Earlier this week, I made a feast of Greek food to send off a friend who studies Classics. When I visited and studied in Greece about four years ago, I fell in love with it. The people, the landscapes, the weather, the language and most certainly the food.
I bought a Greek cookbook while I was there so I could try to replicate some of the wonderful treats myself. However, like most translated cookbooks, the recipes aren’t always perfect. Besides the sometimes odd directions, there are poorly translated ingredients and many rough estimates of measurements. Many of these recipes clearly came out of a family kitchen where the cook learned to estimate based on how he or she knew the dish should turn out. Not exactly what a non-native needs.
I’m going to try to publish a few of my re-interpretations of these recipes in the next few days. However, I start with my tzatziki recipe, which is not from the book at all, but from watching the cook in the dig house where I was working. It’s best to start on this recipe at least a day if not two before you plan on eating it so that the flavors blend. That makes this a great entertaining recipe because making this ahead of time actually improves its flavors and leaves you free to work on other items.
This refreshing dip disappeared quickly at our dinner earlier in the week. I guess I should have doubled it!
Servings: 5-6 appetizer portions
Cooking time: Active time, about an hour. Start to finish, 2 days.
- 2 cups plain yogurt (I used non-fat), or use 1 1/2 cups Greek yogurt and skip step 1
- 2 medium cucumbers
- 3-4 garlic cloves (at least two tablespoons once minced)
- 1 lemon
- a little salt
- Line a sieve with cheese cloth or coffee filters (perhaps a double layer of coffee filters), and set this over a medium bowl. You should have 1-2 inches of space between the bottom of the bowl and the bottom of the sieve. Scoop the yogurt into the sieve. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least four hours or overnight.
- After the yogurt has drained (or maybe a little while before it’s done if you’re doing this all in one day), peel the cucumbers and slice them in half lengthwise. If you’re using large cucumbers, you may want to scoop out some of the seeds from the middle. Grate the cucumbers into a fine mesh strainer. Sprinkle with a little bit of salt (1/4 tsp is fine. Not more than 1/2 tsp.) Allow the cucumbers to sit in the sink or over a bowl and drain while you do step 3.
- Peel and mince the garlic. Scoop the drained yogurt out of the sieve and into a bowl. Add the minced garlic, stirring well, and set aside. Discard the yogurt whey.
- Back to the cucumbers. Wash your hands. Scoop all the cucumber shreds into a pile on one side of the strainer. Pick up a ball of shreds with your hands, 1/4 cup worth or so. Squeeze the cucumber over the empty side of the strainer. Amazing how much water it has, no? Do this with all the cucumber shreds. Once you think you’re done, push all the little balls of cucumber back together and squeeze them some more. I usually do this one against the side of the strainer. The amount of cucumber will probably be reduced by at least a third of what it was, if not a half. Mix these shreds into the yogurt.
- Cut the lemon in half. Squeeze the lemon halves over the yogurt mix through one hand to catch the seeds. Mix well. Taste. It might need a little more lemon or salt, but you might want to add these just before you serve it because the flavors will change during step 6.
- Cover and refrigerate at least four hours or overnight. Taste again before serving. It should be very garlicky…and delicious. Serve with pita wedges or pita chips, with some olives on the side.