Another day, another classic Mediterranean/Middle-Eastern dip, this time Tzatziki, or Cacik as it’s known in Turkey. (It’s certainly not Irish, but at least I’ve got some green going on!) Whatever you want to call it, this dip stands out as one of my all-time favorites. Cool, thick Greek-style yogurt is combined with crisp, refreshing cucumbers and laced with pungent garlic and mint for a concoction that is as good on the humble pita as it is on spicy grilled meats.
Good tzatziki is all about texture. Yes, balance of flavor is always important, but when it comes to this specific herb-inflected spread, I like mine thick and creamy. Here, liquid is the enemy so my version calls for not one, but two ‘purges’ of moisture (once for the yogurt and once for the cucumbers) in an effort to control the final consistency of the dish. Now, you can go out and buy thick, Greek-style yogurt at the supermarket, but if you’ve been swept up in its recent trend then you’ve probably already noticed that their not exactly giving that stuff away. That’s why I buy plain, whole-milk yogurt and drain away the excess whey overnight in the fridge — less money, more moisture control.
This stuff is so refreshing that I’m sure once you try it you’ll be making it for dolloping and dipping throughout the spring and summer months. Plus, once you get the technique for straining the yogurt down, you can forgo the savory addition of garlic and cucumbers and try drizzling it with honey, stirring in fruit or topping it with granola for an exceptionally delicious breakfast or snack.
Making good tzatziki at home requires a bit of patience, but believe me when I tell you that the results are well worth the wait. Start the recipe the day ahead of when you plan on serving it in order for the whey to drain away from the yogurt. For best results, I’ll sometimes do this by hanging the yogurt from wooden spoon suspended over a deep bowl in the fridge. If you don’t have the refrigerator real estate for this type of setup, you can always drain the yogurt in a cheesecloth lined sieve instead. If you decide to go the sieve route, stir the yogurt occasionally over the 24 hour period to facilitate the draining of the whey. Be sure to save this liquid as you might want to add some back in to adjust the consistency of your dip before service. In another effort to control the water content of the dish, I also have you salt the cucumbers in order to remove further moisture that might dilute the dip. Once prepared, tzatziki will continue to develop flavor as it sits and is best served just slightly chilled — not straight from the fridge.
- 1 24-ounce container of plain, whole milk yogurt
- 3-4 small Persian cucumbers or about 1 seeded English cucumber.
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint or dill leaves
- 1-2 cloves garlic, finely minced or smashed in a mortar and pestle
- Lemon juice, to taste
- Kosher salt
- Line a medium bowl with several layers of cheesecloth pour in the contents of the yogurt container. Gather the loose ends of the cheesecloth and fasten them tightly with a rubber band or a length of butcher string. Suspend the yogurt over a deep bowl in your refrigerator overnight, allowing the liquid to drain away.
- The following day, pour the strained, thick yogurt into a bowl and reserve some of the whey that has drained away.
- Peel, dice or grate the cucumbers. Sprinkle with salt and leave for 1/2 to 1 hour in a colander for the juices to drain.
- Beat the yogurt in a serving bowl with the minced garlic and the mint or dill (or a combination of both) and fold in the cucumbers. Season to taste with salt, taking into consideration the residual saltiness of the cucumbers. Add lemon juice to taste and a splash or two of the reserved whey if the dip is too thick for your tastes.
Makes about 2 cups