For five years, I lived in Astoria, Queens, which is well known for its prominent Greek American population. I never once got tired of dining out on Greek food because it was so insanely delicious and authentic. The gyro cart lady at 35th and Ditmars Blvd had me on lockdown every time I walked home from the subway. And no gyro would be complete without a side of tzatziki. It’s a top-tier sauce that I could never properly pronounce. Let’s dip into it.
What is tzatziki sauce?
The word “tzatziki” is a loanword from modern Greek that has come to define a very specific sauce in Greek American cuisine. It’s a yogurt-based sauce that is often served as a dip, dressing, or entire side dish. However, what we know of as the tzatziki today went through a lot of evolution in many different cultures.
In Southern Europe and parts of the Middle East, there’s a category of sauce known as a tarator. Historically, tarator was a nut-based sauce from the Ottoman Empire, which is now modern day Turkey but it extended well into Greece, the Balkans, the Levant, and Northern Africa. Yogurt-based sauces that qualify as tarators adorn many a meze—an appetizer spread similar to tapas—that are big parts of many cuisines of the former Ottoman Empire.
Americans know tzatziki sauce through the proliferation of Greek cuisine. However, in Turkey there’s a sauce called cacik, which is often made with labneh instead of Greek yogurt. In Cyprus, it’s called talattouri and has a stronger taste of mint. In Balkan countries like Bulgaria and Albania, a tarator is often served as a cold soup in addition to a meze.
The Greek tzatziki is awesome and will serve as the totem for what we think of moving forward. However, don’t sleep on the cultural variations! There’s a wide world of sauce out there waiting to be tasted.
What is in tzatziki sauce?
The primary ingredient of tzatziki sauce is Greek yogurt. The yogurt is mixed with finely chopped cucumbers, olive oil, salt, garlic, and the occasional splash of lemon juice, along with an array of herbs, which often includes dill, thyme, parsley, and mint.
I recently learned of a variation on tzatziki that replaces cucumber with purslane, a succulent you can find in some Greek salads. However, I have not yet had the pleasure of trying it.
What does tzatziki sauce taste like?
The yogurt base gives it a creaminess and slight tartness, while the cucumber provides a freshness. The herbs, particularly the dill, stand out, offering an aromatic hint that complements the other ingredients.
Bottom line: It’s delicious. So much so that one tzatziki recently made a “Best of the Week” article on Sporked.
What do you use tzatziki sauce for?
The most obvious use for tzatziki is as an accompaniment to Greek cuisine. It’s an essential part of any gyro or souvlaki. It’s also a perfect complement to a Greek salad, one that is chock full of cucumber, tomato, onion, and olive.
Tzatziki is an excellent sauce for both grilled and fried fish; it’s a great replacement for tartar sauce. I even like dipping my french fries in tzatziki. Try the combo of hot sauce and tzatziki and you won’t be disappointed. Get creative!
How do you pronounce tzatziki?
I am currently learning Greek on Duolingo. What does that mean? Absolutely nothing, I can’t help you.
I think—and that’s a big think—that the “tz” letter combination in Greek sounds more like “dz.” So don’t hit the Ts so hard in the word.