People and Food: Greek Tzatziki

When the temperatures heat up, try this cool appetizer.

tzatziki dish
Cool as a cucumberLynda Morris Childress

Sailing between islands with charter guests in Greece during the sunny summer months can work up an appetite—but when the weather's hot, not for heavy food. Aboard Stressbuster, our Atlantic 70 cutter, we often drop anchor at midday for a swim. After cooling off in the clear sea, there's nothing better than to indulge in a favorite Greek afternoon pastime—a light lunch of mezedes (small plates of varied food) with whatever cool beverage you fancy. One of our favorite additions to this summer repast is cool, delicious Greek tzatziki. Made with thick and creamy Greek yogurt, grated cucumber, and a bit of garlic, lemon and fresh dill, it's a perfect addition to the light meal. Served along with a bit of grilled fish, grilled meat, some sliced summer tomatoes, cucumbers, bread, Kalamata olives and a glass of wine, it's a perfect, cooling addition. The Greeks consider this mezede a salad, and actually will eat it as is; most Americans prefer to serve and eat it as either a side (like a relish), or as a dip with either bread, pita or sliced raw veggies. There's nothing better to serve with anything grilled; just dip sizzling pieces in tzatziki before popping in your mouth. It's versatile: You can add ingredients to taste, or even substitute fresh mint for dill for a different flavor entirely. This is so good, it can even stand alone as a cocktail-hour snack. Kali orexi—good appetite!

Cook’s Notes: Full-fat yogurt is a must for good tzatziki; if you can find full-fat double-strained, that’s even better. ­­Low- or reduced-fat yogurt tends to gets runny. In U.S. supermarkets, it’s often hard to find even full-fat yogurt. If you can’t find it, try using half 2 percent yogurt and half sour cream—the goal is a thick and creamy consistency.

Easy Greek Tzatziki recipe

  • 1 cup full-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup seedless cucumber, heaping (or to taste)
  • 1–4 cloves garlic, minced (to taste)
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh dill, chopped (or to taste)
  • Dash of fresh lemon juice
  • Splash of good olive oil
  • Salt, to taste

Serves 4-6 as a relish or dip

Put yogurt in a small mixing bowl. Peel cucumber and grate finely. Place in a colander, and press out all the juices you can. Leave to sit and drain more while you mince the garlic and chop the dill. Add drained grated cucumber, garlic, dill and lemon juice to yogurt in bowl. Stir to combine, and salt to taste. Add a splash of olive oil, stir again, and refrigerate briefly until ready to serve. Serve as a side with grilled meats, or as a dip. This is best made fresh. It doesn’t keep well overnight in the fridge; the yogurt absorbs too much cucumber and garlic flavor, so it’s best to make fresh, small amounts at a time.

Preparation: At anchor and underway
Time: 15 minutes
Difficulty: Easy