Known as Cacik in Turkey, tzatziki in Greece, khiar bil Laban in the Arab nations, and mast va hiar in Iran, this cooling salad is equally at home in Albania, Lebanon, and the countries that used to be Yugoslavia. In Bulgaria, walnuts are added and it is called tarator (not to be confused with the sesame tarator or teradot sauce). In Iran, raisins and walnuts may be added, or sour cherries, walnuts and dill, or pomegranate seeds, walnuts, mint, and rose petals. Tzatziki is used as a dip for pita bread or as sauce for fried eggplant, zucchini, fish or meat, especially kebabs. Mint or dill is the herb of choice. Occasionally cacik is thinned with water and served as chilled summer soup.
Please keep in mind that cucumbers give off quite a bit of water and many yogurts are quite liquid. So you don’t end up with a soupy mess, it’s wise to place the yogurt in a cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl in the refrigerator for a few hours to thicken it before making the dressing. Salt the cucumbers and let the drain for 30 minutes to rid them of excess water. Squeeze them and dry them well before adding them to the yogurt.
Nothing could be more simple to assemble than this cool and creamy yogurt dressing. Cooks in Greece, Turkey, Iran and the Arab nations find many uses for this versatile dressing. It is served on beet salads, carrot salads, and cucumber salads as well as those with cooked eggplant and zucchini. In Greece and Turkey, it is used to dress a salad of pursiane. In Iran, it is mixed with cooked spinach, beets, mushrooms, eggplant, carrots, and cucumbers. The most common additions to the basic yogurt dressing are chopped fresh mint or dill and minced garlic.
To make this creamy dressing, you need thick yogurt. The imported Fage brand of Greek yogurt does not require any draining, but most commercial yogurts need to be drained of excess water. To get 2 cups of thick yogurt, spoon 4 cups of yogurt into a strainer lined with cheesecloth, set it over a bowl, and let the water drain away for a few hours in the refrigerator.
- 2 cups thick yogurt
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
- Sea salt
- 2 to 3 tablespoons minced garlic (optional)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint or dill (optional)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- Olive oil, if needed
- 2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and cut into small dice or coarsely grated on the large holes of a box grater
- 1 cup yogurt dressing (above)
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ cup chopped fresh mint or dill
In a bowl, whisk the yogurt with the olive oil and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt. Fold in the garlic or herbs if desired.
If the garlic is “hot”, cook in a little olive oil over low heat for a minute or two, just to soften the bite. The garlic kick never bothers me, as I think the yogurt cools it down, but some people complain about the burn.
Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate. Serve at room temperature or lightly chilled.
If you like, add 1/3 cup plumped raisins, sour cherries, or toasted and chopped walnuts to the salad. Or fold in the seeds from 2 small pomegranates, 1/3 cup walnuts, and some fresh rose petals (be sure they have not been sprayed with insecticide).
Nutritional information includes 1/8 teaspoon of added salt per serving.