For weeks after a summer 2008 trip to Greece, all I seemed to eat was tzatziki. The cool cucumber-yogurt dip reminded me of the many delicious meals that Abby and I shared with mentors “Susu” and Jeannie.
The two of them had taken sabbaticals from work, renting an apartment in Crete for several months. Susu (aka Soupy or Susan) had been the longtime Girl Scout leader of our troop, and invited any of us now-college students to visit, if we wanted. (Jeannie was her best friend, and had gone camping with us in the past, too.) Having traveled to Europe twice in high school, I couldn’t wait to go back after finishing my freshman year at JMU. Abby loved the idea. Flying from Roanoke, we spent about 10 days in the Mediterranean country — half in the small town in Crete, half in a hostel in Athens. We visited so many places, including the Acropolis. But it’s not so much the history that I remember, but the food.
At every restaurant, the four of us would order tzatziki and aubergine dips. Every bowl full was different. Sometimes the aubergine (eggplant) was diced and chunky, sometimes pureed and creamy. The spreads were always served with bread, and we’d fill up on the dishes, and often follow them with huge bowls of Greek salad. The veggies (tomatoes, cucumbers and green peppers) were always so crisp and fresh, topped with salty feta cheese, olive oil and often a sprinkle of oregano. I’ve never had a Greek salad that compares to these. Meals were followed with shots of ouzo, anise-flavored liquors that were also called “fire water.”
One of my souvenirs was a cookbook of Greek recipes, including tzatziki, which I made regularly after returning back to the States. I’ve always eaten it with a good hearty bread, but it’s also a versatile sandwich spread, dip for pitas, and falafel or zucchini-fritter topping. (And it’s a great way to use cucumbers if your garden is overflowing, especially if you’re not really a cucumber fan, like my dad and I.)
- 2 cups plain Greek yogurt (I’ve used all types of milk-fat percentages, and it seems to work fine with them all. If you don’t have Greek yogurt, simply strain regular plain yogurt through a coffee filter to get rid of excess liquid. A container of Fage works perfect for this recipe.)
- 2 cups or so of grated cucumber (use your food processor attachment to make it easier, and remove any seeds from large cukes)
- olive oil
- 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
- lemon juice or vinegar
Place the grated cucumber in a strainer in the sink, and sprinkle with 1-2 tsp. salt. Let sit 20 minutes or so, then squeeze out all extra water, in your hands or a clean dishtowel.
Meanwhile, mix together the yogurt, 1-2 T. olive oil, a squirt of lemon juice or vinegar, and the minced garlic. Stir in the cucumber. Taste for seasonings. Let sit in the fridge at least one hour before serving. Enjoy!