Ab Doogh Khiar- Cucumber Soup With Walnuts and Crunchy Shallots in the Persian Manner

Persian cucumber soup

Her name was Bridget but we called her Aunty Brige. Not pronounced ‘bridge’, like the one which connects two points across a river, but Brige, with a long ‘i’, as in liege. She was tall and wore lots of white, flowing dresses which looked beautiful with her crown of wavy, strawberry blonde hair. One could imagine her sitting elegantly next to a harp, with her fingers plucking at the strings. Aunty Brige had light eyes; I cannot remember if they were green or blue or hazel, and they were always hidden behind large spectacles.Aunty Brige was the wife of the Irish Ambassador to Nigeria, and became my Ami’s dear friend when we lived in Lagos. On weekends, Aunty Brige and her husband, Uncle Aidan would invite us to go motoring through the Lagos Lagoon in their boat, towards the Tarkwa Bay. The boat would sometimes rock up and down and Aunty Brige would squeeze my hand and say, “Ah, it’s very choppy today.” Terrified, I just wanted to cry and get the hell off of that boat and build my sand castle at the Bay. She loved little girls, especially since she had six boys of her own and just one daughter. She told my Ami that when her last child was born, while the nurse swaddled the newborn baby, she asked Aunty Brige what she would like the name to be. Exhausted after labour, she simply waved her hand and said, “Oh, anything, Tom, Dick or Harry.” The nurse laughed and said, “Mrs. Mulloy, I don’t think your daughter would appreciate those names.”

It was during our years in Lagos that my youngest sister was born. Ami was away in Washington with my younger sister for the delivery, whilst Baba and I stayed back. Knowing I was feeling lonely without my mother, Aunty Brige would bring me soft cakes made with marzipan, which she knew were Ami’s favourite. On weekends they would invite us to their home for lunches. Uncle Aidan, a gourmand, loved having chilled soups during lunchtime; he found them particularly cooling in the tropical heat of Lagos. It was my first time trying a cucumber-yoghurt soup and it was unforgettable: mainly because I couldn’t drink more than a few spoonfuls. My childhood palate never let me forget how awful it tasted back then. It was cold, and I couldn’t understand why we were drinking cucumber juice mixed with yoghurt, out of a bowl, and that too, with a spoon.

Persian cucumber soup

After we left Lagos for Washington DC, Aunty Brige continued to send me birthday cards every year, but soon after that I moved to Lahore to live with my grandmother, and we lost touch with them all together. I heard from a friend, many years later, that Aunty Brige had passed away from cancer. Sweet Aunty Brige, who took photos of me building sandcastles in Tarkwa Bay.

All these years later, I came to appreciate cucumber-yoghurt soup, which always reminds me of Uncle Aidan and Aunty Brige. Especially that time in my childhood when not many things tasted very good, don’t forget, I was drinking a lot of Campbell Chicken Noodle Soup back then. My tastebuds were almost ruined.

This is just the sort of soup I would make for my Aunty Brige, but with my own Persian spin on it- chilled, with beads of crunchy cucumbers, fragrant with mint and a bit of earthiness from the walnuts. And finally, topped off with crackly fried shallots which melt into the cool soup as caramelised ribbons.

Persian cucumber soup

Persian cucumber soup

Serves 4-6 as a first course or 10-12 in smaller portions for a cocktail party

Ingredients:
*1 shallot, sliced thin
*1 tbsp olive oil
*6 English (mini) cucumbers (approximately 300g)
*handful mint leaves (no stalks)
*1 garlic clove
*salt to taste
*1½ cup or approximately 350 g Greek or whole milk yoghurt
*½ cup or approximately 60 g walnuts, plus some more for garnishing, crushed and chopped by hand
*Dried rose petals for garnish- found in most Persian grocery stores (optional)

Preparation:
*Slice shallot thinly;
*Place a small frying pan on medium-high heat and add one tablespoon of olive oil;
*Add shallots and fry till a dark golden colour;
*Transfer to a newspaper or paper towel and allow to dry.
*Set aside;
*Peel the skin from cucumbers;
*Slice each cucumber lengthwise and with a teaspoon, gently scoop out the seeds. Divide cucumbers into two separate batches;
*Take the first batch of cucumbers and slice into very thin strips lengthwise. Then dice into very small pieces, approximately less than ½ centimetre and 1/8th of an inch. (See photo above).
*Set first batch of cucumbers aside.
*Take the second batch of cucumbers and garlic clove and place in a blender or food processor. Blend till completely smooth.
*Add mint leaves to the blender or food processor and pulse just so the mint leaves are shredded but not completely blended in. You want to be able to see small specks of the mint leaves.
*Transfer the puréed cucumber and mint to a mixing bowl. Add Greek yoghurt, walnuts, the first batch of diced cucumbers and gently mix to combine. Add salt to taste.
*The consistency should be like that of a thick soup. If it is too watery for your liking, you can add more Greek yoghurt, if it is too thick, add some ice cold water, tablespoon by tablespoon till you get the desired consistency.
*Place in the fridge and allow to chill for 2-3 hours.
*Serve in a soup bowl or in tiny glasses and just prior to serving, garnish with crunchy shallots, crushed walnuts and (optional) dried rose petals.

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Comments

  1. Joyce Klassen says:

    Thank you for sharing such a delightful story. I am Irish and could hear the Irishness coming out in your description of Brige – well done! The story now inspires me to make your recipe. I do some catering and often offer chilled soups in the summer time and serve them in little Chinese tea cups. This would work great that way too and it looks beautiful AND delicious!

  2. not only a beautiful story, but a beautiful recipe and presentation. thank you for sharing!

  3. gourmand says:

    With the hot summer fast approaching…even robins seek the cool shelter…the cold cucumber soup recipe is exactly what the meteorologist ordered. Thanks Spicey for the touching story about the grand old Irish couple in West Africa…cooling it off in hot and humid Lagos….boat, khaki’s, solar hat and all!

  4. Anything with yoghurt gets my vote. I love the pretty rose petals too, gorgeous!

  5. Mmmm…doesn’t this look cool and refreshing. Love the addition of the fried shallots, their sweet-crunchy earthiness would be perfect here. – S

  6. This would be beautifully cooling, especially somewhere as hot as I imagine Lagos could get. I love the additions you have made to it, the nuts and the mint – to give a little texture and cooling aromatic flavour. Delicious. I’m itching to go and play with this recipe now.

    I reckon you could substitute some saffron for the mint and pistachios for walnuts to make it richer, if less cooling (Sorry, I started to head off into a saffron-lassi-in-summer-baked-Jaipur reverie…).

  7. @Joyce Thank you so much. I am sure your soups look really pretty in those dainty Chinese cups. Ah, catering, one of my many dreams.

    @Yasmeen And thank *you* for visiting.

    @Gourmand Thank you for your kind words- it’s very hard to elaborate in words, those days in Lagos- they were really fantastic.

    @Helen I love yoghurt, too, especially with aubergine.

    @Oui,Chef Thank you, Steve, as always.

    @Grubworm Thanks, Aaron- though I must point out that I cannot take credit for the mint, walnuts or rose petals- the presence of those is very typical for this Persian recipe. The crunchy shallots are the only addition I can take credit for.

    Mmm…a chilled soup with saffron and pistachio sounds lovely, but then that would not be ab doogh khiar anymore :)

  8. i love this story (no surprise!) and this soup is lovely. i would love to sit down to something this pretty and delicious to start off dinner.

  9. lovely memory and recipe. sounds so refreshing!

  10. Hi..Nicely done and delishhhh and stylishhhh
    i posted ur blog on my FB wall as well.

    Mina

  11. What a lovely story of shared unity between two cultures. I loved reading it. I made a dinner for 16 people last weekend. The samosas my daughter and I made had a yogurt/cucumber dipping sauce that sounds a bit like this soup. It was really tasty. Thank you for this warm hearted story.

  12. The loveliest blog ever – sparkling tastes, colours, memories, writing. I can’t understand I haven’t found you earlier.
    Thank you, Shayma !

  13. @Yasmin Thank you- unfortunately, as you know, it’s not quite the weather for chilled soups in Toronto, yet.

    @Nadia Thanks, lovely lady.

    @Mina That is most kind of you, thank you.

    @Snippets of Thyme Thank you- that dipping sauce you had is called ‘raita’ and is a Pakistani yoghurt and vegetable dip/side dish. This soup is very similar to that, except in this dish, we add walnuts.

    @Lady Jane Grey Thank you for that very sweet comment.

  14. What a lovely story, and a lovely soup, Shayma. Really enjoyed reading this.

  15. I’m making this tonight after work :)

  16. Nastaise Mulloy says:

    Hi,
    I am just wondering who you are and where you are you write so beautifully about my mother in law. I would have loved to have shared more recipe and cooking hours with Briege but it was not to be. I see Briege and Aidan in all my children and in Eanna- her son and my husband.

  17. thank you so much for writing this wonderful article. aidan (my namesake) and brige were my grandparents, who i was unfortunately never able to meet. my mother was particularly disappointed about this but every so often i see things like this which connect me with that heritage. it’s a pretty scorching summer here in sydney so i guess we’ll have to share around some cucumber soup!

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