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Heirloom recipes 4: ‘what is this yogurt shit?’

I asked Malaka Gharib, editor of  The Runcible Spoon, if she would contribute to my new heirloom recipe series and, as luck would have it, she had ‘this yogurt shit’ up her sleeve. The article appears in its original form in the latest edition of The Runcible Spoon, Malaka’s irreverent ‘food and fantasy’ zine of which I am a fervent fan. The Runcible Spoon BLAND issue launches on April 28th and is available to pre-order now. I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of what promises to be the ‘most tasteless issue yet’, but to tide me over, here’s Malaka’s powerful recollection of the first time her aunt served up kishk…

Illustrations by Adriana Gallo

What Is This Yogurt Shit?

The first time I ever had kishk, I was 13, and condemned to stay with my Tunt Muna and my 30-something cousin Rania in their apartment in Garden City, Cairo, for two weeks.

There was nothing to do except read Rania’s collection of Cosmopolitan magazine (I learned a lot about sex in that time period) or watch Seinfeld reruns on the dish (if the reception was good.)

The highlight of the day was a communal dinner, at around 4pm, on the formal dining room table. Tunt was proclaimed the best cook in the Gharib family, but by the time I rolled around, she must have lost her touch. The food was the usual Egyptian: macarona bechamel, kofta, mahshe, which I would eat without fanfare, then retreat back to the balcony for more Cosmo.

One day during my stay, my cousin Ihab, also in his thirties, said he was coming by the apartment for a visit. Ihab was kind of a big deal in our family. He lived in Canada for awhile, spoke French, and dated white women. We were all excited, and Tunt Muna made a big fuss about dinner. She finally settled on kishk and chicken livers.

I had never heard of kishk before or eaten it at any time in my 13 years of existence. Whatever it was, it couldn’t be good, because it was paired with chicken liver, and liver is just gross.

It was time to eat and I held my breath. Tunt brought out the plate of livers, little pink round balls floating in a pinkish-brown sauce, and the kishk, a plain yogurt sauce served cold in individual bowls. I inspected mine: It looked like gravy with too much flour, with a film of white skin at the top. She encouraged me to take my pita bread, break off a little bit of liver, then dip it in the kishk.

Oh hell no.

I had a bite, nearly gagged, and excused myself to the bathroom. I resolved to stay in there as long as humanly possible so that dinner would somehow magically pass and I would be free from eating any more livers and kishk.

In those days I always carried around a notebook and pen (I was still very much into Harriet the Spy) and wrote “What is this yogurt shit?” backwards, using the mirror a la Leonardo da Vinci, to pass the time in the bathroom. I ripped my little note up into shreds and tossed it into the trash.

I heard Tunt calling my name, so I returned.

My antics were a success; the meal had passed, probably because Tunt and Rania were distracted by Ihab’s amazingness. Dinner was followed by the usual tea and fruit, then it came time for Ihab to leave.

At the door, he leaned close to my ear and said in a low voice: “What is this yogurt shit?”

I jumped back and looked at him for a second in bewilderment, incredulous that he had put my tattered da Vinci note back together. “Kishk?” I said.

He winked and smiled, then turned to go. He was as bored to pieces as I was.

Illustrations by Adriana Gallo

Chicken Kishk, Without Liver
Adapted from Magda el-Mehdawy’s “My Egyptian Grandmother’s Kitchen”

1 chicken, cut into 8 parts
1 cup full-fat plain yogurt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, grated
2 cups chicken broth
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper


Boil the chicken until tender, about 20 minutes. Remove bones and skin, then cut into small pieces. Set meat aside and reserve two cups of broth.

Whisk together yogurt and flour, then the milk. Set aside at room temperature for 1 hour.

In a skillet, saute onion in oil until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Remove and set aside, reserving cooking oil and onions.

In a large saucepan, bring chicken broth to boil. Add garlic, salt and pepper and boil for five minutes. Lower heat and stir in yogurt mixture. Simmer, whisking constantly until sauce thickens. Stir in chicken and 1 tablespoon of the onions and simmer until just heated through.

To serve, pour into deep serving dish and sprinkle with remaining onions and reserved cooking oil.

Tunt Muna, first on the left

Disclosure: this is not a sponsored post
For details about my Heirloom Recipes series and how to submit your contributions, please see here

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About Chloe King

I'm a freelance writer, designer and webby type. I live with my husband and daughter in the south of England. I like to cook and can throw a good party.

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12 comments on “Heirloom recipes 4: ‘what is this yogurt shit?’

  1. April 18, 2014 at 4:37 pm

    A TRULY wonderful post and story Chloe and what an honour to be featuring Malaka Gharib, editor of The Runcible Spoon too. Just a brilliant and funny tale, Happy Easter and thanks for making me smile! Karen

    • April 19, 2014 at 4:58 pm

      Thank you Karen! Happy Easter to you too, hope you have lots more laughs over the bank holiday 🙂

  2. April 18, 2014 at 11:12 pm

    I rather fancy this with the chicken liver reinstated. Another lovely post from your series – and thanks so much for the introduction to ‘Runcible Spoon’. I need to get hold of a copy – looks so much up my street.

    • April 19, 2014 at 4:59 pm

      Thanks Joe, you really should get hold of a copy (an some back issues if you can), great zine.

  3. April 19, 2014 at 9:04 am

    What a great post 🙂

  4. April 19, 2014 at 10:36 am

    Lovely post! I love reading about other foodies childhood memories, with what kind of food they grew up and what dishes they have as family staples!

    • April 19, 2014 at 5:00 pm

      Thanks Sylvia. I seem never to tire of these stories either.

  5. April 19, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    What a brilliant story and I have to agree Harriet the spy is an excellent book!

    • April 19, 2014 at 5:04 pm

      Thanks Jacqueline, that chickpea and sweet potato stew sounds lush, having chickpea curry tonight, I hope it compares 🙂

  6. April 20, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    Its so lovely to be able to recreate recipes from your ancestors and family.

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