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Tzatziki: Greek Yogurt and Dill Condiment

I'm exceedingly fond of Greek food.

Truth be told, I'm fond of the entire of Greek/ Lebanese/ Turkish suite; there are, for some obvious geographic and historic reasons a fair amount of cross-over in terms of the Mediterranean cuisines. Greek immigrants have carried their traditions with them, and are found all over the Pacific Northwest, especially in Washington. There are a number of Greek festivals in Washington, including Seattle, Spokane, and Tacoma, even San Jose, California. Greek festivals are typically staged by the local Greek Orthodox church, with dancing, music and home-cooked traditional Greek food.

You've probably already heard about the benefits afforded by the Mediterranean diet; what people often miss is that the food is simple to prepare, economical, and just plain tasty. One of the staples of a Mediterranean is yogurt. Anyone who has ever been to a Greek restaurant or enjoyed a Gyros has had the amazing flavorful Greek sauce Tzatziki, made of a rich creamy Greek yogurt base and flavored with fresh dill, garlic, and cucumbers. Tzatziki used as a salad dressing, a condiment, and a dip. Some of us have been known to eat it with a spoon. A number of cultures have something awfully similar to Tzatziki; India has raita, for instance, Bulgaria has a cold cucumber, dill and yogurt soup.

You can buy tzatziki at many grocery stores—Trader Joe's has a better than average version in their deli section, but it's so very easy to make, and so fabulous when you make it fresh with local herbs and cucumbers, that you might as well make it yourself.

If you're going to make tzatziki, it's crucial to buy good fresh plain yogurt. It's best of all if you can find Greek yogurt (try Trader Joe's or your local health food, co-op or Whole Foods if your grocery store only offers Dannon and Yoplait and the like). Greek yogurt is thicker, and creamier than more conventional yogurts. If you do have to make do with non-Greek yogurt, you need to drain it before using the yogurt; a wire mesh works fine. You need to drain it at least a couple of hours, though draining the yogurt overnight in the fridge is better. Occasionally, you need to drain Greek yogurt too; you do want a fairly thick yogurt base for tzatziki.

The basic recipe for tzatziki requires:

Ingredients

  • 1 pint of Greek yogurt (drained if it's watery)
  • 1 tablespoon of finely chopped fresh dill
  • 1 chopped cucumber (remove the seeds first, salt and let drain or squeeze)
  • 1 teaspoon of vinegar or lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon of olive oil
  • 1 or 2 finely chopped cloves of fresh garlic
  • Kosher salt and pepper to taste.

Procedure

  1. The dill and the garlic should be adjusted to suit personal taste and the flavor of the yogurt. Mix all the ingredients together except for the yogurt, then mix them into the yogurt.
  2. Chill over night or for several hours before serving.

Tzatziki works as a dressing on a simple salad of greens, olives, feta and almonds or walnuts, as a sandwich spread instead of mayo, as a dip with triangles of warm pita, a marinade for chicken or lamb, or as one of the necessary ingredients of a gyro.

You can find alternative recipes, and step-by-step photographs here and here.