You only need to follow a recipe once or twice when making tzatziki before the process becomes almost automatic. Thick tangy yogurt; crisp, sweet cucumber; pungent garlic and dill; sunny lemon. The formula, a staging ground for countless dip platters and a condiment for the thousands of gyros dished up daily, is as familiar to us now as salsa and ketchup. And its preparation is about as intuitive—recipes matter less than solid ingredients and a willingness to dip a tasting finger along the way.
That being said, there are some variations and tips worth considering if you're looking to improve your efforts.
Your first step should be to salt your cucumbers. I go for baby cucumbers because they make naturally smaller slices, but large ones work just as well. Removing the seeds and salting them for about half an hour before assembling the dip will make your cukes taste more cucumbery, and will relieve them of a lot of their water content. Excess water is the enemy of tzatziki. No one wants a watery dip. (Well, unless you want something like cacık or raita or one of the other innumerable yogurt-cucumber dips of the Mediterranean and Middle East.)
"Fat takes the edge off the lemon juice, and fattier yogurts accentuate garlic's flavor"
Likewise, your yogurt shouldn't be watery. Most supermarkets I've seen carry Fage yogurt, which is strained. It's good, but local or imported is better. If you live in New York, I recommend yogurt made by Kesso Foods, available in some specialty and Greek groceries. Their yogurt has a more nuanced dairy flavor and a complex acidity lacking in national brands. While you certainly can use low- or no-fat yogurt and still achieve a creamy, tasty dip, the flavors won't blend as nicely. Fat takes the edge off the lemon juice, and fattier yogurts accentuate garlic's flavor while reducing its harsh raw bite.
If you want a thinner dip or just something with a little less tartness, sour cream or crème fraîche can be substituted for some of the yogurt. The most typical add-ins are lemon juice, garlic, and dill; parsley, mint, or even olive oil wouldn't be strangers here. If you can, let your tzatziki sit a few hours before serving to let the flavors develop. Once it's ready, its uses are practically limitless (it's a topping! a dip! a spread!). But I prefer it plain, eaten as salad.
- 1 pound of cucumbers, ends removed and sliced lengthwise (6 "baby" cucumbers)
- 2 cups of strained yogurt (Greek or otherwise)
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced fine
- 1 large handful of dill, minced
- Juice of one lemon
With a teaspoon, scoop out the seeds of the cucumbers. You should be left with a neat half-moon shape. Slice them thin, but not paper-thin—they should still have some crunch.
Add the cucumbers to a mixing bowl along with the rest of the ingredients. Taste for acid and seasoning, then either serve, or (preferably) cover and let it sit in the refrigerator for a few hours.