Sunday, August 30, 2009

Gadzooks-Too Many Cukes! Part 1: Tzatziki

Gardens are overflowing this time of year. It's a great dilemma to have, although sometimes it's daunting to try and come up with effective ways to take advantage of Mother Nature's bounty. I posted a great recipe a couple weeks back for Chocolate Zucchini Cake, a sure-fire method for using up the squash that seems to emanate from every fertile patch of soil known to man right about this time of year, but that post led to a series of inquiries from friends and readers about other rapidly multiplying veggies. Namely: cucumbers.

And I am not one to shrink from the task. Far from it. You called, dear readers; I will answer. What will follow is a three-part series on ways to relish in the season's cucumber cornucopia (ok, so not exactly relish... I'm not even going to touch on pickles this time around!).

Lucky for me, all of the cuke inquiries corresponded with a generous delivery of fresh lemon cucumbers from my friend Aerial. Her garden is, ahem, blessed with cucumber abundance, and she was more than happy to share. So we both went on our merry little ways - me, with a heaping of beautiful lemon cucumbers (the pretty ones in the picture above); she, with a lightened load and a good deed under her belt. And I got down to business.

First up: a batch of "spa water." My #1 favorite thing of all time to do with cucumbers is copy the Indian Springs Resort and Spa in Calistoga and whip up a batch of lemon/cucumber-infused water (if you've ever been there, I don't really have to say any more, do I?). At the spa, they have large, ice-cold batches of the infused water at the ready for parched spa-goers, and I swear, you've never tasted anything quite so refreshing. To make it at home, simply:
  • Slice up a couple cucumbers and lemons
  • Place them in the bottom of a glass pitcher
  • Load up the pitcher with ice cubes (all the way to the top!)
  • Fill with water
  • Refrigerate for several hours to let the lemon/cucumber flavors infuse the water
  • Drink up, and top off the water as you go (you can keep replacing the water until the cucumbers/lemon start to disentigrate; keep it in the fridge at all times)

With the spa water out of the way, next up was my #2 cucumber reduction remedy: Tzatziki sauce. This is the lemony, garlicky, cucumber-y sauce that you might associate with Greek gyros, and it is hands-down one of the tastiest, tangiest temptations to which a cucumber can contribute.

My love with tzatziki goes way back. Inexplicably, Salt Lake City, where I grew up, has a thriving and vibrant Greek population. Not only is there one of the most amazing annual Greek Festivals to be found located there, but the Greek restaurants in Salt Lake are numerous and good. Just writing about it makes my mouth water! My mom introduced our family to Greek cuisine when we were all very small - even became a talented Greek food cook herself - and managed to wind Greek food into so many of our family traditions and memories. One of those vivid memories was the tradition of going out for Greek food following a day of skiing. We'd be heading down the mountain, exhausted, but anticipating every bite of the gyro that was to come. I was so enamoured of Greek food, that I vividly recall that tzatziki sauce was the first recipe I ever attempted to deconstruct and recreate all on my own. I couldn't have been more than about 10 or 11 years old, but I loved that sauce so much, that my mom encouraged me to try and make it. We didn't have a recipe (or so she claimed), but she and I talked over the taste profile and she encouraged me to experiment. I think my young attempts used sour cream instead of Greek yogurt, but I eventually figured out a recipe with lemon, cucumber, garlic and dill that approximated the restaurant sauce. And I've been making it ever since.

These days, I do use Greek yogurt, but not much else has changed. And I love this sauce on everything - and I do mean everything. I slather it on grilled meats of every variety; douse grilled or roasted veggies with it liberally (eggplant, zucchini, peppers); spoon it over tabouleh or falafel.... you name it. To celebrate the batch of tzatziki I made with Aerial's cucumbers, I rolled out a killer Mediterranean meal of grilled lamb/veggie kabobs, flatbread, Kalamata olives, hummus and baba ganoush, served mezze style... each item lovingly smothered with the fresh tzatziki. If it sounds good, it's because it WAS! So, I suggest you do the same - this stuff is amazing. In fact, I'm going to go get leftovers right now....

Tzatziki Sauce
  • 2 medium cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped (I also like to salt and drain my cucumbers for about 30 minutes to extract excess moisture)
  • 2 cups plain Greek yogurt (or 2 6-ounce containers)
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, pressed
  • The juice of 1 fresh-squeezed lemon (or about 3 tablespoons lemon juice)
  • Fresh dill, finely chopped, to taste (I like to use a lot - probably 1/2 cup fresh); dry dill weed will also work - start with 1-2 tablespoons and taste as you go
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
Add the cucumbers, garlic and lemon juice to a food processor with a steel blade; process until well blended. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the Greek yogurt and chopped dill. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

No comments:

Post a Comment