Our Readers are the Best! v.1 – Tsatziki

I don’t wish to denigrate regular readers of other food blogs, but I’m about to do exactly that.

I’m of the belief that the regular readers of this site are some of the most well-informed, passionate food freaks on the Internet. I get e-mails and comments all the time that easily demonstrate this fact. These e-mails and comments often either correct mistakes I have made, or elaborate on posts already on the site. In the past, I would take their information, pass it off as my own. Well, not really, but I often feel like I do.

Well, I think it’s time to change this reprehensible behavior in myself. So I’m starting a new category called “Our Readers are the Best!”, which will allow me to share other peoples information and give credit where credit is properly due.

The introductory post of this series comes as a direct result of Nicholas Caratzas knowledge. A few days ago, I posted a recipe for Tsatziki, and I asked for a little help on translating the word Tsatziki. Nicholas not only addressed this, but gave an entire post in of itself in the comments. I knew that his information deserved a post of its own, so here’s his information in its entirety. I have edited it only a bit to allow the post to stand on its own.

Always glad to be of limited help: “Tzatziki” is a Greek rendering of the Turkish word “cacik” (pronounced something like “JAH-jik”) which is a cold yogurt/cucumber soup. Cacik is more liquid than the tzatziki you’ll get in most Greek restaurant, but that’s where the word and the dish originally come from (the Greek word for “cucumber” is “angouri.”)

A similar dish to cacik is the raita they serve in most Indian restaurants by me (SW Connecticut) which tends to be fairly soupy and is based on yogurt, cucumber and usually (in my neck of the woods) mint. I suspect the dishes’ cooling effect was lost on neither the Indians nor the Turks.

It wouldn’t surprise me if cacik is the child of raita or vice versa — thanks to history, there’s a lot of overlap in food and food language of the Near East, Middle East and Indian subcontinent — two examples that pop into my head are “kofte” — in Greek meatballs are “keftedes;” asking for a “kofte kebab” in a Middle Eastern or tandoori place will get you something similar — and “keema” which means “ground meat” (typically lamb.) I think “keema” is Persian. “Kebab” is another one.

I don’t know if there really is a definitive or authentic recipe for these sorts of things, as Greece’s communities have a history of relative isolation — the mountains and islands made getting around tough. Traditional cooks worked with what they had — thus one recipe might have mint added, another dill, a third onions, oregano or olive oil. I’ve also seen vinegar used in place of lemon juice. About the only constants are the cucumber and yogurt. The good news is that since there isn’t a definitive recipe you can experiment and find a combination that you like without feeling that you aren’t being “authentic” enough — it’s a versatile dish that can be used as a soup, dip, sauce for meats or salad.

In a later e-mail, he also adds:

if you do try making a tzatziki with shredded/grated cuke and drained yogurt, the flavors will blend if you let it sit in the fridge overnight. In particular the garlic flavor becomes significantly more pronounced but mellower. It is normal for some water to separate if you do this — either stir it back in or drain it off the top before serving.

Many thanks Nicholas! You’ve answered several questions I had. You also prove my theory that “Our Readers are the Best!”

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