Borani Esfanaj: Persian Yogurt & Spinach Dip

This recipe won the competition on Food 52 for “Your Best Spinach Recipe”. It will be published in the Food 52 book by HarperStudio. Here is the link.

In Memoriam- for Mader and the innocent victims who died on Friday, March 12th in Lahore

Asked what one thing he wanted from the outside world before being hanged, a prisoner once said, “Bring me a bottle of Shalimar, to remind me of the best things in life.”

I took a little walk after work to our local department store.

I went to the Chanel counter to apply Chanel No. 19 to my wrists.

Bergamot and sweet cut grass, the scents of my grandmother, Mader, who left us 20 years ago this March.

A lady beyond her time. The first lady to have completed a Master’s degree in Economics in Lahore, Pakistan. A lady who knew the Art of Ikebana

…and quoted “Things past redress are now with me past care,” from Shakespeare’s Richard II, as one would a nursery rhyme from childhood.

A leader in the civil service, and The Matriarch of our home.

I was very young when Benazir Bhutto ran for office, Mader and I stayed up all night, waiting for the election results.

We desperately wanted a woman to become our Prime Minister; the first female ruler of a Muslim State.

We rejoiced in the early hours of the morning when Benazir Bhutto won, and Mader let me take the day off from school.

I don’t remember what we ate, but I am sure it would most certainly have involved an aubergine dish and  Victoria Sponge Cake, her favorite.

Mader had undergone a double mastectomy and confident lady that she was, refused to wear any sort of brassière to show the world otherwise.

All her bespoke kurtas, pieced together with delicate floral fabric from Liberty of London, rested softly on her flat chest, covered with a chiffon dupatta in a criss-cross.

When I hugged her it was not soft and pillowy, but I loved hugging her, regardless.

In the daytime, her hazel-green eyes changed color with the mood of the sun.

Every night I watched, as she applied Pond’s Cold Cream and when she left us, her skin was like milk.

Like Mader, the Sassanian Empress, Pourandokht, must have been a lady beyond her time, too.

“A monarch, regardless of being a queen or a king, must defend his or her land and treat the people with justice,” the Empress said.

She had a love for yoghurt-based cold salads, which were named after her as Pourani.

Over the years, according to legend, this type of dish came to be known as Borani.

I dedicate this to Mader, my paternal grandmother, who passed away 20 years ago this month, whose scent I miss, whose homemade mayonnaise I miss.

And whom I think about whenever I have a question, and know, only she would have the answer.

Also, Happy Mother’s Day to everyone in the UK.

Photo Credit for Ikebana arrangement: The Zen Images Ikebana Blog.

Borani is a cold dish of vegetables slathered in yogurt.

In this dish I have used spinach. The creaminess of the yogurt pairs so well with the grassiness of the dried mint and fresh spinach.

A scattering of chopped walnuts and a trail of olive oil complete the dish.

Serve with lavash or whole wheat pita as an appetizer. Or as a side for the main course.

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Borani Esfanaaj-Yoghurt and Spinach Dip in the Persian Manner

Author: Shayma Saadat


  • 2 6 oz spinach
  • 1 clove garlic, minced and divided into two separate batches
  • 2 tbsp olive oil (not your best, but the type you use for sautéing)
  • 10 oz very thick, drained yogurt (I use 2 small tubs of Greek Yoghurt, 'Total Fage', it comes in a 5.3 oz tub)
  • salt
  • dried mint for garnish (please do use dried vs. fresh mint, therein lies the beauty of this dish- the use of a woodsy, earthy dried herb)
  • handful crushed walnuts
  • your best olive oil


  • Blanch your baby spinach.
  • Drain well, make sure to get all the liquid out. Chop fine.
  • Sauté 1/2 clove of garlic in 2 tbsp olive oil and add the baby spinach. Add a pinch of salt. Stir for a few minutes.
  • Remove from stove, allow to cool, then squeeze out any excess liquid.
  • In a bowl, add yoghurt, 1/2 clove of minced garlic, baby spinach and stir gently. Add salt to taste.
  • Transfer to the bowl you are serving it in (I use a shallow, round bowl) and sprinkle with dried mint, crushed walnuts and a lazy trail of olive oil.
  • Serve with lavash or whole wheat pita.

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  1. Fab post Shyma. It looks creamy & luscious. Plus the memories of childhood always stay with us giving that comforting feeling, just like the family recipes that we cook:)

  2. It’s so sad to hear about your hometown, Lahore! 🙁

    Your dip meets all criteria for my favourite food. I love love love spinach and this dip looks delicious. I have to give it a go! Thank you for sharing this amazing recipe.

  3. ciao ! I’m sorry too about the bombs and I can only imagine how you feel . I keep my grandma’s perfume in a drawer …! I want to try your recipe !!

  4. What a sensitive and touching post! Fortunate are the ones who have an opportunity to share time with grandparents.

    I love the sumptuous photo of the borani, and the easy-to -prepare recipe.Thanks, Spicey for adding diversity to our culinary life!

  5. Another beautiful, moving post. I too love dried mint, although I have to confess I’m not sure I’d be able to spot Chanel No. 19 at 50 paces.

  6. A beautiful tribute to your grandmother and a chance for us all to reflect. Thank you for sharing your memories and this wonderful recipe with us.

  7. EVOCATIVE … beautifully written indeed. I hang on to every word you say. Pond’s Cold Cream… I’m with you. What an honour to have such memories of such a beautiful person. You shared them vene more beautifully; makes her immortal.
    Sorry to hear about the blasts in Lahore. Breaks my heart each time I hear of mindless violence like this. Will it never end?
    That recipe is full of flavour and creamy goodness, and I agree about the woodsy flavour of dried mint. I’m off outside to begin drying my nextr batch. Thank you for the reminder. the flowerbeds are overflowing with mint.

  8. What a lovely post,Shayma, u are a great writer and I feel honoured in saying that u are a true Pakistani and I know u!

  9. This post is so moving, I felt a shiver in my back while reading it.
    I mean, the recipe is really interesting but the memories are such a precious thing!
    Thanks dear.

  10. Terrible news about Lahore 🙁 but a lovely post to your grandmother.

    I really love yoghurty dips, this looks ideal.

  11. I am so sorry about the news in your homeland. When will this come to an end?
    I know it hurts twice as much, when you are far from home, contrary to what people believe…
    How much love for your grandmother your words and images transmit! Wherever she is, she must be proud of you!!

  12. @Maunika Thanks, as always.

    @Sarka Fingers and toes crossed for peace in the region. Thank you so much. I am a big yoghurt fan, especially the thick, creamy variety.

    @Natalia Thanks for your kind words. It is so sweet you keep your grandmum’s perfume close to you. Scent brings back so many memories.

    @Gourmand I was very lucky, indeed. I am sorry I didn’t get to know my paternal grandfather, who was a phenomenal man. The recipe is, indeed, very easy, thank you for visiting, as always.

    @Ollie Thanks, Ollie. Knowing, eating and writing about superb food, as you do, is very important, so what if you don’t recognise a scent? A gentleman can always ask for advice. (hint: I’m here to help). x s

    @Deeba my dear, thanks for your loving comment. I so do wish that things get better, otherwise the country will implode. You’re so lucky to have fresh mint in your garden; to have fresh and dry for later use, too. I love dried mint. I’m sure you can related to the Pond’s Cold Cream vision with regards to your grandmother, too. So much we share. Hugs back to you. x s

    @Ashoo Apa Thanks for always visiting and saying such loving things. Indeed, I am proud to be a Pakistani, let’s pray that the situation improves sometime soon, inshallah.

    @Jasmine Thanks, cara. Memories make for good cooking and good food though, don’t they?

    @Lizzie Thanks so much, Lizzie. I can see from your lovely restaurant reviews that you do love yoghurt. And aubergine 🙂 x s

    @Cristina Thank you, m’dear. We don’t know when things will settle down, just cross your fingers for us, please. Every time I achieve something in life, I do wish my grandmothers were still around. I know they would have enjoyed reading the blog! The beauty of grandparents’ love is that I guess we don’t really have to achieve anything to make them prouder than they already are. Thanks so much. x s

  13. I read your post and I was admiring your prose; I thought of you when I heard about the Lahore bombings; I can relate so well! Our part of the world has been cursed with great riches which makes it a target for evil deeds. But as they say, “this too shall pass”
    Loved reading about your grandmother; she sounds like a woman I would have adored! Brilliant, multi-talented, strong, powerful.
    I too loved it when Benazir Bhutto was elected. Was so sad of her death.
    Great dish, very soothing on a day when one feels melancholy.

  14. Shayma – each of your posts have a heart touching story to it – especially this one. Unfortunately this is the world we live in – wondering what it will come too as well.

    Great dip recipe, we also make this dish I often substitute spinach with lots of dill…

  15. Mader sounds like quite a woman – this is a lovely post. I like the story of the name Borani too. I love all things yoghurt based and will enjoy making this. I had never thought about why dried mint is used in these recipes and often substitute fresh. No longer. Now I know.

  16. My heart goes out to all the families and friends of those innocent victims who died on Friday…it is just so sad. Your post is very touching and I enjoyed reading about your dear grandmother. love borani esfenaaj, delicious!x

  17. Shayma… you make me want to travel across the ocean and give my grandmothers a hug…your words are very touching

    So sad what’s happening in Pakistan. It hurts and it’s hard when you are so far away…I pray it ends soon…we’ve had (and still do) our share of such sad and events in the Middle East…

    This yogurt dip is something I would adore! We make something exactly the same minus the spinach and walnuts… spinach sounds so yummy with it too
    Take care

  18. Shayma, thanks for sharing this lovely tribute to your grandmother, as well as another enticing recipe! And I appreciate your adding details about specific things you use (like the brand of yogurt, why dried mint is important); these make it seem more approachable. I look forward to trying this!

  19. Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous. You’re a brilliant writer, and yet another of your dishes has risen to the top of my “make this next” list! xo

  20. A lovely tribute to your grandmother—and a beautiful recipe we can all enjoy. You have my vote on Food52, of course, and my admiration for your gifts as storyteller and cook. Happy birthday to your hub! xo

  21. @TasteofBeirut Thank you, dear J. I have great admiration for you; for the Lebanese- despite everything that has happened in your country, you carry on and live life with such vigour. My grandmother was a staunch feminist-she taught me so many things and I miss her. As for Benazir, she was a rather complex person- when she came into office, we had so much hope- we thought wow, a Radcliffe-educated Prime Minister. But things didn’t go quite so well…her death was most certainly tragic. Perhaps we can discuss this over a Lebanese coffee one day?

    @Aysegul Thank you. I love the idea of adding dill- dill and yoghurt go so well together. I shall try it next time.

    @MrsTrefusis Grazie, piu bella del mondo. x s

    @Grubworm Thank you. For some reason, the taste is totally different if you use dried mint. I buy mine in DC from a Persian supermarket. I don’t like most dried herbs (oregano, marjoram, basil, for eg., to me, in their dried form, are quite unattractive), but mint seems to work in this particular case.

    @Azita Thank you, Azita joon. Have a lovely weekend. x s

    @Nour Oh please do- hug them for as long as you can. I don’t have my grandparents anymore, and I miss them very, very much. Sadly, I never knew Agha, my paternal grandfather, as he passed away when I was a baby. I know you can relate to what is happening in Lahore- on a deeper level. Thanks for your kind words.

  22. What a moving post, Shayma. I’m so sorry to reply to it so late, but am just now catching up with my favorite blogs. Your words touched my heart. Beautiful memories, beautiful recipe, and I’m very saddened too by what’s happening in Pakistan.

  23. i think our grandmothers would have liked each other – they were from very different worlds but with a shared love of ponds cold cream, liberty prints (I will put out the tablecloth now having read this) and a passionate interest in politics (my granny was as red as they come)
    beautiful writing and recipe.A fitting tribute too.

  24. @Amanda Thank you-I am always left wondering, when people write about certain ingredients- ‘where can I get that’? Hope these little pointers help. Please do let me know how it turns out.

    @Arlene You’re always there to make me feel good. Hugs to you. x s

    @Gluttonforlife Thanks for the birthday wishes for my husband. We had a very long birthday ‘week’! This recipe is gluten-free by the way. And thank you for the support/vote on Food52- so happy to have met you through that forum. x s

    @Bria Thank you so much. Sad to see what is happening, and even more difficult to detach one’s self from it all. We don’t have family outside of Pakistan (except for some cousins and an Aunt in London) so we’re always worried. Fingers crossed that the situation will improve.

    @Rachel How lovely to hear you have your grandmum’s tablecloth. I would adore to see it in one of your posts. Did she also wear Olay’s? Mine did. We gave my grandmum’s clothes away to those who were needy. I wish we had kept some, but I feel happy knowing that the clothes are being used by someone who really, truly needed them. My grandmum was a hardcore feministback in the day- I am sure they would have got along really well. Thank for visiting and for your kindness.

  25. Congratulations Shayma. I make something similar to this but your extra touches of walnut, olive oil, garlic make a world of a difference. i remember Mader very well. what a lady.

  26. I made this last week and it was indeed very yummy. I messed up with my spinach quantities and had 100g too much (such a beautiful colour when it’s been blanched and chopped!) and my yoghurt was a bit too thick, so mine was more spinach than yoghurt, which I will address next time. I served it alongside some keema mince and some home made naan.

    However, there was leftovers, which I stirred through hot wheatberries yesterday, which took it in a completely different direction. I love when recipes are versatile like this!

    Will definitely make again.
    Thanks Shayma!

  27. @Mathilde Thanks, I loved your comment. I think it would be fascinating to cook with you. Love all your dishes.

    @Sabiha Aunty Thank you for the compliment and thanks for the kind words about Mader.

    @Jo Thanks, Jo, first, for saying lovely things and second, for always leaving feedback. I do appreciate it very much. The yoghurt should be very thick- so you did well. As for too much spinach, there is no right or wrong with this recipe in terms of quantity. Homemade naan? I’d love to come over.

    @Mina Thank you so much.

  28. A very moving post and a great dip recipie. Grandparents are a blessing and how I miss mine. Anyhow I made a small batch using half the quantities and tried out various other ‘things’ on hand besides the pita. Found out it goes great with french fries, carrot sticks and (plz don’t get offended at this) believe me, fresh from the fridge last night’s leftover chicken tikka was stupendous with this dip! 😀 From one Lahori to another, we are suckers for good food no matter where it is from.
    P.s I’ve wanted for a long time to start a blog about Lahori street food, delis etc etc and would be obliged if you could give me a few pointers on how to manage one while being highly time constrained as I’m a proffessional (Acca) myself.

  29. @Umair Thank you for your visit and the kind comments. I think it’s a fabulous idea to start a blog about Lahori street food. You could take photos of the Ichra ki masala machli, siri paye, puri halwa, the works. Sadly, people only get to hear about the negative things related to Pakistan in the media; there are so many fascinating things about our culture and our peoples, which we can and should share with the world. I basically have a 6-day work week, Sundays are my cooking/writing/photography days. In addition to the fact that I love what I do, I also have a husband who encourages me and supports me- that’s how I get the job done. Best of luck to you.

  30. I served this while having some friends over for chai and snacks, and everyone loved it! I will definitely be making this again!
    Allah hafiz 😉

  31. I was prompted by memories of this dish from my university days, when my favorite place to eat was a small hole-in-the-wall 24-hour street café in Manila called Persia House. Wasn’t sure it would be the same thing, but I tried making this for a party last Saturday night, and it captured the way I remembered it PERFECTLY. Thank you so much for sharing it, and everything else on your wonderful blog. I’ll be a frequent visitor now, I’m sure!

  32. Hi Shayma,

    This is delicious – not to mention full of calcium. Can this be made with frozen spinach? If so, do we skip the blanching?



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