Tzatziki (and a few graduation pictures!)

By Ann Fulton

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In addition to the requisite photos of this cool, creamy, perfectly summery sauce, I have graduation pictures for you!  As I mentioned last week, the past couple of weeks have been equal parts busy and exciting around here.

The main event was last Thursday when John and 699 of his classmates paraded across the stage to receive their hard-earned diplomas. The following night we hosted a party for all the people that made a difference in his life: his second grade teacher, best-ever babysitters (one of which brought her new baby!), current teachers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, neighbors, and lots of friends.  

The energy of the evening was palpable and we had such a good time.  At the end of the evening, I kicked myself because, aside from a family photo my mother-in-law took just before the party started, I never thought to snap a single picture.  I reassured myself that this was a good thing–we were all “in the moment” and enjoying our guests.  Happily, a friend of John texted one of the photos I wished I had taken (see below…and thank you Maggie!), and we had the cap-and-gown pictures from the previous night.

With everything going on, I debated long and hard and ultimately decided to enlist help with the food preparation.  Having prepared all of the food for dinner parties of 100 or more people in the past, I was well aware of the work involved and decided I might just enjoy this busy time a little bit more if I could take that job off my plate.  (Pardon the pun!)  

It was the best decision ever!  The caterer made the most delicious food (they even worked in a few of my recipes), and the servers were nothing short of amazing.  They even helped with the heavy lifting–like tearing down the rented tables and chairs–after they were officially paid and finished for the night.  I could write a whole page about how wonderful they were.  (For anyone in the area, and this is by no means an advertisement, I used Plum Street Gourmet.)

I wish I had photos of the buffet to share with you.  We had an appetizer table that included hummus, homemade pita chips, the most delicious roasted veggies, tapenade, and more.  Dinner included a finger-licking good chipotle-bourbon pulled pork (if I can wrestle that recipe out of them I will share it!), scrumptious grilled chicken, and several types of salads.  During the planning process, I inquired as to their most popular salad, and it was a Mediterranean orzo salad.  Nancy, who was in charge that evening, brought rustic crates and a handful of other tricks to make the platters of food look as attractive as they tasted.  

Pita chips are one of John’s favorite snack foods, and what pairs with pita chips?  Hummus, of course, but also tzatziki!  (If you’re in the market for a hummus recipe, search hummus on this site.  Currently there are three options–and I have two more in my recipe box!)  

Tzatziki is cool, lightly tangy, and just calls out summer to me.  It can be used as a dip, and I especially I love tzatziki as a condiment on a turkey burger with sliced avocado, tomato, and baby spinach.  A sprinkle of crumbled feta and/or pitted and sliced Kalamata olives ratchets up the flavor even more.  Of course, you could absolutely do this with a beef burger or turn the whole thing into a salad.  In this case, crumbled pita chips supply an in-theme option to crunchy croutons.  

Or start with a grilled chicken breast and pile the tzatziki and optional olives, feta, diced tomatoes, etc., on top.  Marinate the chicken in Absolutely Famous Greek Dressing for extra flavor, and then slice any leftovers and stuff them in a pita with sliced cucumbers, tzatziki, and any of the aforementioned extras.  Tzatiki provides the moisture we want from a good sauce or condiment with a hefty dose of protein–plus it’s a solid foundation upon which to layer traditional Greek and Middle Eastern flavors.  If you’re a yogurt fan, you may even enjoy tzatziki as a cool, refreshing option to a salad.

Although you may substitute fat-free or 2% yogurt in the tzatziki, I really prefer the smoother taste of whole milk yogurt.  The difference is more pronounced when using it as a dip as opposed to using it in a gyro or another dish where other flavors will mask the nuances of the tzatziki.  

If you like the option of serving tzatziki as a salad, you may wish to stir in additional chopped cucumber–and even bell peppers, tomatoes, crumbled feta, and/or olives–just before serving for added texture, color, and flavor.  

Because yogurt is an excellent meat tenderizer, tzatziki also works especially well as a marinade.   Or mash into a baked potato, with or without a sprinkle of feta. So many ways to use and enjoy!

Cucumber releases a TON of water.  By removing the excess liquid from both the cucumber and the yogurt, you will end up with a creamy, thick sauce that is as delicious as a condiment as it is by the spoonful.  Allowing the tzatziki to sit overnight will improve the flavors even more.

This is a wonderful make-ahead dish as it tastes even better after sitting overnight in the fridge. Use as a dip, salad, or condiment on your favorite Greek and Middle Eastern dishes.

Yield: 6-8 as a side, 10-12 as an appetizer
  • 1 small to medium cucumber, unpeeled* (about 8 to 10 ounces)
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided use
  • 1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) plain whole milk Greek yogurt**
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar (may substitute freshly squeezed lemon juice)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh dill (sometimes I use use half dill, half mint)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • Optional: olive oil for drizzling; crumbled feta cheese
  1. Grate the cucumber (I use the thicker grate of a box grater), place in a fine mesh sieve, and sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Toss to distribute the salt, and allow to sit for 10 to 20 minutes. Squeeze the excess liquid from the grated cucumber with a clean tea towel. The cucumber will release A LOT of moisture, and removing this will prevent your sauce from becoming watery as it sits. Transfer to a mixing bowl.
  2. Mince the garlic and sprinkle the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt over top. With the side of a chef’s knife or other wide knife, mash the garlic and salt into a paste. If the mixture isn’t totally smooth, that’s okay.
  3. To the drained cucumber, add the yogurt, garlic paste, oil, vinegar, dill, and pepper. Stir to combine, and then cover and refrigerate. If possible, allow the tzatziki to rest for several hours or even overnight. (The flavors meld and improve, although it’s still tasty when served immediately.)
  4. For a salty kick, you may stir in a 1/2 cup or so of crumbled feta or, when serving as a dip, sprinkle some crumbled feta overtop. A drizzle of olive oil also adds a nice finishing touch when serving as a dip.
  5. Serve the tzatziki
  • *Thin-skinned, seedless English cucumbers (a.k.a. hot house cucumbers) work well in tzatziki, but any variety may be used. If your cucumber is waxed, you may wish to peel it.
  • **As an option, you may start with regular (non-Greek) whole milk yogurt and strain it through a fine-mesh sieve for several hours or overnight before mixing with the remaining ingredients. In this case, you’ll want to start with nearly double the amount of yogurt to account for the whey that is released. (The whey is not used; either discard or use in place of buttermilk in baked goods.) When starting with thicker Greek yogurt, you can create an extra thick tzatziki yet by straining it as well. Greek yogurt has already had some of the whey removed, but more will be released when strained. Again, you’ll want to start with extra yogurt so that you have 1 1/2 cups to make the tzatziki.
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The Fountain Avenue Kitchen
John (right) with Spencer… these two boys have literally known each other since they were born. (Spencer is now a strapping 6’3″!)

After graduation with proud grandparents and parents…and happily, John’s friend Maggie provided this fun shot.  For non-locals, Penny’s ice cream truck is a FAVORITE and was so much fun to have at the party.

The following is a family photo my mother-in-law took just after John got off the school bus after his first day of kindergarten.  As John began his senior year last fall, my clever husband thought it would be REALLY funny…

…if we reenacted the shot! 😂 💪

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  1. Thrift at Home

    love all the photos, esp. the kindergarten red0! Your grad is so handsome 🙂

    Will definitely be trying this tzatziki sauce. I don’t know why I’ve never made it – I like all your ideas for ways to use it.

  2. Beverley Press

    Those photos are so adorable. I Love this post and congratulations once again. I know we have not met but I really do feel a close friendship with you. I love my 2 sons and wouldn’t trade them for the world. Thank you for sharing and thank you for this amazing recipe xoxo

    1. Ann Post author

      I couldn’t agree more…and one day we will meet in person! I love that we share the mom-of-two-boys bond. They are the best! (And if we had been blessed with girls, they’d be the best, too! ❤️)

  3. Ann from Sumptuous Spoonfuls

    I love the re-enacted shot! LOL! It is so amazing that we both had graduations this year–it seems we always seem to parallel each other. Congratulations to John, but more importantly, to his mom and dad who deserve great applause. Your tzatziki looks amazing, of course.

    1. Ann Post author

      As you can imagine, we had lots of fun with that shot. And I agree — it’s fun to share those parallels with you. Sending a big round of applause to you and your daughter from all of us!