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Weekend Herb Blogging: Talkin’ about Tzatziki

First of all, I would like to say happy Father’s Day to my Dad! I don’t think he will be reading this online but maybe someone (Kathy, Pauline, I’m talking to you!) will print it out and show it to him. This Web site would not be in existence if it weren’t for my Dad’s influence on my cooking. My willingness (and sometimes compulsion) to experiment with food is definitely something I get from my Dad and if it weren’t for that, I wouldn’t have started creating my own recipes. I am extremely lucky to have come from a family where both parents were great in the kitchen! Happy Father’s Day, Dad! I love you!

For this week’s Weekend Herb Blogging entry, I made some tzatzki using fresh mint. Mmmmmmm…tzatziki! Have you ever tried it? Can you pronounce it? Tzatziki is a Greek sauce made of thick yogurt and chopped cucumber. I called it a sauce but it’s more like a cross between a sauce and a salad. I guess we could just call it a condiment. It can be served with pita as an appetizer and it’s a standard accompaniment to gyros. But you can really do whatever you want with it. I like to just eat it by the spoonful 🙂

I recently received the latest issue of Cook’s Illustrated in the mail and was very happy to find a section dedicated to creating restaurant-style Greek gyros at home. A few days ago, we tried the Cook’s Illustrated version of gyros, which were miniature pan-fried ground lamb or beef patties flavored with onion, garlic, and oregano among other things. Those little patties, while strange looking, were actually very good wrapped in pita with lettuce, tomato and tzatziki. They may not have looked like the stuff that gets cut off a vertical rotisserie at your favorite Greek fast food place, but the flavor and texture were pretty close! But my favorite part of that meal was definitely the tzatziki. After I finished my pita, I stood over the bowl eating spoonfuls of tzatziki until it was gone. I’ve always loved it but for some reason had never made it at home. Well, I just made it again and this time I’m gonna share it with you!

Here’s the original recipe from Cook’s Illustrated (July & August 2007) followed by my own comments and changes.

Tzatziki Sauce

1 C. plain whole-milk yogurt

1/2 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and finely diced

3/8 t. salt

1 T. fresh lemon juice

1 small garlic clove, minced or pressed

1 T. finely chopped fresh mint or dill

The first time I made this, I didn’t bother salting and draining the cucumber and it turned out just fine. I did squeeze the chopped cucumber in a wad of paper towels to get some of the moisture out and then I just added the cucumbers and all the salt to the mixture at once as well as the lemon juice. I do suggest taking the time to drain the yogurt unless you can get thick Greek-style yogurt. If you want to double the recipe, try using a double thickness of cheesecloth to line the strainer rather than coffee filters when you drain the yogurt; the coffee filters just aren’t big enough. In fact, I always use cheesecloth when I strain yogurt.

The first time I made this, I didn’t have any fresh mint. I actually killed my mint plant. I’m not sure how I did that because I thought it was nearly impossible to kill it. But I did. So, I used dried mint. Now, the Cook’s Illustrated people say not to use dried mint but Nicole says that dried mint works just fine as long as it’s not 10 years old or something. I thought it was a really good substitute, actually. In today’s version I used a combination of fresh mint (I got a new plant and I plan on watering it this time) and dried dill (I would have used fresh but didn’t have any). That was good. I also added some cayenne pepper. That was also good.

I think that tzatziki is usually flavored with a bit of vinegar but I liked the lemon juice and haven’t tried it with vinegar yet. You can also serve it drizzled with olive oil. This recipe is really flexible so you should experiment and make it your own. If you’re a garlic lover, add more! If you hate garlic, leave it out completely. You could substitute some onion for the garlic or use both. I don’t care what you do, just make some of this soon! It’s a perfect summer snack!

Oh, and I happened to make fresh pita to accompany my tzatziki this time. If you have never made pita at home, you should definitely try it! It’s easier than you might imagine and once you taste it, you’ll never want to eat store-bought pita again! I’ll share my recipe soon!

This week’s edition of WHB will be hosted by Rachel of Rachel’s Bite, so be sure to head over there and check out the other entries!

If you don’t know what I’m talking about when I say Weekend Herb Blogging, head over to Kalyn’s Kitchen to read more about it!