'Would you like to taste a special drink with your barg kabab?' our gracious host asked, with a beautifully rich accent. 'Um, yes please, but may I ask, what is it?' I replied. 'It is called dugh [pronounced duːɣ], a salted yoghurt drink and it will be very nice with your lamb,' she explained with a smile.
Stocking up on meat and vegetables ahead of Easter, we discovered another 'hidden' treasure trove in the form of a Ḥalāl butcher at the back of our local shopping centre. Among other things we bought a leg of lamb (which, once roasted, we agreed was the MOST tender we've ever eaten), and Peter also found some ayran in the refrigerated cabinet. We bought several 500ml bottles, which I polished off over the first couple of days of the Easter weekend, and then Peter went back for more. I must confess, I am somewhat addicted. 'You must be able to make some,' Peter suggested. But of course!
First a little research. I started with my copy of New Food of Life by Najmieh Batmanglij, subtitled Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies, and recognised as 'the definitive book on Iranian cooking'. On page 370, I found a simple recipe for 'Yogurt Drink' or 'dugh', which the author notes is 'associated with rice with kabab'. Delving further on the inter-web, I found numerous explanations and recipes for both dugh or doogh and ayran. Sawsan a.k.a. Chef in Disguise shares memories of a childhood trip to Istanbul and a fountain of ayran! Sari, who writes at Cook your Dream, shares memories of drinking ayran in Lebanon, but says she first tried it in London. Sanam, at My Persian Kitchen, writes how much she loves doogh, especially with kabob, which she says is the perfect pairing, 'like two peas in a pod'.
Long story short, yesterday I made some ayran or dugh and it was so simple and so delicious, I really don't think I will buy it ready-made again. I made a double batch with thick Greek yoghurt, pure (still) water and used my Fleur de sel. I plan to experiment with some of the variations, which include adding freshly ground black pepper and using carbonated soda water. I recommend that you use good quality ingredients for the best results. Ayran is not dissimilar to forms of the Indian lassi, It may be an acquired taste, perhaps, but much like my exotic-flavoured Persian saffron and lime water, I am loving it! Nush-e jan or cheers/bon appetit!
500ml Greek yoghurt
500ml pure water
11/2 teaspoons sea salt
Combine the yoghurt, water and salt in a jug and blend with a whisk until smooth and well combined. Pour into a bottle, seal and chill (and shake) thoroughly before serving. Makes one litre or two large serves.
Variations: For extra flavour, add a teaspoon of chopped mint leaves or dried mint flakes; and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. You can also try using chilled carbonated soda or spring water or whey instead of the pure still water.