Here’s something delicious to do with a few of your many many cucumbers this week: tzatziki! It will wow your friends and family and your only regret will be that you didn’t make double the recipe. This stuff goes fast.
Tzatziki is a classic Greek appetizer made from strained yogurt, cucumbers, garlic, and herbs, and similar dishes are made all over the Middle East and Mediterranean. It manages somehow to be both refreshing and substantial at the same time, which is exactly what I’m after these days. Heavy braises and long slow roasts make me sweat just thinking of them – but these hot sticky early summer days are tiring, and a girl needs some fuel! Enter tzatziki.
Here’s our version.
Our only caveat is that you need to plan ahead here. The recipe is straightforward and easy, but you’ll need to strain your yogurt, and salt and drain your cucumbers. And ideally you stick it in the fridge for a couple hours after you mix it up, to let the flavors blend. So it’s not something you can whip up at the last minute for a potluck or to accompany a Sunday dinner outside by the grill – although it would be right at home in either of those settings!
Frog Bottom Farm Tzatziki
1 quart yogurt (preferably full fat with no added stabilizers or sweeteners – just cultured milk; or, substitute 2 1/2 cups Greek yogurt and skip the yogurt straining step)
2 large cucumbers (or 3 picklers), peeled, seeded, and chopped (instructions below)
1 tablespoon salt
juice of one lemon
one clove garlic, chopped
1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill or mint or both
additional salt and pepper to taste
First, strain the yogurt. We use a nylon nut milk/sprouting bag like this, but you could also use coffee filters or cheesecloth. If using a nut milk bag, hang it into a large jar (a half gallon or one gallon jar works well) and secure with a rubber band. If using coffee filters, line a colander or large strainer with two coffee filters and set the colander/strainer inside a large bowl. Cheesecloth can be used either way. Carefully pour the yogurt in. Whichever method you use, you want to leave room for the whey to drain out of the yogurt, so be sure the bottom of your bag or filter isn’t touching the liquid as it drains out. Some whey will drain out immediately, but be patient; the longer you can wait, the creamier your tzatziki will be. You could probably use the yogurt after 45 minutes or so, but wait about two hours if you can. Or strain the yogurt the day before you make the tzatziki and store it in the fridge overnight. When we use a quart of Dannon All Natural Plain Yogurt, we end up with a little over two cups of thick strained yogurt and a little more than a cup and half of whey. We’ll try straining our own yogurt later this summer, and anticipate the ratio of yogurt to whey will be a bit different.
(Don’t pour that whey down the sink! It’s full of good healthy stuff including lots of Lactobacilli, which are said to be good for gut health and general immune health. It will last for about forever in the fridge. You can add it to a smoothie, use it in place of water or other liquids in baked goods, use it as a starter culture for all kinds of lactofermented fruits and vegetables and beverages, use it in soaked grains like overnight oats … most recently we’ve been using it in a our daily almost-no-knead bread and in a pickle recipe, which we’ll share here soon.)
Next, prepare the cucumbers. This process takes about 45 minutes, largely unattended. We pick our cucumbers quite young and of course never wax them, so we rarely peel or seed them for any recipes. However, tzatziki really does benefit from cucumbers that have had a lot of the liquid removed. First, peel the cucumbers. Then seed them. You can cut them in half lengthwise and run a spoon along the seeds, scooping them out. Or quarter them lengthwise and use a small paring knife to cut out the seeds. Next chop up the cucumbers and place them in a colander, place the colander in a large bowl, and sprinkle the cucumbers with about a tablespoon of salt. Toss. The salt will draw water of out of the cucumbers. Let them drain for about half an hour. Press to release any remaining water, and then pat them dry with a paper towel.
Now you’re ready to mix it all up! Put the strained yogurt in a large bowl. In a food processor, blend the cucumbers, the lemon juice, the garlic, the herbs, and a few grinds of black pepper until well blended. Add the cucumber mixture to the yogurt and stir to mix. Taste to see if you need additional salt; we don’t find it necessary.
Tzatziki tastes best if you put it in the fridge for a couple hours to allow the flavors to meld. But we won’t tell anyone if you dig in right away.
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Serving ideas: Use tzatziki as a dip for vegetables like carrots or cucumbers. Spread it on crackers or nice bread. Use it as a spread in a sandwich with other summer vegetables. Add it to falafel in a pita. It’s also a great side dish or dipping sauce for meats and fish.
(Photo of the finished tzatziki coming soon! We ate our last batch so fast we didn’t get a photo.)