It’s amazing how much a sauce or side can add to a main dish. It can turn a dinner that is tasting rather blah to really exciting. Joel and I love Indian and Greek food, and a yogurt sauce on the side really balances the flavors. It adds a cooling element to a spicy/flavorful curry, or it can be a great dipping sauce for many Greek finger foods. I have even liked it as a dip for carrots and celery. What can I say? I love garlic, yogurt, and cucumbers!
Not to say that this sauce always caught my eye. I was always meaning to try it, but I had grown up associating yogurt with something sweet (berries, honey, maple syrup, fruit, granola etc). It seemed strange to make yogurt savory. For to many years I avoided making it. It was actually one of my brother-in-laws who changed my mind. When I was pregnant he served me a grilled hamburger patty over rice with plain yogurt with salt and oil mixed in, on top. He and I both loved it (I know, we’re weird). It opened my eyed to how good yogurt can be savory.
So the next time I made a curry dish I made my first recipe of cucumber yogurt sauce. It was wonderful! Now I know why they use it so much in other cultures. I have adapted it to many of my dishes now, both Greek and Indian, and when we don’t have it, we really feel the lack of it.
The following recipe can easily be adapted to your needs and what you have on hand. I will give some variations at the end. I highly recommend using a greek yogurt which is much thicker. But I have used a regular yogurt as well with good success. You will see this sauce used a lot in upcoming recipes on this blog. But it’s also good as a dip with pita bread.
Cucumber Yogurt Sauce (Tsatziki or Raita)
1 cup of plain, whole milk Yogurt
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 cucumber, peeled, deseeded, and thinly sliced.
1 teaspoon of salt
To de-seed the cucumber, cut the peeled cucumber in half, take a spoon and gently scrape the seeds out. After thinly cutting it, put in a sieve over a bowl and sprinkle the salt over it. The salt will pull the water out of the cucumber and you will start to see the water pool in the bowl. Leave for one hour. You can gently squeeze the cucumber slices to release more water as well at the end of the hour.
Mix the cucumbers, garlic, and yogurt in a bowl. Taste and add salt, if needed.
I noticed that at Greek restaurants, they often leave out the cucumber and add finely chopped fresh mint. Delicious!
You can also leave out the cucumbers for a simple garlic yogurt sauce. More simple, but still good.
To dress it up a little more, chopped red pepper adds more flavor and interest.