Is it sauce or is it a salad? In my house, tzatziki is both. And if you need confirmation, Larousse Gastronomique, the venerable French culinary encyclopedia, backs me up on that. (Larousse’s entry on Tzaziki starts out “Greek dish, a type of salad or dip, served as a first course or with a selection of mezze as a snack or hors d’ouevre.) That’s why I named this post Tzaziki – Yogurt and Cucumber Sauce or Salad.
Although it is great on pita chips or cut-up veggies, we don’t limit tzatziki to the beginning of a meal or snack-time. In fact, one of my favorite ways to serve tzatziki is with a main course of fish, chicken shish kebab, or lamb meatballs. (Speaking of lamb meatballs – keep watch for the next post.)
I rarely make tzatziki – yogurt and cucumber sauce or salad exactly the same way twice in a row. The essentials are yogurt and cucumbers, but after that it’s all about what I have on hand and my mood. What kind of yogurt to use, cut the cucumbers or shred them, add lemon juice or not, include mint or dill, use other herbs? These are just a few of the ways tzatziki can go in different directions.
Thick Greek yogurt makes it into a salad, while my homemade yogurt or store-bought “American” or “French-style” yogurt makes it more of a sauce. If I want a salad but have only thinner yogurt, I add a bit of sour cream to thicken the mix.
The type of cucumbers you use also makes a difference. Traditional American cucumbers tend to have many watery seeds in the center, so I scoop that part out with a spoon before slicing or grating them. For longer English cucumbers of the tiny Persian ones, I may not scoop out the seeds if they aren’t very juicy.
If I want to make the cucumbers stand out, I increase the ratio of cucumbers to yogurt, salt them (with about ½ teaspoon of salt, to release water that the vegetable usually holds inside), let them drain for about 30 minutes in a strainer or colander set over a bowl, then rinse off the salt thoroughly and press the water out, making the cucumbers more flexible and thinner before adding them to the yogurt. Photos of that process are in my post on yogurt and dill salad.
Garlic is an optional ingredient in tzaziki. While I do love it in cooked sauces and stir-fry, I’m generally not a fan of raw garlic. In order to keep the “bite” of the garlic from overwhelming this (uncooked) dish, I sauté it lightly in olive oil.
This recipe is basically a template. Take it in any direction that suits your fancy and if you end up with a delicious dish that doesn’t fit the definition of tzatziki, just give it a new name and enjoy!
Tzatziki – Yogurt and Cucumber Sauce or Salad
Servings – About 2½ cups Cost – $3-4
- 2 cups yogurt, homemade or store-bought
- ½ cup finely diced flat leaf parsley and/or fresh mint (I make mine at least half mint)
- ½ cup peeled, seeded and finely chopped cucumbers
- 1 clove garlic (optional) – mashed or finely diced, raw or sautéed in ½ teaspoon olive oil.
- 1 teaspoon salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- Cutting board
- Measuring cup
- Measuring spoons
- Large spoon
- Vegetable peeler
- Strainer or colander (optional)
- Small saucepan (optional – for sautéing garlic)
- Stir the yogurt until there are no lumps.
- Scoop out the cucumber seeds and salt the cucumber pieces if desired, making sure to rinse them thoroughly and press all the water out before adding them to the yogurt. (See description above.)
- If you like garlic, but want to mute its pungency, sauté the mashed or finely diced clove for about 45 seconds in about ½ teaspoon of olive oil on a medium low light, until it is lightly browned. Quickly remove the cooked garlic from the pan so it doesn’t continue to cook.
- Add the chopped garlic, the finely diced parsley and/or mint, the salt and pepper and the lemon juice to the yogurt. Stir until the ingredients are thoroughly combined.
- Refrigerate the tzatziki for at least several hours or overnight to give the flavors time to meld.
Coming on Wednesday – Lamb meatballs. Perfect with tzatziki!