Tzatziki (Greek Cucumber-Yogurt Dip)

Last week, the day after graduation, I was staring at a wall when I happened to recall a friend’s incredulity that I had not visited Kitchen Arts & Letters (i.e., cookbook heaven) in my years in New York; so, I decided to stop by before I left the city. I think it’s probably good I held off going there until I had a job; I picked up four books on my first visit. Thankfully their used books are quite modestly priced, and they have a sale bin where I found “The Complete Greek Cookbook.”

This find was well-timed: after many days of rainy nasty New England-ness, it’s finally starting to get warm up here. Which means my desire for hot foods (other than those off the grill) are dwindling fast. I only brought a handful of books with my to Boston; the ones I packed are mostly “hot climate” foods – Greek, Puerto Rican, Texan. In my new Greek book I came across a recipe for tzatziki; I’ve been eating it constantly since it started to warm up.

It’s an awesome snack – healthy, fast, and filling – and it reminds me of the summer I spent on an archaeological dig in Greece. That summer was pretty crazy; I was doing mortuary archaeology (yep, grave-robbing) at a Bronze Age site near a tiny village on the eastern coast of mainland Greece. Our site was on a kilometer-long islet; we had to wade across 50 feet of sandbar every morning to get to it. My boss was pretty awful; she kind of a dead ringer, personality-wise, for Temperance Brennan on the show Bones. I kind of love that show, and Bones’ brusqueness and inability to relate are quite charming on the small screen. Not so much in real physical anthropologist bosses. It was tough to get too stressed, though, since our site looked like this:

And when we finished digging for the day we could sit by the sea and have ouzo and grilled sardines. Or lamb and tzatziki. Getting back to that tzatziki, by the by…I’ve seen this dip seasoned with a number of herbs (like dill), but I really took to the combo prescribed by my new book: vinegar, spearmint flakes, and scallions. I didn’t have any mint in the house, but I did happen to pick some za’atar up yesterday, so I decided to mix Mediterranean cuisines. It worked. Oh boy, did it work.

I like to chop my cucumber coarsely for this salad.

It’s astoundingly simple once the cucumbers are chopped; just toss then on top of some yogurt, add the spices and chopped scallion, and mix. I like eating tzatziki with flatbread on its own, but it also makes a nice accompaniment to a simple lamb roast.

Tzatziki (Greek Cucumber-Yogurt Dip)
1/2 a large cucumber, peeled and chopped
1 6-oz container plain Greek yogurt
1 tsp. white vinegar or lemon juice
1 tsp. mint flakes or za’atar
1 scallion (green part only), chopped
1/2 tsp. honey
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Mix all ingredients and serve chilled.