History of Tzatziki and a Recipe

Greece Travel Secrets tells the history of the classic Greek dish tzatziki, with a recipe for making your own yogurt and cucumber dip.

Tzatziki History

Tzatziki is a popular Greek dish with a rich history. Its origins can be traced back to ancient times. Here's a brief history.

A bowl of tzatziki on a table with the sea in the background

Tzatziki likely originated in the Middle East, and its predecessor was known as rait, a yogurt and cucumber-based sauce. It’s thought that this was discovered by the Persians when they ruled India, and enjoyed an Indian biryani, but found it too hot for their tastes. They preferred eating it with the rait sauce, to cool it down, and eventually the sauce made its way to the Middle East

The sauce was eventually introduced to Greece. The Greeks adapted rait to their own tastes with their own ingredients, and it was renamed tzatziki. It became an integral part of Greek cuisine, known for its cooling and refreshing properties.

What Does Tzatziki Mean?

So how did rait, or raita, become tzatziki? The answer is that when the Turks ruled Greece, they insisted that all Greek dishes be given Turkish names. Rait was similar to a Turkish dish known as cacik, which was pronounced chachik.

In Greek there’s no equivalent of the ‘ch’ sound, so it became ‘tz’ instead. And cacik became tzatzik, which became tzatziki, or sometimes spelled tsatsiki.

How Do You Eat Tzatziki?

tzatziki-with-gyros.jpgTzatziki as an accompaniment to gyros

Tzatziki can be enjoyed as a starter on its own, probably scooped up onto a piece of warm pita bread. It can also be part of a meze, one of several starters. It’s also good as an accompaniment to some dishes, including calamari, gyros and souvlaki.

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Regional Variations

Like many Greek dishes, you’ll find different versions of tzatziki in different parts of the country. This usually depends on what fresh herbs are available. The traditional recipe calls for dill, but if dill doesn’t grow locally you might find it made instead with oregano, mint, parsley or thyme.

Also, the cucumber may or may not be peeled, and instead of being grated it might be cut up into tiny cubes. Instead of lemon juice, some recipes recommend a wine vinegar.

Tzatziki Recipe

Now, here's a simple recipe to make Tzatziki:

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups Greek yogurt
  • 1 cucumber, grated and drained
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. Grate the cucumber and place it in a clean kitchen towel. Squeeze out excess moisture.
  2. In a bowl, combine the Greek yogurt, grated and drained cucumber, minced garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and chopped dill. Mix well.
  3. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour to allow the flavors to meld.
  5. Serve as a dip, sauce, or condiment with pita bread, grilled meats, or as a side dish.

Enjoy your homemade Tzatziki!

For a printable PDF of this tzatziki recipe, click here.

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