Flavour Guy: From Mom’s sour cream dip to my worldly yogurt

Mom never made a bad dish. If it wasn’t good, it never got to the table. Who knows how often she worked on a recipe until she felt it was right? I still have cookbooks with her annotations: “extra seasoning” here, “good for a party” there.

These were days of yore, as in you’re going to finish what’s on your plate. I first heard about children starving in Armenia over dinner from my mother. Of course the Armenian genocide was a generation before I was born and I never understood how my eating more food helped them. But times were different. This was when Dads brought home the bacon (or, in our case, the brisket) and Moms cooked it.

The big family meal was Friday night. Candles were lit, prayers sung and belts loosened.

Occasionally there might be a prime rib of roast served with Yorkshire pudding. Deep within I suspect my parents were anglophiles, my mother having grown up in New England and my dad having spent a few years working in London before WWII.

Roast beef was for special occasions, such as the evening I returned from a cycling trip to the Gaspé and informed my folks that I had become a vegetarian, although I neglected to tell them that this was because a girl I had met was one. There it was. My drool caught somewhere between a gorgeous slice of roast meat and a newfound ideology.

Regrettably, I stuck to my principles, which lasted about a week.

This brings us to Mom getting older and still wanting to entertain, which brings us to another roast beef dinner, one that I would cook for her in her apartment.

I chose the meat and made sure that the butcher trimmed it to her specifications. I discussed the recipe with her. I seasoned it and put it in the oven at the correct temperature. I took it out at the right time and brought it to the table. I thought it tasted superb.

But there was a way that Mom did things, which I can never replicate, nor should I. She was unique in many ways, so why not in her cooking or her approach to others cooking her favourite dishes?

At some point in the meal I asked Mom how she liked it. She said, “We’ll talk about this later.”

Yogurt dips

Mom was a dip person. Dinner always started with scotch or wine and appetizers. These often included raw sliced veggies, a paté or cheese, and a dip.

In days of yore, the dip du jour was often sour cream mixed with packaged dry onion soup. It’s not bad, but no one in our circle had heard of yogurt, which I find tastier, not as heavy and more versatile. Sour cream is fine for baking in a coffee cake, served with baked potatoes or, best of all, in borscht. But a good yogurt dip can take you around the world.

I like to blend yogurt with garlic, salt and pepper for a Greek tzatziki. Exchange the garlic for mint and we start to straddle the Middle East. Replace the mint with thyme or chopped shallots and we venture towards Iran. Change that for cucumber and add freshly toasted and ground cumin and we have an Indian raita.

For something special, mix yogurt with a mash of roasted red peppers and roasted garlic and a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Tastes great. Looks great.

I think even Mom would have liked it.

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