Saturday, July 25, 2009
The journal from my trip to the Greek Islands many years ago reads a little like Cheech and Chong's, How I Spent My Summer Vacation. Day after day, it went a little something like this:
"Woke up. Went to the cafe for breakfast. Ate Greek yogurt, fruit and honey. Drank coffee, very black. Went to the beach. Swam in the sea. Went to the cafe for lunch. Ate Greek salad, tzatziki and grilled fish. Played Ouzo-soaked backgammon on the pier until near blind. Went to the cafe for dinner. Ate Greek salad, tzatziki and grilled lamb. Drank a bottle of Retsina. Shook it hard at the disco. Passed out at 3 am."
I never wanted for lack of anything in Greece. The daily repetition of meals suited me just fine. The food was as local, fresh and simple as one could ask for.
It's remarkable how those meals influenced the way I cook today. In fact, one of the classic comfort staples in my home is tzatziki. You know, it's not just for Gyros anymore. I'll put it aside almost any protein - fish, chicken, lamb or beef. I'll do a composed salad of sliced and chopped vegetables such as cucumbers, radishes, celery, beets, green beans, favas, fennel and radicchio - dress it in red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper, add little mounds of feta and olives on the side and finish it with an over-sized dollop of tzatziki. I've also been known to dunk pretzels or really good kettle chips in it, crack a bottle of beer and call it a meal. Sometimes it just hits the spot.
This recipe was given to me by my friend and chef, Mark Graham in Seattle, Washington. It has since been adapted for my very garlicky, lemony and full fat preferences. Feel free to cut back on any of those to suit your tastes.
One large tub whole milk yogurt - I use Greek yogurt like the Fage brand which is extra thick and requires no straining. If you use a traditional 32oz. yogurt, such as Stonyfield Farm you need to strain it for at least a few hours through cheesecloth or through a fine mesh sieve with a bowl underneath in the fridge.
3 to 4 pickling cucumbers halved, seeded and thinly sliced. You can use a mandoline, a vegetable peeler, a Cuisinart with the slicing blade or hell, just use a knife if you can get super thin half moons, that's fine. You can use the larger, more watery cukes but you have to squeeze the water out of them after you've sliced them: wrap them in a cotton dishtowel and squeeze like mad over the sink. If you omit this step they will give off a lot of water and make your tzatziki thin and tasteless.
salt and pepper to taste
juice and zest of one medium sized lemon
3 to 4 cloves garlic, pressed
heaping piles of finely chopped fresh basil and mint to taste
Mix all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl and let sit in fridge to chill until flavors meld.