An ode to the authentic tzatziki recipe! Is it a dip, a spread, a sauce, or a condiment? It is hard to answer because the Greek tzatziki is all of the above and then some more. If I may say, it is so unique and versatile that it cannot be part of a food category. Because, apart from the ridiculously easy, quick-to-make recipe and its incredible taste, tzatziki is the perfect accompaniment to everything: from bread and pitas to grilled food, meat, and raw or fried vegetables. You name it!
WHY GREEK TZATZIKI IS FAMOUS?
No matter where you go in Greece, from the most respectable restaurant in Athens to the smallest tavern in the most godforsaken village, tzatziki is always on the menu. Not only that. We, Greeks, take our tzatziki so seriously that we rate the places according to tzatziki’s taste. No kidding! Don’t mess with our tzatziki.
So why all that fuss about it?
How do I start? Let’s make a list!
The taste: Yogurt and garlic give the tzatziki a distinctive creamy and tangy taste, while cucumber, vinegar, and fresh dill add a cool and refreshing flavor. As always, this recipe needs prime-quality ingredients to acquire the desirable flavor. Pay attention to the extra virgin olive oil because that can make the difference between good tzatziki and a perfect one!
The simplicity: Basic pantry ingredients. Strained, full-fat Greek yogurt, cucumbers, garlic, dill, grape vinegar, and extra virgin olive oil. Salt is optional.
The convenience: 10-minute recipe, no cooking, just mixing together healthy ingredients. Ready to serve.
Endless serving proposals: The cool and fresh yogurt compliments almost every meat (souvlaki at the top of the list) bread (preferably toasted), pitas, fries (kids are going crazy over this combo), fresh or roasted veggies (a must-taste, and popular combo is with fried zucchini).
Even though many co-bloggers propose the combo tzatziki with fish, it is rather an unusual combo in Greek homes. Until recently, it was believed that fish with dairy (like yogurt) causes food poisoning and triggers allergies but this is just an urban legend that we need to leave it behind and enjoy tzatziki with fish in Greek homes as well.
Add it to sandwiches, in salads, and serve it as a sauce/dip/spread along with a luscious mezze plate.
Last but not least, as I mentioned in Total Shape, authentic Greek yogurt is naturally higher in protein, calcium, and probiotics — which makes it an excellent choice for a top recovery snack for athletes. Consequently, tzatziki could be paired with either whole grain (bread, or pita bread) or vegetables for an after-workout light meal.
THE HISTORY BEHIND THE RECIPE
Are you here only for the recipe? No problem! Jump to Recipe! Otherwise, keep on reading because tzatziki’s history is truly interesting.
What happens when a country is at the cross path between 3 continents? Right! It enjoys the influence of various cultures resulting in its own cultural enrichment. That, of course, extends to the country’s cuisine.
To begin with, tzatziki roots can be traced back to ancient Greece where it was called “Myttiko” (Μυττικό) and contained more or less the same ingredients.
Later, in Byzantium, the ancient recipe was enriched with chopped olives, egg, and white cheese and most likely it was called “Tzakisto”.
Back in the mid-15th century, when the Ottomans occupied Greek lands, they had their own way to spice yogurt up with herbs, called “cacıχ” (cacıg), the predecessor of the popular Turkey dish called cacık. It seems that the name “tzatziki” is a loanword from the Turkish word cacik, altered throughout the centuries to form the modern time’s name “tzatziki”.
Today, there is a huge debate about the name and the origin of the tzatziki recipe. Is it Greek, Turkish, Persian, or even Indian? Personally, I don’t believe in the “national purity” of a recipe, especially in a place like the Balkans, where the East meets the West and vice versus. How can anyone define who influences whom?
On the contrary, I find extremely fascinating the “culinary influence” of civilizations throughout their history. So, let’s keep this in mind, stop fighting over the nationality of a recipe and just enjoy glorious Mediterranean food.
AUTHENTIC TZATZIKI RECIPE
I wouldn’t go that far and call it a recipe. Because, honestly, you only mix fresh, delicious ingredients. Nevertheless, I decided to add more value and proceed with tips that will give the best homemade tzatziki:
STEP ONE: Grate the cucumbers
If you find cucumbers with tender skin and small seeds, there is no need to peel them or remove the seeds. The target is to keep a smooth, pleasant texture. I recommend any kind of grater (use the large blades) and not a food processor because the cucumber reduces to a pulp (unless you like it like that).
Drain the grated cucumbers. It is the only part that needs attention because they contain so much water which we don’t need in our tzatziki. No watery tzatziki, please! So drain well and then some more. I use a thin kitchen towel and squeeze out most of the water. I sometimes keep the liquid and make a refreshing drink with or without alcohol. Why are you looking at me like that? I prefer wine, of course, but a cool cucumber cocktail is so so so good on a hot summer night.
STEP TWO: Take extra care of the garlic
Truth be told, excessive garlic can easily turn your tzatziki into a huge disaster.
In Greece, garlic’s flavor is super strong. I don’t know exactly the reason, maybe it’s the Mediterranean soil that gives extra flavor to produce. That’s why you have to be careful and add gradually the perfect quantity for you.
If you make tzatziki for the first time, use any kind of Microplane or a cheese grater to produce extra finely grated or minced garlic. Start with just one clove, mix it with the rest of the ingredients, and taste. If you need more, add another one and taste again. It’s an easy and efficient method. So, no complaints like “my tzatziki’s got too much garlic”, please. You’ve been warned!
Finally, I like to play safe and remove the green germ inside the garlic because sometimes it adds bitterness. Just cut the clove in half and use a knife or your fingernail to pry the germ out.
STEP THREE: Add the rest of the ingredients and mix
Red wine vinegar is the perfect addition because it adds a powerful dose of awakening brightness to the tzatziki.
Extra virgin olive oil: The best quality you can find.
Dill: If you like dill, you are going to love tzatziki even more. The traditional version doesn’t include dill but it is really popular and my clan loves a generous amount of it in my homemade tzatziki.
Mix the rest of the ingredients and keep it in the refrigerator to cool for a while.
Even though this is the most popular tzatziki recipe, you may experiment a little bit and make your own version.
Starting with a huge one.
No garlic! So, let’s make a yogurt sauce
It is well known that Tzatziki without garlic is just yogurt sauce and it is by far the best variation of authentic Greek tzatziki.
Oh my! I almost can hear my grandma lecturing me about it! For her, you don’t swap, switch, add or skip ingredients from such a perfect recipe. Sorry, Grandma, but a dish in order to satisfy should be sometimes adjusted (if possible) to everyone’s needs. So, no garlic! For those:
- who cannot stand the smell, or the taste of it,
- who has a hot date in a few hours and garlicky breath is a “Dear God, no no no, why is he/she running away from me?”,
- who cannot digest raw garlic (like me! We are talking about serious stomach cramps. Extremely painful. No funny at all). I usually make a small bowl without garlic for me and serve the big bowl with garlic included. Another idea is to roast garlic and then add it to the yogurt mixture but I guess I am too lazy to make another step.
- and for those who want to give a twist to the traditional recipe, just because they feel up to it and they can!
Free to use whatever herb you like…or not. If you don’t like dill, replace it with mint or parsley. You may add dried herbs as well.
Lemon or vinegar?
It is a matter of taste but the most popular version uses red wine vinegar or white vinegar.
The list is huge, so I would refer only to my favorite ones: chopped caper, or/and olives or/and pickled vegetables.
MY TZATZIKI IS READY! NOW, WHAT?
Keep it in the fridge and serve it at the last minute. The coolest the better!
Serve it with bread
Serve it with veggies
Serve it with meat
Serve it with fish
If you like tzatziki, then you should absolutely indulge in spiced feta cheese (tirokafteri), another easy-to-make, and delicious dip/spread.
Store it in a tightly covered glass container in the fridge for up to 4 days. Stir, if some liquid separates.
I wouldn’t recommend freezing tzatziki. I mean, it can be done but you may easily end up with a messy texture because cucumbers tend to get mushy, too much liquid often separates when thawed and the taste isn’t as it should be. Freshness’s gone. Just my two cents here!
If you make this recipe, you have to let me know! I absolutely love your feedback. This is a huge motivation for me and it keeps 30daysofgreekfood’s kitchen alive. Bookmark this recipe and leave your rate and comment below, or take a photo with your authentic tzatziki recipe and tag me on Instagram with #30daysofgreekfood and Facebook with @30daysofgreekfood.
Authentic Tzatziki Recipe
- 2 cups (500g) thick whole milk Greek yogurt
- 1 big English cucumber or two small
- 1-5 cloves garlic (the portion depends on how strong you like it), finely minced or grated. Remove the green germ to avoid bitterness (optional)
- 3 tablespoons dill, finely chopped (optional)
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1 pinch of salt (optional)
- pepper (optional)
- Place a thin kitchen towel into a medium bowl. Use the grater's large blades to grate the cucumber. Add a pinch of salt. Toss and set aside to release its liquid.
- Use the towel to gently squeeze out the cucumber's excess water.
- In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, the grated cucumber, the minced/grated garlic, the extra virgin olive oil, the red wine vinegar and the dill (optional).
- Stir well to combine. Add pepper and adjust salt according to taste (optional).
- Serve it with some carrots, peppers, cucumber, toasted bread and/or pita bread.