Wake up your meals! Fish, chicken, lamb, beef, it matters not. Put a new spin on lunch and dinner with this Greek classic, Tzatziki; a thick spread of tangy yoghurt, cool cucumber and the savory snap of garlic made smooth and mellow with the addition of fruity olive oil. As someone married to a Greek, I have a tendency to overlook…almost forget tzatziki and this is one sauce which makes all your meals taste oh, so much better. All over Greece incredibly thick, plain yoghurt is served at breakfast but come lunchtime and dinner? It’s always tzatziki, in every kitchen, on every menu. Incredibly good for you, this yoghurt dish is the best natural probiotic on the planet. You won’t know how good it is for you, though, when it’s wrapped up with in soft pita bread with lamb, lettuce, tomato and french fries in a perfect gyro. Remember how much you like gyros?
Well, it’s because of the tzatziki making everything all runny and yummy. I’m not sure why it makes everything taste so much better but grilled fish, chicken, pork or beef on skewers, never mind shrimp are positively mind bending with the addition of this sauce. In Greece it’s served as a side or as an appetizer with other delectable tidbits to dip into. Fried calamari, steak tips, fried pork chunks and grilled octopus become stellar alongside tzatziki. I served it yesterday for Easter dinner and it flew out of here. I use only Fage 0% fat yoghurt, in the large container. It’s so rich and thick I only like the 0% fat. There’s a first. This sauce is so easy to prepare plus can also be made one day in advance of serving. With summer right around the corner you’re going to really love tzatziki. Enjoy!
Here’s an easy tip to get ALL the excess moisture out of the cucumber. And you want the cucumber as dry as you can get it otherwise you risk a watery, thin tzatziki, which nobody likes. Drape a clean dish towel over a large bowl. Using the large holes of a box grater, grate the peeled cucumbers over the towel so the shreds fall right into the towel. When you’re finished grating, gather the corners of the towel and, over the kitchen sink, twist and squeeze the ball of grated cucumber until there is no more liquid dripping out. Isn’t that great? I know. In fact, I have one dish towel set aside that I use only for squeezing grated cukes. This recipe is still fabulous the following day and can easily be halved. Tzatziki is served often with a Greek olive or two on top and a quick drizzle of olive oil.
Oh, how we suffer when our children are not well, when they stumble and fall or when life deals them an unjust card. As mothers we do everything in our power to right the wrong but sometimes… well, it’s just not up to us. And when our hands are tied we support them in every possible way we can. Often food is the tool to bring comfort, the sense of safety, the warm blanket of security and sanctuary. Whether it be a long day or week for our precious ones or something more serious, I find I turn unwaveringly to comfort food . No matter what, the old American diehards, chicken and dumplings, biscuit, mashed potatoes, pot roast, often take the leading role. A cake, a pie, spinach artichoke dip… any number of dishes make the perfect offering. These offerings are our way of saying, “I want to help.”, “I understand.”, “I’m on your side.”. Many years ago when my husband, Jimmy’s, mother died, an extended family member baked some blondie-like bars, beyond belief luscious. Here’s the relationship. Jimmy’s brother-in-law’s brother’s daughter. The family came from New York to Boston to give comfort and this young girl, Anastasia, baked that sweet to offer comfort. I’ve never forgotten that kindness, or how crazy scrumptious they were, and when I thanked her she replied, “It’s nothing. It’s what I do when I’m sad.” Today she is the head of a successful company which produces only American-made chocolate sauces and candied nuts by the name of Old School Favorites. When she ships out her product she still provides comfort and happiness to countless kids who arrive home to the delights of an after-school hot fudge sundae to the person who wasn’t promoted and needs a late night, emergency chocolate shot while wrapped in their flannels alone in the kitchen. Anastasia’s Blondie Bars were the best I have EVER tasted. I cannot forget them after all these years, but sadly, she has forgotten and has no earthly idea what it was she baked. So here’s the thing. When you’re in trouble, when things have gone terribly wrong, when your world has come crashing down and you’re hurting, LET YOUR FRIENDS HELP YOU. When your girls, your posse, your circle, reaches out to you accept their offering. They want to help. They want to make things better. To ease your pain. And so often dinner and a bottle of wine in a basket is the only comfort they can provide. As I write this I have a best friend, divorced, whose son suffered greatly this past week with some highly critical medical issues. He’s somewhat out of the woods but the stress and worry are monumental. Lack of sleep and the feeling of helplessness compound her physical and mental exhaustion. Her son spoke of dying…and heaven. Tough words for a mother to hear. I can’t, no, I don’t want to imagine what it was like to be in her shoes this past week. I texted her that I was still out-of-town and that I’d be home the following night. That I’d like to take them dinner several nights a week. I asked if I may do that for her, that it would be one small chore she didn’t need to bother with. And then I held my breath watching the little “bubbles” moving about my cell phone screen indicating she was replying. “YES!!!” was her answer. I’m elated. I can’t heal her boy but I sure can feed him! Gladly, GLADLY I can do that. And this is what I’m taking. Shawarma-style chicken. Rich, oven-roasted chicken thighs well-seasoned with a warm middle-eastern touch using, along with other aromatic spices, turmeric, cumin and cinnamon, the chicken then cut into strips topping a cold, crisp salad of organic greens dressed with a homemade creme fraiche dressing. And to heighten the flavors of the chicken I’ll throw in some sweet and tart apple…maybe a chopped Macoun. Did I mention the crunchy, savory lardon, (fancy French term for bacon bits or match sticks), I’ll be scattering over that salad? Or the warm, homemade pita bread I’ll tuck into the basket? Well, that’s what I’m taking. It’s all easy and pretty. So when you want to do something for a friend that’s hurting, take an old classic and make it a new classic. Prepare one of your favorites you know your friend will appreciate. Or make this outrageous dish of chicken thighs. And keep on giving. It’s the season!
Shawarma is an Arabic meat preparation popular all through the Middle East including Greece (gyros) and Turkey (doner). Traditionally large chunks of chicken, beef, lamb or pork are roasted on a rotating, vertical spit. As the meat rotates, crispy, thin shavings are sliced and served on pita bread or plated with all manner of fresh and pickled vegetables and, of course, yoghurt sauce, tahini or hummus. When we order gyro in Greece often they are prepared with lettuce, tomato, tzatziki, mustard, ketchup and hot, salty french fries all wrapped up in a warm pillow of pita. Somehow it all works! Often I serve these chicken thighs whole over a salad or sliced on soft pita bread with shredded lettuce, chopped tomato, the caramelized onions the chicken baked on and tzatziki, that mouth-watering, garlicky yoghurt dip. I thought I had posted a recipe for my tzatziki but, apparently, slacker that I am, I haven’t. I don’t have set amounts but it’s an incredibly easy and forgiving sauce/dip. Peel a cucumber and, over a clean tea towel, shred the cucumber using the large holes of a box grater. Gather up the tea towel and, over the sink, squeeze the water out of the cucumber. Squeeze out as much liquid as you can. Transfer the cucumber to a medium bowl. Grate one or two garlic cloves into the cucumber. Add 2-3 tablespoons of good olive oil and 2 cups of Fage brand plain Greek yoghurt. Here’s the deal. I’ve found that a “Greek-STYLE” yoghurt is, typically, thin and watery and your tzatziki will be proof of that. The only yoghurt brand I use is Fage. It’s what they use in Greece. It’s thick and creamy the way yoghurt is supposed to be. If you can pour the yoghurt you don’t want it! And I use fat-free. It’s so rich and lush you’ll not see the difference. Mix the tzatziki well and season to taste with salt. Cover with plastic wrap and chill until serving. There. You got a two-fer!