The classic Greek yogourt dip flavoured with garlic, cucumber and herbs.
When we were young, we didn’t have all of the gadgets and gizmos that kids today have to keep us amused. We made our own fun, often out of nothing. One of our favourite games was dubbed “Try to make the other person laugh”; one of us would be seated, and the rest of us would take turns, using a variety of tactics, trying to make that person laugh, without touching them. The person who could hold out the longest without laughing was declared, The Winner! We especially liked playing this game when our family was visiting from Ontario, as their visits usually prompted a larger get-together, with more aunts, uncles and cousins. With so many kids, this meant hours of silly fun. It also meant that there was, of course, plenty of food. Along with the pitas, keftedes, salads and grilled meats, there was always tzatziki. Aside from being delicious, this garlicky dip provided more amusement. Invariably, a few of us would sneak a generous helping before the meal was served. We would then get really close to our cousins and siblings, preferably backing them into a wall, and breathe into their faces. Oh, how we laughed and laughed, as they practically choked on the noxious garlic breath they were forced to inhale. Good times.
Let’s face it, tzatziki-breath is a thing. So, when you eat this popular Greek dip (or spread…is it a dip or a spread??), it is always great if those around you eat some too; one tzatziki-breath seems to cancel out another. Luckily, few people can resist the delicious flavour of a great tzatziki, particularly since it can be enjoyed in so many ways. You can eat it with bread, use it to top grilled meats, dip your keftedes and dolmades into it; scoop it up with zucchini chips; there is really nothing which does not taste better with tzatziki…except maybe baklava…that might be gross.
Tzatziki is essentially flavoured yogourt, and therefore the type of yogourt you use will greatly influence the quality of your tzatziki. Traditionally, yogourt made of goat or sheep milk is used, however it is totally acceptable (we think) to use yogourt made from cow milk, which is often more readily available. The key is to buy a good quality, thick-set (or Greek-style) yogourt, and to allow any liquid to drain out of it. There are a couple of ways you can do this. You can wrap your yogourt in cheesecloth, which you then suspend over a bowl by hanging it from something like a wooden spoon (which lays across the rim of your bowl). Alternatively, if you don’t have cheesecloth, you can line a fine sieve with a coffee filter, set that over a bowl, and drain your yogourt. Both methods work equally well; regardless of which you choose, it is important to allow your yogourt to drain in the refrigerator, for several hours, or preferably, overnight.
The recipe below calls for 1 1/2 cups (375 ml) of drained yogourt. This means that you should start off with at least 2 cups (500 ml) or even 2 1/2 cups (625 ml) of undrained yogourt. You will be surprised at how much liquid drains out of even very thick yogourt.
Although this might seem obvious, remember that the yogourt you use must be plain, or natural (unflavoured). We heard a story about some woman (it doesn’t matter who) that once accidentally made tzatziki with vanilla flavoured yogourt, and brought it to a potluck. Even the politest guest could not eat it. The tzatziki-maker, the only Greek in the room, was pretty horrified, especially since she had been talking about how delicious her tzatziki was and how easy it was to make. Read your yogourt labels carefully.
While your yogourt is draining, it is also a good idea to allow your grated cucumber to drain. Again, you can use either the cheesecloth or coffee filter method. Sprinkling your grated cucumber with salt will help to draw out any excess water. Giving your cucumber a good squeeze before combining it with the rest of the ingredients, is the final, important step. The recipe below calls for 1 cup (250 ml) grated cucumber. This is the pre-drained quantity.
Tzatziki-breath is caused by the garlic, which is an essential, albeit stinky, ingredient in tzatziki. The amount of garlic people enjoy in their tzatziki will vary. For this reason, our recipe allows for a range of garlic to accommodate different tastes. We suggest that you start with the smaller quantity and work your way up. Within our family, there are those of us who like their tzatziki relatively mild (leaning towards 1 tablespoon of minced garlic), and some who like it stronger (closer to the 1 1/2 tablespoons of minced garlic). Then, there are some of us who like it very strong, and will add 2 tablespoons of finely minced garlic to the recipe below; caution…this is a lot of garlic, and some people claim that tzatziki this strong makes their mouths feel as though they are on fire. Wimps.
Tzatziki’s flavours will become stronger the next day. If you will be enjoying your tzatziki over the course of a few days, keep this in mind.
Mia Kouppa: Tzatziki
- 1 1/2 (375 ml) cups drained yogourt, plain or unflavoured (you should start off with 2 – 2 1/2 cups (500 – 625 ml) of undrained yogourt)
- 1 cup (250 ml) grated cucumber, peeled and seeded
- 1 teaspoon (4 ml) salt
- 1 – 1 1/2 (15 – 22.5 ml) tablespoons finely minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) Greek olive oil
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml) white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) finely chopped dill
- Drain your yogourt for at least 12 hours or overnight. To do this, you can wrap your yogourt in cheesecloth, which you then suspend over a bowl by hanging it from something like a wooden spoon (which lays across the rim of your bowl). Alternatively, if you don’t have cheesecloth, you can line a fine sieve with a coffee filter, set that over a bowl, and drain your yogourt. Keep yogourt in the refrigerator while it drains.
- Sprinkle salt over your grated cucumber and drain it for several hours or overnight, using the same method as the yogourt. Keep cucumber in the refrigerator while it drains.
- Place 1 1/2 cups (375 ml) of drained yogourt into a large mixing bowl. Squeeze out any excess water from your cucumber and add that to the yogourt. Add the rest of the ingredients. Mix well. Serve with anything and everything. Enjoy.