer behind the newsletter “Wordloaf.” “I’m loathe to waste, and the whey pickles have inspired me.”

The master recipe for the White Moustache Yogurt and Whey runs four pages. “I feel like I’m sharing a secret family recipe with you,” Dashtaki writes. “I have nothing bigger to offer.”

Most recipes in the cookbook call for yogurt or whey, but as her business suggests, you don’t need to make them. Buying locally produced yogurt is ideal with one caveat; it can’t contain stabilizers or thickeners that will prevent the yogurt and whey from separating. Several recipes, such as the Cauliflower Whey Soup, call for quantities of whey beyond what straining a jar or tub of yogurt will yield. Dashtaki recommends buying whey from a local yogurt maker.

In the headnotes for the chapter on wine and whey cocktails, Dashtaki writes, “May we all be given the time to reach such full potential.”

Don’t ask her what’s next. She had to work through grief and sadness after receiving the final copy, knowing part of the journey was over. True to form as a long-game player, she says, “I want to celebrate this book for the next 10 years.”

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New York Shuk Eggplant Salad

Total time: 40 minutes

4-6 servings

This dish, which in Israeli culinary tradition is a salad as much as a side, was born out of a dinner that cookbook author Homa Dashtaki co-hosted with Ron and Leetal Azari, an Israeli couple who own a harissa company called New York Shuk. The dinner was for the Jewish holiday Shavuot, which often features dairy dishes. The dish has three parts: an overnight-infused saffron yogurt, roasted eggplant and harissa tomatoes.

When choosing eggplants, look for those that have tight, shiny skin. To save time, prep the eggplants and slip them in the oven before chopping the other vegetables and making the dressing and tomatoes.

Make ahead: The saffron yogurt needs to be refrigerated for at least 12 hours before serving.

Storage: If not eating right away, refrigerate the components separately in covered containers. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before assembling to take off the chill.


– For the saffron yogurt

1/4 teaspoon saffron threads

1 tablespoon hot water

1 cup strained plain whole-milk Greek-style yogurt

1 pinch fine salt

– For the eggplant

2 large globe eggplants (1 1/2 pounds total)

3/4 cup olive oil, divided

3/4 teaspoon fine salt, divided

1 bunch fresh flat leaf parsley leaves and tender stems, finely chopped

1 bunch scallions, finely chopped

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 lemons)

– For the tomatoes

2 medium Roma tomatoes (8 ounces total)

2 tablespoons harissa

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/8 teaspoon fine salt


Step 1

Make the saffron yogurt: At least 12 hours before you plan to serve the dish, crumble the saffron threads into a medium bowl. Add the hot water and let sit until cool, about 5 minutes. Stir in the yogurt and salt until combined. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight. The yogurt mixture will turn a saturated shade of yellow and become infused with the flavor of saffron.

Step 2

Make the eggplant: Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees.

Step 3

Partially peel the eggplants by removing a 1-inch-wide strip of skin lengthwise, alternating with a 1-inch strip of skin on, creating long, zebra-like stripes. Cut the eggplants into 1-inch dice.

Step 4

In a large bowl, toss the eggplant with 1/4 cup of the olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Spread in a single layer on a large, rimmed baking sheet and roast, tossing halfway through, for 20 to 30 minutes, or until soft. Remove from the oven and let cool on the sheet. (Reserve the bowl for later use, no need to rinse.)

Step 5

Make the tomatoes: Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. In a medium bowl, prepare an ice bath and set it near your work area.

Step 6

Using a paring knife, score an X just through the skin on the bottom of each tomato. Carefully lower the tomatoes into the boiling water and blanch just until the skin around the X begins to curl back, 20 to 30 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the tomatoes to the prepared ice bath. Once cool enough to handle, peel each tomato starting with the X; the skin should come off easily.

Step 7

Cut the tomatoes in half across the equator and, if you desire, use your fingers to scoop out the seeds. Dice the tomatoes into 1/4-inch cubes. Transfer to a small bowl, add the harissa, olive oil and salt, and stir to combine.

Step 8

In the same large bowl used for the eggplant, combine the parsley, scallions, the remaining 1/2 cup olive oil, the lemon juice and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Add the eggplant and stir to combine.

Step 9

To assemble the salad, use the back of a spoon to smooth the cold saffron yogurt across a platter, creating slightly raised edges around the perimeter. Top with the roasted eggplant mixture. Spoon the harissa tomatoes over and serve.

– – –

Nutritional Facts

Per serving (1 1/2 cups), based on 6




12 g


5 mg


34 g


5 g


6 g

Saturated Fat

5 g


452 mg


6 g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.



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