Tzatziki is by far the most well-known and well-loved of all the Greek dips. This tangy and savoury dip is often served as a meze, or as a sauce accompanying souvlaki, gyros, and other grilled meats. It goes well with fried potatoes, grilled vegetables, or with a simple slice of toast, or pita bread as well.
I have fond memories of my parents and I going out to have dinner at a Greek restaurant near by our house (the only Greek restaurant in our small town, mind you). Not being that knowledgeable about Greek food at the age of four, I would often just opt for a ‘Gyros plate’; a huge platter full of salty, shaved grilled pork, accompanied by a salad, some tomato-y rice, greasy fries, and… Tzatziki! I don’t know if my parents ordered extra tzatziki on the side, or if the dip was actually served in huge quantities, but we’d often have a container full of it to take back home with us, much to my delight. There are some home videos of me (hidden somewhere on an old VCR-tape) sitting at the dining table, wrist-deep into the container, licking the garlicky sauce of my fingers whilst exclaiming: SO TASTY! It’s easy to say that from the tender age of four I was hooked on the stuff.
Later, the restaurant we used to frequent switched owners and even closed down for a while, and dinners there were never quite the same anymore and we moved on to other restaurants. Luckily, as I got older, I found out it is incredibly easy to make tzatziki at home as well! The allure of this classic Greek meze comes from the combination of thick, creamy Greek yoghurt, fresh cucumber, lots of garlic, fresh dill and, as with most Greek dishes, a good glug of olive oil. Though, a good tzatziki is not just the result of merely throwing all of these ingredients together.
First of all, a good Tzatziki stands and falls with the fat-content and quality of the yoghurt. Tzatziki made with low-fat yoghurt, or the horrible thin and ‘pourable’ yoghurts we have back home in the Netherlands, are disappointing to say the least. Unsurprisingly, when the yoghurt is low-fat, or too thin, it lacks in the richness and creaminess of a real Greek Tzatziki. Please, do use a real full-fat Greek yoghurt if you can!
Secondly, you need to make sure that your cucumber is well-drained before mixing it with the yoghurt, as the high water-content can turn the usual creamy dip into a lumpy and watery mess. You will have to scrape out the seeds and watery inside, grate the cucumber, sprinkle it with salt, and let it drain in a fine mesh sieve for about an hour. Some people prefer to peel the cucumber, but I really can’t be bothered to do so and I quite like the flecks of dark green in the end product. I’ve seen some recipes that suggest you let the cucumber drain overnight, but I find this unnecessary. Rather, after letting the cucumber drain for an hour, you simply wrap the cucumber in a cheesecloth (or anything like it, I’m using this piece of tulle as a makeshift cheesecloth) and squeeze the final excess liquid out of it. If you don’t own a cheesecloth, try to just squeeze it out with your hands, you’ll be surprised by how much juice will still come out.
Last, but not least: the garlic! I like my Tzatziki properly garlicky… I mean, without much garlic what’s the point? Though, lots of fresh garlic can give the sauce a bitter aftertaste and almost burning sensation. That’s why I like to let the garlic and other ingredients ‘marinate’ in the yoghurt for at least an hour. Admittedly, the tzatziki tastes even better when it’s made a day in advance, though, who’s got the self-restraint to leave it in the fridge untouched for that long?! Not me.
My recipe here is with lots of chopped fresh dill and a dash of red wine vinegar, because that’s what I am used to now and have grown to love, but you could try adding some fresh mint, and replace the vinegar with some lemon juice as well! If you’re really not too keen on strong garlicky flavours and prefer a mild tzatziki, add only 2 cloves of garlic instead of the 6 I’m using.
Tzatziki / Τζατζίκι (Greek Yoghurt Dip)
- 1 small cucumber, or ½ large cucumber
- 500g plain Greek yoghurt
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons good olive oil
- 2 - 6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 1 small bunch of fresh dill, finely chopped (should amount to about 1 ½ tablespoons)
- Pinch of salt, plus another for the cucumber
- Black olive for garnish (optional)
- Slice the cucumber lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with a teaspoon.
- Grate the cucumber and sprinkle on a pinch of salt. transfer to a fine mesh sieve and drain for 1 hour.
- In a bowl, combine yoghurt, vinegar, olive oil, finely chopped garlic, and a pinch of salt. Cover and refrigerate.
- After the cucumber has been draining for an hour, wrap it in a cheesecloth (or use your hands) and squeeze out every last bit of liquid.
- Combine the cucumber and your chopped dill with your garlicky yoghurt mixture. Stir.
- Serve tzatziki with an extra drizzle of olive oil and a black olive on top (optional).