epic mediterranean mezze board

You can throw garlic, cucumber, yogurt, salt, and maybe some fresh dill or mint together in any way, and it will always be good, but if you have the time to look after some details, well here is a recipe for Tzatziki that probably takes twice the time and three times the effort. Or maybe it takes normal time and effort and I just don’t realize how slow I am with a knife.

Recipe for Tzatziki made with chopped cucumber as opposed to shredded or grated cucumber first, very important Notes regarding yogurt and particularly the cucumber, follow.

Use Tzatziki as a dip for pita bread and crudites as on the Epic Mediterranean Mezze Board pictured above, or as a base spread on toast, grilled flatbread, or pizza piled with other vibrant vegetables, or as a therapeutic.

Tzatziki with Tiny Chopped Cucumbers [recipe]

makes about 2½ cups, easily ratio’d up or down

INGREDIENTS

2 cups sheep’s milk Greek yogurt (see Notes below if you can’t find Greek yogurt)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed
2 Persian cucumbers
½ teaspoon salt + more to taste
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil + more for drizzling
optional: 2-4 tablespoons chopped fresh dill and/or mint
optional garnish for serving as dip: chopped fresh dill and/or mint
serve with: vegetable crudites, grilled flatbread, just itself

DIRECTIONS

Push smashed garlic cloves into yogurt and set aside.

Finely dice cucumbers into the smallest pieces you can; I go for 1/8-inch, which is a little smaller than half a centimeter. It takes a long time for me to cut it this way and is almost pointless because the cucumber’s shape is overwhelmed by the yogurt, but I do it anyway because I can.

Toss the diced cucumbers with ½ teaspoon salt, put into a mesh strainer set over a bowl, and let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes to draw out as much water from the cucumbers as possible. You can also do this the night before and let the salted cucumbers sit in the strainer in the refrigerator. Some liquid will drain out on its own.

Transfer the cucumbers to several layers of cheesecloth, a clean dish towel, or even a sturdy paper towel, gather up the corners and gently wring/press out as much remaining water from the cucumbers as possible.

Stir the drained cucumbers, lemon juice, and olive oil into the yogurt. Cover and put in the refrigerator to allow the flavors (especially the garlic) to combine.

When ready to serve, stir in the fresh chopped dill and or mint if using. Taste and adjust the salt; I usually end up adding another ½ teaspoon of salt. Remove the garlic cloves, and transfer to a serving bowl. Garnish with additional chopped fresh herbs.

Tzatziki will keep in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator for up to three days.

salting and draining chopped cucumber

NOTES and RESOURCES

  • GREEK YOGURT. Greek yogurt is thicker than yogurt that’s labeled as simply “yogurt” because it has been strained of some of its water. Depending on the brand and the fat percentage of your Greek yogurt, your final product may be thicker or thinner. Always err on the side of thicker because it’s easier to thin out with water or oil later. Use a full-fat Greek yogurt (for better flavor) and if the one you have seems thin, strain it for 15-30 minutes in a sieve lined with three or four layers of cheesecloth, or a paper coffee filter. You can drain the yogurt with the smashed garlic in it, and while you chop the cucumbers.
  • PERSIAN or OTHER VARIETY of CUCUMBERS. The best cucumbers for Tzatziki are the small, thin-skinned “seedless” Persian cucumbers. I get them from the local farmers market, or organic at the grocery store. I have also seen similar small cucumbers at regular grocery called “baby cucumbers,” but not the Kirby pickling cucumbers. I have no idea if the baby cucumbers are scientifically the same kind of cucumber, but they work, as do the much larger English seedless cucumbers. What does not work as well are the dark, thick-skinned cucumbers with large seeds. If those cucumbers are the only ones you can find, peel them, scrape out the seeds with a spoon, the way you’d remove seeds from a cantaloupe or honeydew melon, then proceed with chopping and the rest of the recipe. The deeply curvy, striped cucumbers in the photo below are Armenian cucumbers sometimes available during mid- to late-summer at some of the local Southern California Farmers’ Markets. Because they are so pretty, I sliced them and put them on the board to use for dipping. 
  • CUCUMBER PREP. Many recipes direct you to grate or shred the cucumbers, which is quite honestly much faster than dicing cucumbers not only by hand, but into microscopic pixels. However, something about the long shreds of cucumber in tzatziki made me feel a little like I might end up flossing my teeth. I also don’t love the way yogurt coated strands of shredded cucumber look when they hang from pita wedges or chips when tzatziki is eaten as a dip. It is a weird, very personal pet peeve. If you shred or grate your cucumber, that’s cool, I will probably never know. If you dice your cucumber into tiny pieces, I will definitely know about it because you will email or DM me about how your tzatziki life has changed.
  • KOSHER SALT. I use Diamond Crystal brand, which is in the burgundy red box.
  • OLIVE OIL. The olive oil here is more for consistency and texture, not for flavor since the garlic flavor will be pretty strong, so use an everyday olive oil like California Olive Ranch. Of course, if you have a Greek olive oil, use it!

TOOLS and EQUIPMENT

  • MESH STRAINER. I have a set of three different sizes, and use the medium one to drain the salted cucumbers. (The larger one is great for sifting flours and straining stock).
yogurt skillet flatbread cooking

No yeast. No special equipment. You don’t even need an oven. It’s the perfect “bread” for someone who doesn’t bake bread.

The cooked flatbreads are great cut or torn into wedges to eat with dips, or used whole and topped with any number of spreads and toppings.

You can also use the uncooked dough as an easy stand-in for pizza dough and make a “skillet pizza,” with the understanding that it is definitely different in taste and texture from a regular yeast raised pizza dough.

Yogurt Skillet Flatbread recipe first, Notes and Shopping Resources follow, not that you will need to shop for anything because you probably have the four ingredients.

Yogurt Skillet Flatbread [recipe]

makes two 8-inch flatbreads, can, and probably should, be doubled

INGREDIENTS

1 cup all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup full-fat plain (strained) Greek yogurt
water as needed

DIRECTIONS

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add yogurt and gently toss everything together with a spoon (or even your hands) until a ball comes together in the middle of the bowl. Add water 1 tablespoon at a time if the dough is too dry. The dough should be just sticky enough to stick but pull away from your hands, but not so sticky that it actually sticks and doesn’t come off.

Transfer the dough and as much of the bits from the bowl to a floured work surface and knead until the dough comes together into a sticky, lumpy ball. Divide the dough into two roughly equal pieces. Cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap or an overturned bowl and let rest for 20-30 minutes.

Lightly flour a clean work surface. Take one dough ball and using whatever rolling pin, wine bottle, or tall glass (I used a pint glass here) gently roll the ball out into an 8-inch diameter round, or about as close to round as you can get it. 

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. (You can heat the skillet while you roll out your first ball of dough.) Carefully pick up the rolled out dough from your work surface with your hands and lay it down in a single layer in the skillet. 

Cook the flatbread until bubbles form on the top and the underside has deep golden brown spots, about five minutes. Flip the flatbread over and cook until you see the same deep dark spots. At this point, you can use tongs as the flatbread will have become more sturdy. Remove flatbread to a plate, cover with a clean towel to keep warm. Wipe out the cast iron skillet with a damp paper towel.

Continue rolling and cooking the second flatbread in the same way.

Yogurt Skillet Flatbreads will keep in the refrigerator tightly sealed for a couple of days. Re-heat both sides in a hot skillet for a few minutes.

yogurt skillet flatbread dough rolled out

NOTES and SHOPPING RESOURCES

  • FLOUR.  I use Bob’s Red Mill organic all-purpose white flour. These flatbreads are pretty forgiving with respect to bread so go ahead use whole wheat flour, cake flour, whatever you have. I doubt you have cake flour if you’re not a baker and are making these flatbreads though.
  • YOGURT. Depending on the brand, the “type” (regular, Greek, icelandic) and the fat percentage of your yogurt, your dough may be stickier or drier. Always err on the side of sticky, which is harder to roll out, but will result in a less tough flatbread. 
  • KOSHER SALT. I use Diamond Crystal brand, which is in the burgundy red box.
  • OLIVE OIL. The olive oil here is more for consistency and texture, not for flavor, so use an everyday olive oil like California Olive Ranch.

TOOLS and EQUIPMENT

mediterranean mezze board with hummus, tzatziki and other dips

Was going to spend the entire summer island-hopping around the Mediterranean on my superyacht but plans got derailed this year because of coronavirus and also because I don’t actually have my own superyacht.

Looks like an Epic Mediterranean Mezze Board at home is going to have to do. Unless you have a superyacht; in which case please DM me.

How to put together an epic Mediterranean Mezze Board, which is mostly a list of items for the board, and links to recipes or favorite store brands of the dips and spreads!

[click to continue…]


It’s like tzatziki, but with roasted beets instead of cucumber, and totally puréed instead of stirred, so really not anything like tzatziki and more like “Roasted Beet and Yogurt Dip.”

Still going to call it “Beetziki” though.

Use Beetziki as a dip for pita bread and crudites as on the Epic Mediterranean Mezze Board, or as a base spread on toast, grilled flatbread, or pizza piled with other vibrant vegetables.

Beetziki: Tzatziki with Roasted Beets [recipe]

makes about 2 cups

INGREDIENTS

1 large beet, roasted and peeled (see below NOTES and RESOURCES for how)
1 clove garlic
2 cups full-fat yogurt, strained (see below NOTES and RESOURCES for how)
1 teaspoon salt + more to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
optional for serving as dip: extra chopped roasted beets, chopped fresh parsley or other green herbs like scallions and dill, crumbled feta, toasted walnuts
serve with: vegetable crudites, grilled flatbread

DIRECTIONS

Roughly chop roasted, peeled beet. Set aside 1-2 tablespoons of chopped beet for garnish if you’d like.

Place garlic, remaining chopped roasted beet, yogurt, and 1 teaspoon of salt in food processor. Pulse, then process until smooth. Drizzle in olive oil 1 tablespoon at a time, until the beet yogurt is the consistency of hummus. If you prefer a little thinner, add more olive oil.

Transfer Beetziki to bowl, taste, and season with additional salt if necessary.

If serving Beetziki as a dip, transfer to serving bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle optional garnish ingredients in center.

Beetziki will keep in refrigerator in tightly sealed container for three days. Use a container that will not stain (e.g. glass).

NOTES and RESOURCES

  • BEETS. I use red beets for this, and that’s primarily for the color, though golden beets would work just as well for flavor (and not stain everything in their wake). “1 large beet” can mean anything, especially in the later winter when beets can get to be the size of a small melon. There’s a picture of the biggest beet I’ve ever seen below. You’re looking for a beet that will render about 1 cup after roasting, peeling, and chopping. To roast a beet, generously rub it with olive oil, wrap it tightly in a foil packets, and roast in a 400°F oven for about 45 minutes, or until a knife can pierce through to the center without resistance.
  • YOGURT. Depending on the brand, the “type” (regular, Greek, icelandic) and the fat percentage of your yogurt, your product just before it’s final might be thinner or thicker than you prefer. Always err on the side of thicker because it’s easier to thin out with water or oil later. Use a full fat yogurt (for better flavor) and strain it as much as you can in a sieve lined with three or four layers of cheesecloth, or a paper coffee filter. You can drain the yogurt while you roast your beet.

TOOLS and EQUIPMENT

  • SIEVE. I have a set of three different sizes, and use the medium one to drain yogurt. (The larger one is great for sifting flours and straining stock).
  • FOOD PROCESSOR. I have been using my small 4-cup Cuisinart FOR YEARS. I will only “upgrade” when this one falls apart because it still works like a dream, but most importantly, it’s easy to clean and PUT AWAY. This 4-cup capacity is the right size for small jobs like dips and spreads.

What more is there to say beyond the name of the recipe—Crispy Smashed Potatoes! Whipped Feta! Salsa Verde! Hot Chili Honey! All of the components hit one of the major taste or texture senses so the recipe is perfect. Crisp and soft texture from the potatoes, salty umami and a slight tang from the cheese and yogurt in the Whipped Feta, herbal and slightly bitter in the Salsa Verde, sweet and heat in the Hot Chili Honey.

If you don’t have it in you to make all three of the accompaniments, you can get a similar taste effect for the final crispy smashed potato dish with just the primary ingredient of each sauce: crumbled feta, a large pile of chopped fresh herbs, and drizzle with regular honey. I made it in this way last summer for National Geographic, photo and video below.

Recipe first, cooking notes/tips and shopping resources follow.

Crispy Smashed Potatoes with Whipped Feta, Salsa Verde, and Hot Chili Honey [recipe]

serves 4 as a side dish, or 1 in coronatine

INGREDIENTS

1½ (about 2 dozen) pounds baby potatoes, washed and scrubbed
¼ cup cooking oil or butter
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 cup Whipped Feta, recipe here
½ cup Salsa Verde, recipe here
¼ cup Hot Chili Honey, recipe here
serve with: itself

DIRECTIONS

In a pot large enough to hold the potatoes in about 2 layers, cover potatoes with water by 1-inch, then bring potatoes up to a boil. Simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes, but will depend on size of potatoes. Drain, rinse with cold water, and set aside to dry. The potatoes need to be dry to the touch in order to get crispy.

Gently smash each potato with the palm of your hand or the bottom of a sturdy glass, making sure to keep each potato generally intact. Small pieces that break off will turn into the best crispy bits in the pan later.

Heat olive oil or butter in large pan (cast iron is great here) over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, add as many of the smashed potatoes that will fit into the pan in a single layer.

Cook the potatoes until they turn deeply golden brown and crisp. Using a spatula, gently flip the potatoes over and brown the other side. Remove crisped potatoes to serving plate. Continue same process with the remaining potatoes.

Spoon Whipped Feta and Salsa Verde over the Crispy Smashed Potatoes. Drizzle with Hot Chili Honey. Serve additional Whipped Feta, Salsa Verde, and Hot Chili Honey in separate bowls alongside the Crispy Smashed Potatoes.

Leftovers, if you have any, will keep in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator for two days. Because leftovers will likely have Whipped Feta and Salsa Verde already on them, it will not re-heat well. Just eat the leftover Crispy Smashed Potatoes cold it like potato salad.

NOTES and RESOURCES

  • POTATOES. Use the smallest waxy textured potatoes you can find, 2-inches maximum. The red, white and blue potatoes in the top photo are baby red potatoes, Yukon Gold, and Baby Blues by Melissa’s Produce, available at most national chain grocery stores.
  • COOKING OIL. I use California Olive Ranch Olive Oil for cooking the potatoes. You can also use butter, which will technically add more umami flavor, but this dish is fried potatoes with whipped feta, and that’s about all the flavor you already need right there.
  • KOSHER SALT. Diamond Crystal brand and nothing else.
  • WHIPPED FETA. Make Whipped Feta, though if you’re feeling lazy, you could just crumble straight up feta over the hot Crispy Smashed Potatoes. Feta doesn’t melt, but it does get warm and soft over hot potatoes.
  • SALSA VERDE. Make Salsa Verde. If you need a substitute, generously shower the potatoes with chopped fresh parsley, basil and garlic. As a last resort, you can use a store-bought pesto, but seriously, basil pesto is a last resort only if you have no other way to add an herbal element because pesto, made with all basil as well as pine nuts and cheese, tastes absolutely nothing like Salsa Verde, which is made with mostly parsley.
  • HOT CHILI HONEY. There really is no excuse not to make Hot Chili Honey because it is literally two ingredients mixed together. Unless of course, you’re sensitive to spice, in which case, just drizzle with honey! You can also buy any manner of hot honey online or grocery.

TOOLS and EQUIPMENT

Is this really a recipe if it only has two ingredients? Let’s say it is. Recipe for Hot Chili Honey first, cook’s notes/tips and Shopping Resources follow.

Hot Chili Honey [recipe]

makes about 1 cups

INGREDIENTS

2 hot chili peppers like Fresno or red jalapeno
1 cup light, transparent honey

DIRECTIONS

Wearing gloves, slice the chili peppers into thing rings. Remove seeds.

Stir together the sliced hot chilis and honey in a small, heavy-bottom pot. Turn heat to medium, bring hot chilis and honey just barely to boiling, then remove from heat. Allow Hot Chili Honey to cool slightly.

If you want a subtle heat, remove the hot chilis from the honey and discard before storing. If you like heat, leave the chilis in the honey and store.

NOTES and RESOURCES

  • HOT CHILIS. Use whatever spicy chili you can handle. Jalapenos are easy to find, and if you want the color, try to find red jalapenos.
  • HONEY. A fancy, expensive honey isn’t necessary here. Use a standard, light transparent honey. It doesn’t really matter the type of flower it comes from, but it does matter that it’s “light.”

TOOLS and EQUIPMENT

  • GLASS JARS. I only have wide-mouth pint-size (2 cup) glass mason jars, as they seem to the size I use most often. Sometimes a jar gets filled only filled halfway, sometimes I have to use two, but it works to only have to worry about a few of the same thing than a bunch of different things. Such is also life.
  • PLASTIC MASON JAR LIDS because I hate those two piece metal lids that come with most mason jars. Just throw those away. Or maybe you can use them as cookie cutters.

whipped feta dip with fruit, vegetables, and parsley salad

Whipped Feta [recipe]

makes about 2 cups 

INGREDIENTS

1 clove garlic
8 ounces feta cheese
4 + 4 ounces (½ + ½ cup) full fat Greek yogurt (see Notes about yogurt types and textures)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil + more for serving
Kosher salt
optional: fresh cracked black pepper
optional for serving as dip: more crumbled feta (yes, this is a little over the top but it’s feta so who cares), chopped fresh parsley or other green herbs like scallions and dill, toasted pistachios or walnuts
serve with: vegetable crudités, grilled flatbread

DIRECTIONS

Place garlic, feta, 4 ounces of yogurt, lemon juice, and olive oil into food processor. Pulse a few times to combine the ingredients, then process until smooth.

If the mixture is too thick, add the remaining yogurt 1 tablespoon at a time, until the whipped feta is the consistency of hummus. The consistency will depend on the yogurt. If you prefer a little thinner, add more olive oil.

Transfer Whipped Feta to bowl, taste, and season with additional lemon juice and salt if necessary.

If serving Whipped Feta as a dip, transfer to serving bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle optional garnish ingredients in center.

Whipped Feta will keep in refrigerator in tightly sealed container for five days.

feta cheese in brine

NOTES and SHOPPING RESOURCES

  • FETA. This kitchen goes through feta like it goes through avocados, so I get the largest whole block I can find at the grocery store, looking for organic sheep’s milk. Whole Foods’s in-house brand 365 has a 16-ounce block of feta in brine in a sealed white plastic container, which makes it easier to have delivered. It is not organic, and does not specify sheep’s milk, but it works when I can’t find anything else.
  • YOGURT. Depending on the brand, the “type” (regular, Greek, icelandic) and the fat percentage of your yogurt, your final product might be thinner or thicker than you prefer. Always err on the side of thicker because it’s easier to thin out with water or oil later. Use a full fat yogurt (for better flavor) and strain it as much as you can in a sieve lined with three or four layers of cheesecloth, or a paper coffee filter.
  • KOSHER SALT. I use Diamond Crystal brand, which is in the burgundy red box.
  • OLIVE OIL. The olive oil here is more for consistency and texture, not for flavor, so use an everyday olive oil like California Olive Ranch.

crumbled feta in food processor

TOOLS and EQUIPMENT

  • SIEVE. I have a set of three different sizes, and use the medium one to drain yogurt. (The larger one is great for sifting flours and straining stock).
  • FOOD PROCESSOR. I have been using my small 4-cup Cuisinart FOR YEARS. I will only “upgrade” when this one falls apart because it still works like a dream, but most importantly, it’s easy to clean and PUT AWAY. This 4-cup capacity is the right size for small jobs like dips and spreads.