Twice as Tasty

Tzatziki (Cucumber Yogurt Sauce)

Fresh cucumbers, even overgrown ones, become the base for a mild dip brightened by mint and dill

By Julie Laing
Photo by Julie Laing

Tzatziki, the Greek word for a cucumber yogurt sauce or dip, uses fresh herbs to give bright zip to mild cucumbers. It seems an inherently summer recipe, easy to whip together and set out with dippers as a light snack, but it’s quite versatile both in season and in use.

Freshly harvested cucumbers make the best tzatziki, and this sauce can be a good way to use up ones that you missed until they became giants on the vine – as long as the flesh doesn’t taste bitter. Large cucumbers grate easily, especially when their tough skin has been peeled off. Cut away the core too if the seeds are oversized and chewy.

A handful of small cucumbers can be used instead. Thin-skinned ones may not even need peeling. To enjoy tzatziki all year, grate, salt and squeeze the juice from enough cucumbers that you can freeze the gratings in an ice cube tray.

I prefer the mild flavor of roasted garlic in tzatziki, preparing it using the technique I shared in this hummus recipe or setting it on the edge of a hot grill to roast within its papery skin. If you use fresh cloves instead, mellow their sharp flavor by mincing the garlic first and letting it sit in the lemon juice while you grate the cucumber.

If you’re using a thin homemade yogurt, drain it through a fine-mesh strainer before measuring it into the sauce to keep the tzatziki creamy. Thickness also comes from salting and squeezing as much juice as possible from the cucumbers. I always save that slightly salty juice; a shot or two can be mixed into a Mega-Mint Mojito, lemonade or smoothie.

Tzatziki can be served as a dip for pita bread or vegetables or a sauce alongside fish or shrimp. It also becomes an instant creamy dressing for potato salad or garnish for burgers. I think of it as part of an essential trifecta for homemade falafel, alongside hummus and Grilled Eggplant Baba Ghanoush.

Tzatziki (Cucumber Yogurt Sauce)

Makes about 1-1/4 cups

1 medium to large cucumber, peeled (3/4 to 1 cup when grated)

1/2 teaspoon sea salt, divided

1 cup thick yogurt

1 to 2 cloves roasted garlic, minced

1 tablespoon fresh mint, minced

1 tablespoon fresh dill, minced

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Set a colander over a deep bowl, and use a large-holed grater to grate the cucumber into it. Mix in 1/4 teaspoon of salt; let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. With your hands, squeeze and drain the gratings; reserve the juice for another use.

Measure the yogurt into a medium bowl, and then use a whisk to whip it smooth and fluffy. Transfer the cucumber gratings to the bowl. Stir in the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt, along with the garlic, mint, dill, lemon juice and black pepper. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour to blend the flavors.

Julie Laing is a Bigfork-based cookbook author and food blogger at TwiceAsTasty.com.