Making a Tzatziki Sauce

Christina Scott

One of the staples of traditional Greek cooking is yogurt; Greek-style yogurt has taken the world by storm; and today’s recipe is for yogurt in cucumber sauce, also known as tzatziki.

Start with 3 c. of plain Greek yogurt, to which you’ll add two diced cucumbers, one minced garlic clove, ¼ c. of fresh chopped mint and—if you’d like—a little chopped dill; crush them slightly in your hand to release the full flavors. Finally, you want to grate an onion and add it to the sauce.

Why a grated onion? It’s important to grate the onion before adding it to the sauce: that gives it a mild flavor, whereas a whole onion could be too strong.

Stir it all together. This creates a somewhat sticky sauce that is perfect as a dip with fresh pita bread or as a sauce with grilled meats. It’s often used in gyro sandwiches: gyro meat is infused with the traditional Greek flavors of marjoram and rosemary, which complement the cucumber-yogurt sauce nicely. Once you’ve mixed everything together, you can add a pinch of salt. And then you’re done!

There are so many ways to use this tzatziki sauce! Try it as an easy appetizer or snack accompanied by warm pita bread and sliced vegetables: it makes a gorgeous healthy dip. But it’s also a great topping for fish, lamb, chicken or beef kabobs or shawarma.

And there’s more. Why not top a baked potato with this delicious creamy sauce? More taste and fewer calories. Or chop up some chicken and celery and add the tzatziki to create a healthy chicken salad.

 

History

Tzatziki’s history isn’t just in Greece, however; its origins are a little farther east in back in time to the Ottoman Empire, when ideas for food traveled the trade routes along with goods for sale and went through the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and India. So it came to Greece rather than starting out there.

Many historians believe that tzatziki is a Greek interpretation of an Indian dish called raita, but it wasn’t a direct line: the link is yet another dish, biryani, which is an Iranian rice dish introduced into India by the Persian elite. The occupiers relied on local servants for their food, and what resulted was a mixture of the two cultures: biryani, which combined a Persian pilaf with the spices of Hindustani rice dishes. But the dishes were too spicy for the Persians, so the Indians created raita, a yogurt and cucumber drink that helped tame the spiciness.

As you can imagine, raita traveled back to Iran via the trade routes and thus reached the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East. Greece immediately appropriated (and adapted) the drink into the lovely cucumber sauce we have today.

Health benefits

And the really excellent news is that cucumber and yogurt are among the most nutritious ingredients there are: so this isn’t just delicious, it’s good for you, too! Greek yogurt is high in calcium and high in protein; garlic’s allicin can help you fend off illness and recover more quickly. … and you can count the cucumber as a vegetable serving.

Variations

You can use regular yogurt in place of Greek yogurt if you prefer, but you’ll need to strain it first so it’s not too runny. Some people like to flavor their tzatziki with vegetables and even fruits like avocados.

Whatever you serve it with, you’re sure to keep tzatziki sauce on hand for all your snacks, Greek meze (appetizers) and meals.