Tzatziki, a creamy yogurt-based sauce, is a classic Greek accompaniment, and perfect counterpoint to roast meats…like roast leg of lamb. This recipe is adapted from one that my middle sib brought back from Greece in 2000, while they were in Greece with the broadcast team covering the Olympics.
1 lb “Greek” yogurt (see below)
4 – 5 cloves garlic
4 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice
Salt and pepper
- Cut cucumber in half lengthwise. Scoop out seeds and center of cucumber, leaving only firm exterior. Discard seeds.
- Grate cucumber on small holed grater or microplane into colander set over bowl. Drain, squeezing cucumber shreds against mesh to get as much liquid out of the cucumber as you can.
- Mix drained cucumber and yogurt together.
- Grate garlic on fine grater or microplane into bowl.
- Add olive oil and lemon juice. Mix quickly, fully integrating all ingredients.
Tzatziki can be chilled, and flavors allowed to mellow together for a while, so this sauce can be prepped early. For those who dislike the flavor of raw garlic, roasted garlic can also work, just smash into a paste before incorporating.
Strained (“Greek”) yogurt (cheating style)
The Greeks have no Greek yogurt as it’s known in the USA. After making yogurt, they strain the excess whey out, creating a thicker, richer yogurt. Whether you make (or want to make) yogurt, or just want to “Greek” store-bought yogurt for your tzatziki, it’s easy to do. You’ll need:
- Plain yogurt
- Bowl large enough to hold colander for several hours
- Paper towel or cheesecloth
- Rubber spatula
- Container to hold final yogurt (for purchased yogurt, you can use the same container, washed and dried, for the strained yogurt.
- Another container for strained whey, if desired
Nest a colander over a bowl, large enough to catch the whey. Line the colander with one of the following:
- 2-3 layers of paper towel (I like to layer the paper towels two long, crossed with two wide, with a doubled diamond in the middle)
- 2 layers of paper towel with a layer of cheese cloth on top
- 4+ layers of cheesecloth.
Pour plain yogurt into lined colander, cover with plastic wrap, and set in refrigerator. The longer you allow the yogurt to drain, the thicker the result will be. (If I let mine go overnight, I sometimes have cream cheese texture!) Gently scoop yogurt out of colander using a rubber spatula (something stiff will tear the paper towel and give you paper shreds in your yogurt). In the bowl below the colander will be the yellowish whey. If your yogurt it too thick, add some whey back and stir it in thoroughly until the yogurt gains the texture you desire.
What do you do with the whey left behind from yogurt making? Many people throw it away, but it is protein rich, and very tasty. Kept in sealed container in a refrigerator, Whey can last for several days. Here’s some of the ways my family has found to use whey:
- Making oatmeal? Cook it in a half whey, half water mix (just watch that you don’t over-boil the water). Whey adds extra protein
- Whey powder for smoothies—now you just add the whey instead of powder and water!
- Buttermilk replacement in breads, muffins, and pancakes…or any recipe that calls for buttermilk, just replace with an equal amount of whey.
- Cultured lemonade: put a cup of whey, a cup of sugar, and 2 ¼ cups fresh-squeezed lemon juice in a gallon jug. Fill the jug with water, put a lid on it, and let it sit at room temperature. After ten days, strain through a fine-meshed strainer and refrigerate.
Yogurt and yeast
One note about working with dairy products like yogurt: Keep your work surfaces very clean, and your tools clean as well. Always keep your yogurt (and whey) covered when not actively working with it.
If, at any time, yogurt or whey smells “yeasty” or has a carbonated texture on the tongue, it has been colonized by the natural free-floating yeast in the air. It must be disposed of, as the yeast infection will only get worse, not better, over time. (This can happen to commercial, as well as homemade yogurt.)
If you are like me, and bake bread frequently while also wanting to make yogurt, try to bake enough that you don’t have to bake for at least 24 hours before working on making yogurt. This cuts down on the amount of yeast in the air, and helps prevents yogurt yeast infection. Once I make the yogurt and get it sealed and sitting on my heating pad for fermentation, I can then make bread again.