A new cookbook about Iranian comfort food from the woman behind America’s best yogurt company

Dishes from Homa Dashtaki's cookbook "Yogurt & Whey."
Yogurt-marinated fried chicken and tachin (a rice-and-chicken dish enriched with yogurt, egg yolks and butter) are among the recipes in Homa Dashtaki’s cookbook “Yogurt & Whey.”
(Chris Simpson)

A narrowly specific cookbook title like “Yogurt & Whey” — its nearly 300 pages bound in a thick cover with an abstract, off-white design that reveals little — might make one wonder just how much author Homa Dashtaki could possibly convey on the subject. The volume’s subtitle, “Recipes of an Iranian Immigrant Life,” alludes to the answer: She has plenty to say. These twinned foods became keys she used to straddle her native and adopted cultures, create a business and connect with community.

In 2011 Dashtaki founded the White Moustache, a company that makes my favorite yogurt in America and is available one place locally: Eataly L.A. in Westfield Century City. (Online orders may also be made in Los Angeles via Eataly’s Instacart platform.)

Several years back I wrote about how she first started making whole-milk yogurt in Orange County based on a family recipe with her father, Goshtasb Dashtaki, whose bushy facial hair inspired the company’s name. She began setting up shop at the Laguna Beach Farmers Market — and quickly found herself in a legal confrontation sparked by an inspector from the California Department of Food and Agriculture. After two years of lobbying for her fledgling venture, she made connections in New York, which proved to be a more hospitable business environment.

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White Moustache has thrived since, selling its signature glass jars full of creamy clouds of yogurt, some flavored with jammy base layers of sour cherry, date or quince.

Dashtaki recounts the company’s origin with a storyteller’s ear for detail in the introduction to “Yogurt & Whey.” Its opening pages are reason enough to own the book. She writes about her childhood in Iran and how her family took frequent car trips from their home in Tehran to the village where her father was raised: “We cracked sunflower seeds between our teeth and sang along to popular Iranian songs in Farsi and to Zoroastrian tunes in our dialect of Dari.”

She also recalls pomegranate harvests in October and the ritual of sorting through which ones were ripe, which could be “stored well into the winter in their leathery encasings” and which ones needed to be processed immediately for juice or the boiled-down paste that flavored fesenjan and many other dishes.


The family moved to Southern California when Dashtaki was 8. A year later, while grappling with belonging as an immigrant, she resolved to become a lawyer. She kept that promise to her early self, working 100-hour weeks as a corporate attorney until she was laid off at the cusp of the Great Recession. She and her retired father were “both depressed and very bored … two generations, two immigrants and no path forward.”

In the kitchen she turned to what would become the foundation of her business. “My family had always made yogurt from scratch. I had thought we made it at home only 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 in the method Dasktaki learned in childhood. Among the instructions: “Telling you how much time to incubate yogurt is like telling you how long to sleep. I recommend 8 or 9 hours.”

Dishes made from breakfast recipes in "Yogurt & Whey."
Dishes made from breakfast recipes in Homa Dashktaki’s cookbook “Yogurt & Whey.” Pictured is her father, Goshtasb Dashtaki, whose facial hair inspired the name of her White Moustache yogurt company.
(Chris Simpson)

Many of the yogurt-rich recipes highlight classics of the Persian culinary canon: dips crucial for accompanying meals; tachin, a savory rice cake lush with egg yolks and threaded chicken (I see it sometimes appear as a special on menus at L.A.’s Iranian restaurants); and the yogurt stew aash-e-maast (also known as ash-e-mast), thickened with rice and forested with herbs; Dashtaki spells out the directions for two people to tackle the dish together.

This is the ‘whey’

The other ingredient mentioned in the title? That’s a different matter. “The recipes in this book that incorporate whey are not based in any tradition or familiarity but born out of a commitment to preventing food waste,” she writes. Thus she explores whey-brined pork chops and pulled pork with whey-caramel barbecue sauce, kimchi and sauerkraut fermented with whey and breakfast quick breads that use whey, including fluffy biscuits approved by Martha Stewart.

An immediate question might come to mind for cooks who want to dive right in, particularly those not quite ready to make yogurt at home, however mightily Dashtaki encourages it: Where can we get our hands on a substantial amount of whey?


For Angelenos, Eataly is the destination. The White Moustache is made by hand there in small batches. “If you write us at White Moustache, we will arrange for you to be able to pick up whey and charge only for the packaging,” she relays in a phone conversation.

If the word “whey” conjures Little Miss Muffett and her diet of choice, by the time Dashtaki finished speaking on the topic I was more in mind of the Armorer, the spiritual leader on “The Mandalorian” who often finishes her pronouncements by intoning, “This is the way.” The phonetic double entendre is applicable: Dashtaki originally pitched the book to focus exclusively on whey, the nutrient-dense liquid that remains after straining yogurt. It’s a byproduct that is often carted away by large yogurt manufacturers and, if dumped in large quantities into waterways, can potentially affect bacteria and be damaging to the environment. She made a decision to grow the White Moustache consciously as the company that figured out ways to use whey, which led to selling probiotic whey drinks and popsicles made from fruit and whey.

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Ultimately the team who helped create the book pushed her in directions that make “Yogurt & Whey” the beautifully 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 she had to write hers as a primer.

Her dry wit shows up everywhere — in footnotes urging readers to soak dried chickpeas rather than use canned ones, in quippy headnotes and right off in the book’s dedication. “To my daughters,” she writes, “in whose strong and beautiful hands I place the responsibility, joy and privilege of carrying on our traditions. Don’t f--- it up.”

“I’m hearing from other Iranian parents that those words, by starting off with humor and honesty, have kids interested in reading the book cover to cover,” Dashtaki says.


Her movingly articulated sentiments and stories — and the recipes they’ve inspired — will have many of us absorbed.

The cover of Homa Dashtaki's "Yogurt & Whey"
The cover of Homa Dashtaki’s “Yogurt & Whey”
(W. W. Norton & Co.)

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