The cucumber is kind of a lowly vegetable. It’s a vehicle vegetable, or a garnish kind of vegetable. These two recipes let cucumber play an important role, though. I served both of these together with some chicken for a Greek style meal. They work perfectly together, but also equally well apart. Tzatziki is a simple, yet incredibly delicious, condiment that you’ll always find at Greek restaurants. It’s actually really amazing how a small amount of simple ingredients can make plain yogurt to die for.
Cucumber also does great when married with other vegetables in a chopped salad. It’s has a nice in between texture – not crunchy, but not mushy. This particular salad, or salsa as the original recipe calls it, is a great side dish or topper to meat. It’s so good, I found myself eating it by the heaping spoonful while waiting for my chicken to cook. I think the key is to slice your red onion as thin as you can so that its flavor really seeps into the whole dish. It also mellows out too. I’m a little averse to eating a thick slice of red onion on a sandwich (gives me a mysterious headache), but if they’re sweated a little it somehow becomes perfect.
Both of these side dishes beg for fresh herbs, and most will do actually. Dill is usually what’s called for in tzatziki. Unfortunately, I didn’t have fresh dill, so I used dried (gasp!). I chose that rather than using mint or mmm I bet rosemary would be nice, because I really love dill. I’ll take it dried if I have to. The chopped salad can be chock full of any fresh herbs you have – basil, parsley, mint, rosemary, or even cilantro for a Mexican twist.
Also, be prepared to wake up the following morning with awful breath. Sorry. Worth it.
1 cucumber, seeded and diced
1 1/2 cups Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2-3 garlic cloves (depending on size. start low if you’re afraid), pressed or ground into a paste with a pinch of salt
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon dried dill weed
1. Squeeze the cucumber to remove excess liquid. This helps keep the tzatziki thick and creamy. If you’re thinking “what? squeeze a bunch of diced cucumber pieces?!” don’t worry about it. It’ll turn out fine.
2. Mix the cucumber and the rest of the ingredients in a bowl. Adjust any of the ingredients to your liking. I like on the higher end of lemon juice and salt.
Cucumber Chopped Salad
adapted from Gourmet
1 cucumber, seeded and diced
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 small red onion, chopped in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
1/3 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
1/4 cup mint, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon minced rosemary
1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper
Mix all the above ingredients in a bowl. Adjust any seasonings you’d like. So simple, so good!
The tzatziki is a perfect, healthy dip for a veggie platter or try using it as a marinade. Paired with the chopped salad on top of chicken and you’ve got a perfect filling for some lettuce or pita wraps!