Tzatziki, food shopping and stuff

If there is one thing my husband and I will always have in common it’s that neither of us like to go shopping.  We’re buyers.  If we need something we go, we buy it and leave the store.  This also means we put off food shopping as long as humanly possible. We recently reached that point again – it was time for the dreaded trip to the supermarket.  The stores are so big in our area that it can take twenty minutes to get from the entrance to the dairy products without stopping along the way.   A list was needed if we were to get out of there the same day we went in.

I went through my usual routine for making a list (a list that would again be forgotten at home like those before it) checking the various nooks and crannies of the kitchen.  I looked in my spice and pantry cabinets.  Each was well stocked to the point that it might explode at any moment.  That left the refrigerator.  It’s always the refrigerator that taunts me.  First I checked the expiration dates and various bins – there’s always something to offer to the garbage gods – and then took inventory of what remained.  I saw yogurt, fresh dill (“fresh” always being a relative term in my fridge, but in this case actually fluffy and fresh), and garlic.  This brought to mind one of my favorite sides for grilled meats – tzatziki.  Of course I would need to get some cucumbers otherwise I was set.  My eyes kept going back to the dill.  Dill and I have always had an uneasy relationship.  It is a flavor that can go so quickly from non-existent to overpowering (at least to my palate).  Memories came back to me about otherwise wonderful dishes where the cook had a heavy dill hand; not pleasant.  Still the one memory that is clearer than any other – the infamous dill burger.  I often wonder if tzatziki could have saved the dill burger?  I guess we’ll never know.

What is tzatziki?

Tzatziki is a wonderful garlic and cucumber yogurt sauce often served in Greece.  Here in the US you’ve probably had it served with gyros.  I love it, it’s easy to make and a wonderful accompaniment to grilled lamb, pork, or chicken.  Many of our friends like it spread on a piece of pita bread.  One of the keys to making an excellent tzatziki is the yogurt; it needs to be thick.  Cucumber is very wet and will loosen the yogurt.  I always use Greek yogurt (Fage is my favorite but there are other good brands out there).

Ingredients
1 cup of thick plain yogurt
1 cucumber, medium to large, peeled and grated then chopped (note: your choice to leave or remove the seed core)
1 to 2 cloves of garlic, crushed and finely chopped (we like a lot of garlic)
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons fresh dill, finely chopped
1 teaspoon vinegar (white or wine; just remember if using wine vinegar to use white wine vineger not the red one; red gives it a pinkish hue)
salt to taste

Combine the ingredients in a bowl and mix by hand.  Refrigerate it for at least a couple of hours, and preferably overnight, before serving.

My tips

Most of my ingredients have ranges because there are so many variables – how much garlic do you like?  Are you using extra virgin olive oil or light olive oil?  Play around, make what you like.  Like so many other dishes, there is no one definitive recipe for tzatziki.

Cucumber  I like to peel the cucumber and then use the grating plate in my food processor.  Once finished I gently squeeze the gratings to release some excess water.  I don’t want to create a yougurt soup but I also don’t want to lose all the flavor.  I then take the gratings and chop them up.  I find this gives me the best texture.  Some people simply finely chop the cucumber without ever grating it.  Experiment and see what works best for you.

Garlic  There is no such thing as too much garlic, or at least for me.  You might disagree so  put in only as much as you feel comfortable adding the first time.

Yogurt  Growing up, when Greek yogurt wasn’t so readily available, my mother would take a large container of American yogurt, put a strainer over a large bowl, line the strainer with coffee filters (the Mr. Coffee bowl style ones worked best), and put the contents of the container in the lined strainer.  This went into the refrigerator.  She would periodically stir it to make sure it drained thoroughly and check that the bottom of the strainer wasn’t touching the liquid accumulating in the bowl.  A day or two later she would have this wonderfully thick yogurt and the bowl would have between 3/4 and 1 1/2 cups of liquid in it.

Why no photos?  We decided it was too nice out to go shopping so we put on our swimsuits and jumped in the pool, thus no cucumber.  It’s important to have one’s priorities!  Still, I thought you might like the recipe.  I’ll update the post with pictures in the future.

What about the dill burger?  Expect to learn more about the dill burger in my next post.  That’s one recipe that is hopefully lost in the annals of time.

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