Friday, July 31, 2009

Tzatziki sauce

I got to work Wednesday morning to find the air conditioning broken. It was going to be 107 that day.

I waited around for about an hour, getting some work done, but mostly feeling just too hot to concentrate. Then I walked home, where the little AC unit we have was keeping our apartment at a tolerable 85 degrees, so the cats didn’t evaporate. I put on a pair of Ben’s old boxer shorts and a tank top, turned the AC up a little stronger, and sat down at the computer to log into my work account. There I worked, at home with the blinds drawn to block the sun and cats jumping in, and then back out of, my lap. They stayed only a few minutes in my lap at a time, deciding it was too warm to share body heat.

This past week we broke heat records around the Portland area and the weather was the topic on the tip of everyone’s tongue. And why wouldn’t it be? The weather here becomes extreme for maybe two weeks out of a normal year – for about a week in the winter when it snows maybe an inch or two, or when the mercury dips below 32 while it’s raining and we get a layer of ice over everything, and for about a week in the summer when the breeze refuses to blow and the temperature shoots above 100.

We make jokes about things like frying eggs on the sidewalk, but mostly we complain about not being prepared for any of it – not enough sand trucks in the winter to even hope to make a dent in the ice on the roads, no one owning air conditioning for their homes in the summer – and in both instances, life slows to a snail’s pace. Not wanting to expose ourselves to the extremes Mother Nature bestows upon Portland, we hunker down, choose carefully only those things that need to be done, and wait…

This too shall pass and we will be once again enjoying mild summer sunshine with cool, breezy evenings. And the topic of everyone’s conversation will shift as the weather once again falls into the background of life.
I know this is all temporary, but I have to admit, I’m getting a little antsy to be back in the kitchen again. The blinds stay drawn, making for a rather dark living and cooking environment, and, for that matter, we’ve been trying desperately to keep cooking to a minimum.

But, in all honesty, sometimes the need to cook a certain way leads one to expand their cooking repertoire, to break from the norm. In hot weather, there’s no better way to eat than mimicking how those who live in hot climates. So, this week, we cooked up a crockpot full of black beans and ate burrito bowls with home-made guacamole. We lived Mediterranean-style with Greek salads (complete with our home-grown spinach!). And what goes better with Greek salads than tzatziki sauce?

I pulled out the hand-written recipe my friend Sara had written down for me in college – a tzatziki sauce recipe from a cookbook of her mother’s. The recipe is as close as I’ve ever had to the real thing outside of Greece (and let me tell you, I’ve had my fair share of bad, Americanized – and even Germanized, tzatziki sauce). At the time she copied it down, in her distinctive handwriting, we didn’t know it would be almost a perfect replica of the tzatiziki sauce would enjoy together many years later at the ‘piggy’ restaurant in Athens (that was our pet name for the restaurant that had a pig as it’s ‘mascot,’ for the lack of a better term). I love now the irony that it was her who passed this recipe onto me.

Tzatziki sauce
Don’t be intimidated by this sauce – it really is easy to make. If you don’t have fresh dill, the dried stuff is okay too, but use less because it is usually stronger dried than fresh. I didn’t quite squeeze the cucumber dry because I wanted more cucumber taste, but you can use your own discretion when it comes to how much cucumber juice you want in your sauce.

2 cups yogurt cheese (see note and picture below)
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, grated and squeezed dry
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients into a bowl and mix well. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week – I saved the yogurt container and used that to store it – and it tastes even better as the ingredients have a chance to blend a day or so.
Note: To make “yogurt cheese” spoon a 32 ounce container of plain yogurt into a coffee-filter or cheese-cloth-lined strainer. Set the strainer over a bowl and let stand in the refrigerator at least 2 hours (or overnight). Discard the liquid. (see my picture above) I used Trader Joe’s Greek Style yogurt, though, and I don’t think I really needed to do this step, because the Greek Style yogurt is already really thick. So, if you get a good, thick yogurt, you could possibly skip this step.

1 comment:

Steph said...

I love Greek food, and have always wanted to go to Greece to get a taste of the "real thing" :) I'll definitely be giving this recipe a go.
I still can't believe how hot it got up there in Oregon! My fam was telling me how everything shut down almost as much as this last winter. Funny how we Oregonians get so used to being spoiled by our moderate climate :) Just for the record, I have lived in Utah for almost 8 years, and I STILL hate the dead of winter and middle of summer weather :P