Tzatziki is a sauce made from yogurt, cucumber, garlic and various herbs and spices. The sauce, or a variation of it, is native to countries such as Iraq, Greece, Cyprus and Turkey. Tzatziki sauce usually is served cold with a variety of dishes and might accompany a main dish, serve as a dipping sauce or be eaten as an appetizer. Other ingredients might be incorporated in tzatziki sauce, such as nuts or oils.
Yogurt is the main ingredient in tzatziki. Traditionally, sheep’s or goat’s milk yogurt is used, although any plain, non-flavored yogurt can be used. The yogurt is strained by placing it into a cloth such as a handkerchief or cheesecloth and suspending it over a bowl or sink for a several hours. This is done so most of the liquid drains from the yogurt, which creates a smooth creamy texture in the sauce and prevents it from becoming too watery. A thick sauce is needed for the various applications in which it is used.
Another ingredient in tzatziki is grated or sliced cucumber. Seedless cucumbers that have been salted are generally used to create a flavorful sauce that is free of seeds. Salting the cucumbers helps remove water, which also contributes to a thick, creamy sauce. Another tactic that might be used to remove water from the cucumbers is placing the grated or sliced pieces in cheesecloth and squeezing them.
Other ingredients in tzatziki include garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil, lemon juice and parsley or dill. The combination of all of the ingredients creates a sauce that is creamy and refreshing with a strong garlic flavor tempered by the coolness from the yogurt and cucumbers. Many people favor the sauce with dishes such as souvlaki or gyros, although it has many different uses.
In addition to serving tzatziki with souvlaki and gyros, the sauce also can be used in other ways. Some people choose to serve it as a dip with vegetables and pita chips. Other uses include serving it alongside meat dishes such as lamb or chicken or as a spread in sandwiches. The sauce complements grilled meats well, as well as fish that has a mild flavor.
As with many foods, there are regional variations of tzatziki sauce found in many places. Some people use different herbs such as mint, or they might use kefir instead of yogurt; nuts or shallots might also be added. In addition to the variation in ingredients, some areas might serve the dish as a soup, salad, drink or accompaniment to alcoholic beverages.