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