What is tzatziki?
Tzatziki (Greek spelling τζατζίκι, pronounce “tsa-TSEE-kee”) is the best known of all dips. The side dish appears almost without exception along with pita bread on a mezze buffet, and is indispensable as a sauce with souvlaki.
Tzatziki can be found in supermarket refrigerator compartments all over the world, ready-made in all its watery glory, but this does not enhance its reputation. Homemade tzatziki is so much tastier and so easy to make that you wonder who actually buys the factory version. Fortunately, most restaurants make their tzatziki themselves!
Greece is not the only country where yoghurt, cucumber and garlic are mixed to a cooling (with a lot of cucumber), or sharp (with a lot of garlic) sauce. In Turkey, people eat cacik, in India raita, and in Iran mast-o-khiar. There is a suspicion that Indian raita was the source of inspiration for the Greek tzatziki as we now know it. The dish was taken along the Ottoman travel routes and found resonance in the Balkans, where people love yoghurt. But it was the Greeks who took the cucumber-garlic-yoghurt combo to their hearts and made – almost – a national dish of it.
How to make tzatziki
In a simple dish like tzatziki, you can taste all the individual ingredients. The dip demands creaminess and therefore full Greek yoghurt, preferably with 10 percent fat. If there is time, the chef will also let it drain for an extra thick, Greek version of curd.
Cucumber is grated and allowed to drain, sometimes sprinkled with salt o draw out more moisture. Pressed garlic, at least half a clove per person, some extra virgin olive oil and then the squeezed cucumber are stirred in the yoghurt. A pinch of lemon juice or a dash of vinegar is added and then the tzatziki should rest for a few hours. Just before serving, chopped fresh herbs are stirred through; depending on the chef, this is usually dill or mint.
Raita is the Indian version of tzatziki. A more liquid version is eaten in the Balkans as a soup called tarrator, which also contains finely ground walnuts.