The Tzatziki Complex

Elizabeth David in one of her books delivers a blistering comment about cooks who attach the names of famous traditional dishes to their own grotesque formulations. I found a recent example yesterday on the Herald’s online page which featured a recipe for “aioli”, featuring the following ingredients:

1 tbsp light mayonnaise
1 tbsp Greek yoghurt
2 small garlic cloves, crushed
1-2 tsp lemon juice

Like the boss’s daughter in the musical, Carousel, “a skinny-lipped virgin with blood like water.”

I recall many years ago encountering my first traditional aioli recipe which began, “Take 25 cloves of garlic…” and quantities of good olive oil. 25 cloves…..  I can still feel the waves of garlic making their way outwards from the surface of my skin.

The above may serve as an edible dip to enhance the “zucchini chips” it accompanied, but calling it an aioli is plain pretentious, even precious, like small girls in high heels and lipstick. (Mind you, much of the Herald’s cookery section would have trouble avoiding these descriptions.)

That said, the headline for this article may well invite a raised eyebrow or two. Tzatziki is a very specific Greek dish with exacting requirements. You can read all about it on the internet.

I am writing about some general principles of food combination that involve, briefly, yoghurt or kefir, cucumbers, olive oil, and garlic. Tzatziki is arguably the parent of this group of dishes, but I think a term such as Tzatziki Complex is probably more accurate for what I’m doing. (Elsewhere round the Mediterranean they add chopped walnuts, chopped dates and other magical ingredients.)

Right now in January, when the vege garden is beginning to run amok and my kefir grains are multiplying fiercely, the tzatziki complex provides a variety of ways these ingredients can be employed, at least for the month or so that the flush continues.

So, we start with about a cup of (unsweetened) Greek yoghurt, or partially strained kefir. Bought yoghurt is expensive for my purse and I usually make my own as required with an EasiYo kit. Alternatively, I have a plentiful supply of kefir grains and it is an easy matter to partially strain a quantity of kefir to the consistency of a thick yoghurt. I use a teatowel in a colander inside a large bowl.

The original contains dill and mint; and I’m short on both of those at present. Not to worry. Basil is growing apace, and it contains elements of both, so we’ll use that. Two or three sprigs, chopped fine.

Garlic is just about dry after lifting it on the longest day and leaving the sun to do its stuff, so that’s fine. We’ll try a clove or three, finely chopped, and adjust for taste later on. Raw garlic has quite a different effect in a dish from when it is cooked, much stronger, much more evident on your breath, and we need to bear this in mind. If you’re using Chinese garlic from the supermarket (about a third to a quarter the price of NZ garlic), you may find that the flavour is much much milder than that available from NZ grown garlic, so just be aware.

I like an onion presence, and since again it’s raw, just a small one, about 5cm across, no more. Grated. Great.

The olive oil is bog standard bulk variety. It gets rather lost in the overall flavour so I’m happy I didn’t use the Chrissy present extra virgin from Waiheke. I suspect that here it’s one of those ingredients which you might notice if it was absent, but that’s all. Anyway, about a tablespoonful.

Cucumber. Apple cucumber in my garden, and one largish one is sufficient to establish the cucumber flavour. But here, I’m going to stick my neck out and add a medium courgette—about 15-20cm—because I’m trying to use up the influx. Grate each of those, and add to the growing pile in the bowl.

Now, a teaspoon of salt, and a slightly smaller teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper, a half teaspoonful of caraway seed, lightly bruised, and, lacking a lemon at present, a half teaspoon of citric acid, which I think needs to be present to accompany the slight lactic acid sourness from the kefir.

Combine the lot with a fork and check for flavour. Place in a glass, stainless steel, or stoneware bowl, covered, in the fridge for an hour or so to chill; and serve on toast, no butter needed, but I’d probably go for Vogels toast or the stuff I make from my Dutch Oven Bread.


Anyway, there’s a rough outline to start with.  Over to you, and Bon Appetit!, or should that be Καλή σας όρεξη!

It's a complex question.






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