As this article is substantially a recipe on how to make Tzatziki if you only wish to view the recipe please skip over the next few paragraphs and go straight to the list of ingredients and instructions at the foot of this page. If not please read on.
Cucumbers on the vine growing in Scotland for harvesting in July
I first encountered Tzatziki as a student traveller among Greek island hopping community in the late 1970’s. Made from salted Greek Yoghurt, cucumber and garlic it was a wonderfully cool dip to have in the Mediterranean heat and packed a tasty garlic punch. Also importantly for students it was cheap and allowed for more of the meagre daily allowance to be spent on cold beer.
What I did not know then was that the humble dish had originated far away in the Moghul Empire in India. The Mogul Empire covered the period from 1526 to 1827, this was a Persian ruling elite which dominated the region for a considerable period and made its mark through cuisine not just in India but the Middle East and Europe. Sometimes called Mughlai cuisine you will see dishes like Biriyani, Mughlai Paratha, Murg Musallam, Kebabs, Malai Kofta in many restaurant and takeaway menus. It is interesting to see how food dominates a culture and still persists today in its domination of Indian cooking.
The Mughals were Muslims by religion and thus did not eat pork and as Hindus did not consume beef thus meat of these two were not part of Mughal cuisines. The primary non-vegetarian dishes would comprise of meat of goat, fowls, sheep and venison. Among the most distinctive features of Mughlai cuisine are the unique use of combination of ground and whole spices and the distinguishing aroma that gives each dish a unique and exotic taste. From Cultural India.net
The Persian Muslim ruling elite relied on local Indians to prepare their food and dishes coming from Persia began to merge with local Indian versions. Pilaff rice is good example of this foodie phenomenon. Pilaff is a rice dish cooked in a kind of broth so the rice absorbs the liquid and is cooked with either meat or vegetables or both.The humble pilaff resembles the more spicy biriyani and in turn resembles the modern pilau which over time has become a staple food in: Afghanistan; Armenia;Bangladesh, Israel, Crete, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, Kurdistan, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Pakistan, Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Uganda, Tajikstan,Turkey, Xinjiang, and Uzbekistan.
By extension you can see the influence going in the other direction to the Italian risotto and the various regional styles of Spanish paella. But this is not getting the tzatziki made I hear you say. The Persian Moghuls did not favour the local spicy versions of the early biriyani style versions of their pilaff so they came up with a yoghurt based cooling side dish still known today as raita.
Somewhere along the line from medieval times to modern Greece the recipe was revived and altered as all good recipes are. It passed through time and history back in a westerly direction with the Ottoman Empire. Who knows why but for some reason it was the people of Greece and probably modern day western Turkey who took it on as part of their local cuisine. Still using yoghurt and cucumber but with the Mediterranean addition of garlic. I remember on one blistering hot afternoon on the island of Mykonos watching an old woman working in the shade at the side of a taverna. She was making tzatziki and I asked to watch so she showed me how to make it. I now pass on this precious knowledge on to you.
1 500 g pot of Greek Style Natural yoghurt
1 large cucumber
2 cloves of garlic
Optional ingredients are lemon zest and juice and a sprig of Dill herb to decorate
Cut the cucumber in half and scoop out the seeds.
The green skin can be peeled with a potato peeler leaving some on for colour. (Some people get wind from cucumber skin)
Grate the cucumber into a bowl.Some recipes will tell you to leave in a sieve overnight so that the water drains out. Not so. My Greek friend used a clean linen dish towel and scooped up handfuls then wrapped it and squeezed the living daylights out of it.
It will surprise you how much liquid is in a cucumber!
Now combine the squeezed cucumber with the yoghurt.
Crush the peeled garlic cloves and try to get them as fine as possible.Add to the mix.
You could add some lemon zest and a dash of lemon juice at this point but I would guess my wee Greek pal would look down on such frivolity.
Put it on a serving dish with maybe some cucumber slices and a bit of dill herb. Delicious with crusty bread and cheeses, kebabs and other roast meat dishes and grilled fish.
If you don’t like the recipe be like the Greeks and change it add/ reduce amount of cucumber and reduce the garlic if its too much for you.
Enjoy. Dream Angus