Tzatziki with Chopped Cucumbers [recipe]

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).
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