Many people associate tzatziki sauce with the Greeks, but I am of the opinion it’s actually the most popular sauce on the planet. My opinion is based on exhausting, extensive, unbiased, ultra-focused, scholarly research conducted with the utmost care. Yes, 100 percent accuracy has always been my goal when I delve into a topic. I’m just that good. Tzatziki is global, and that’s why it has many different names.
I’ve been making tzatziki in one form or another for more years than I care to share. By definition, it’s a yogurt-based sauce of Greek origin, but don’t let a Turk or a Lebanese or any Persian hear you speak this—no, sir. The origin of yogurt-based sauces is as hotly contested among these folks as any border dispute. In fact, most of the people in India would be more than happy to jump into the fire over which group brought forth the concept for this quintessential condiment.
Truth be told, any yogurt-producing region could’ve sowed the seeds of the sauce independently. Over-production of yogurt and the resulting palate fatigue which must have followed from a daily intake of plain yogurt are the obvious root causes for cooks to have created something that tasted different, using ingredients already in their food larder. Ah, this sounds similar to a chef concocting a daily special to move an item he has in abundance or he’s tired of seeing every time he opens the pantry.
Tzatziki begins with yogurt. Greek yogurt works best because it’s drained, thus much thicker than standard yogurt. That’s an important point, because the other ingredients—cucumbers, lemon juice, olive oil—tend to thin down yogurt, making the sauce a bit too loose. In the old days, when Greek yogurt wasn’t ubiquitous, chefs added sour cream in the mix to get the proper consistency. Today, Greek yogurt is as widely available as ice cream. Who says change isn’t a great thing?
The most important consideration when I assemble Greek-style tzatziki is to grate the cucumbers on a box grater. Yes, it’s true this can be a pain, but the resultant texture is superior. The good part? You don’t need to peel the cucumbers, because as the skin acts as a little shield between your knuckles and the grater. Feel free to change herbs or other seasonings to suit your personal taste preferences (I’m using roasted garlic instead of the traditional fresh) and you’ll understand why it’s the most popular sauce on Earth.
Chef Bill’s Roasted Garlic Tzatziki Sauce
• 3 cups yogurt
• 2 English cucumbers
• 1 lemon, juiced
• 4 roasted garlic cloves, minced
• 1/2 bunch dill, chopped
• 1/2 bunch basil, chopped
• 1 tsp. cayenne
• 3 Tbsp. olive oil
• Salt and pepper
1. Cut cucumbers in half, deseed, sprinkle with salt. Let stand 30 minutes; then rinse and dry.
2. Grate cucumbers on a bow grater–mind your knuckles!
3. Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl, adjust seasoning.