Published by Workman
When yogurt first arrived in Greek cuisine, garlic was already a daily food of laboring people. The combination of the two quickly took on a third partner, another a common food: cucumber. The result became tzatziki, the fourth in the quartet of foremost sauces in Greek cuisine.
Tzatziki is part sauce, part salad. It appears on almost every meze table. It is drizzled over every gyro sandwich, spooned upon pilafs, spread over dolmades, dolloped into soups, slathered on fritters. I think of it as more of a "brightener" than a sauce—tzatziki is uplifting, cool, and bedazzling. While Greek cooks most often add dill to the mixture, mint contributes extra brightness. If you prefer, make tzatziki the classic way.
The Evil Eye
Among my friends in Greece are a number of grandmothers. They are loving, giving, wise, know the customs and foods like no others, and are often funny to the point of being ribald. Among them, Kouina, a widow of many years, probably holds top spot. One day in the village, as I was about to take off with a crowd of young women for a round of St. Irene’s Day visits, Kouina ran up to me and stuffed into my jacket pocket a blue bead and enough garlic to make three bowls of tzatziki. "You must carry this," she said. "You are enviable and you could attract the eye."
"The eye?" I asked. "Whatever is that?" To which I got an immediate and thorough explanation. The eye, sometimes called the evil eye, is what flows into you when someone is jealous of you. It can cause weakness and illness. Babies and healthy farm animals are particularly prone to the malady. Few Greeks give credit to the eye now, but older Greeks strongly believe in it. I didn’t think I was admirable enough to attract the evil eye. Still, it didn’t seem that far-fetched—jealousy is a potent emotion.
Special blue beads ward off the eye, and since time immemorial garlic was thought to protect against evil spirits, as well as the evil eye, and also to cure ailments.
I carried the garlic in my pocket, and when I got home I made tzatziki with it, using what I had at hand—a combination of cucumber and radish. I have to say, of all the beliefs I encountered in Greece, the use of garlic against the evil eye was the easiest for me to swallow.
Total Timeunder 15 minutes
Make Ahead RecipeYes
OccasionCocktail Party, game day
Five Ingredients or LessYes
Taste and Texturecreamy, herby, juicy, savory, tangy
Type of Dishdip/spread, sauces
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 2 to 4 cloves garlic
- 1½ cups plain yogurt
- 1 small cucumber
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint or dill (optional)
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Spread the salt on a chopping board and finely chop the garlic on top of the salt.
Transfer the garlic and salt to a medium-size bowl, add the yogurt, and stir until creamy.
Peel the cucumber and remove the seeds if they are large. Finely chop the cucumber. Squeeze it to remove some of the liquid, then add it to the yogurt. Stir in the mint or dill, if using, the pepper, and the vinegar. Mix thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.
2004 Susanna Hoffman