A strictly specific cookbook title like “Yogurt and Whey” — its nearly 300 pages bound in a thick cover with an off-white abstract design that reveals little — might make one wonder how much author Homa Dashtaki could convey on the subject. The volume’s subtitle, “Recipes from an Iranian Immigrant Life,” hints at the answer: he has a lot to say. These blended foods became cues he used to blend his native and adopted cultures, build a business, and connect with the community.
America’s Best Yogurt?
In 2011, Dashtaki founded White Mustache, a company that makes my favorite yogurt in America and is available in one place locally: Eataly LA in Westfield Century City. (You can also order online via Fresh Direct, Natoora and Eataly’s Instacart platform).
Several years ago, I wrote about how he started making whole milk yogurt in Orange County based on a family recipe with his father, Goshtasb Dashtaki, whose bushy facial hair inspired the company’s name. He began setting up shop at the Laguna Beach Farmers Market, and quickly found himself in a legal confrontation prompted an inspector from the California Department of Food and Agriculture. After two years of lobbying for his fledgling company, he made connections in New York, which turned out to be a more hospitable business environment.
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White Mustache has thrived ever since, selling its signature glass jars filled with creamy yogurt clouds, some flavored with base layers of cherry, date or quince jam.
Dashtaki recounts the origin of the company with a storyteller’s ear for detail in the introduction to “Yogurt & Whey.” The first few pages of it are reason enough to own the book. She writes about growing up in Iran and how her family made frequent car trips from their home in Tehran to the village where her father grew up: “We would crack sunflower seeds between our teeth and sing Iranian folk songs in Farsi and Zoroastrian melodies. in our Dari dialect.”
He also recalls the pomegranate harvests in October and the ritual of selecting which were ripe, which could “be stored well into winter in their leather casings” and which needed to be immediately processed into juice or the boiled paste that gave it flavor. fesenjan and many other dishes.
The family moved to Southern California when Dashtaki was 8 years old. A year later, while she was dealing with her belonging as an immigrant, she decided to become a lawyer. She kept that promise to herself, working 100-hour weeks as a corporate lawyer until she was laid off on the cusp of the Great Recession. She and her retired father were “both depressed and very bored… two generations, two immigrants and no way forward.”
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In the kitchen he turned to what would become the basis of his business. “My family had always made yogurt from scratch. I thought we did it at home just because we were cheap and didn’t trust store-bought products, but I realized we also did it because it was comforting.”
The book contains a three-page low-pressure narrative for making yogurt using the method Dasktaki learned in childhood. Among the instructions: “Telling you how long to incubate yogurt is like telling you how long to sleep. I recommend 8 or 9 hours.”
Many of the yogurt-rich recipes highlight the classics of the Persian culinary canon: crucial sauces to accompany meals; tachin, a savory rice cake lush with egg yolks and shredded chicken (I see it sometimes appearing as a special on the menus of Iranian restaurants in Los Angeles); and the aash-e-maast (also known as ash-e-mast) yogurt stew, thickened with rice and lined with herbs; Dashtaki explains the instructions for two people to tackle the dish together.
This is the ‘serum’
The other ingredient mentioned in the title? That is a different matter. “The recipes in this book that incorporate buttermilk are not based on any tradition or familiarity, but are born out of a commitment to prevent food waste,” he writes. So, explore buttermilk brined pork chops and pulled pork with buttermilk caramel barbecue sauce, buttermilk fermented kimchi and sauerkraut, and quick breakfast breads that use buttermilk, including sponge biscuits. endorsed by Martha Stewart.
An immediate question may come to mind for cooks who want to dive right in, particularly those who aren’t yet ready to make yogurt at home, yet Dashtaki strongly encourages it: Where can we get a substantial amount of whey?
For Angelenos, Eataly is the destination. White Mustache is made there by hand in small batches. “If you write to White MustacheWe will make arrangements so that you can collect the serum and charge only for the packaging”, he recounts in a telephone conversation.
If the word “serum” evokes Little Miss Muffett and her diet of choice, by the time Dashtaki finished speaking on the subject, he was more in mind Armorer, the spiritual leader on “The Mandalorian” who often ends her pronouncements by intoning, ” This is the way.” The phonetic double meaning applies: Dashtaki originally pitched the book to focus exclusively on buttermilk, the nutrient-dense liquid left behind after straining yogurt. It’s a by-product often taken away by big yogurt manufacturers, and if dumped in large quantities into waterways, it can affect bacteria and harm the environment. She consciously made the decision to grow White Mustache as the company that discovered ways to use whey, which led her to sell probiotic buttermilk drinks and popsicles made from fruit and buttermilk.
Ultimately, the team that helped create the book pushed her in directions that made “Yogurt & Whey” the beautiful personal statement it became. “It’s a love letter to my Zoroastrian and Iranian communities,” Dashtaki says, noting that there are enough cookbooks by Iranian authors on the market now that she didn’t feel like she had to write her own as a primer.
His dry wit appears everywhere: in the footnotes urging readers to soak dried chickpeas instead of canned ones, in the teasing headnotes right at the book’s dedication. “To my daughters,” he writes, “in whose strong and beautiful hands I place the responsibility, the joy, and the privilege of carrying on our traditions. Don’t fuck it up.”
“I hear from other Iranian parents that these words, starting with humor and honesty, make children interested in reading the book from cover to cover,” says Dashtaki.
Their movingly articulated sentiments and stories, and the recipes they have inspired, will captivate many of us.
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