Hummus is the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dip that gets all the glory, but I’m here to advocate for a place at the table for yogurt dips too. For the purposes of right now, I’m talking about Greek tzatziki sauce – that undeniably fresh and tangy sauce you’ve probably had with a gyro at some point in your life.
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In the summertime when cucumber, dill, and mint are prolific, I love making tzaziki sauce to serve with a crudite platter. But just because it screams of the freshness of summer does not mean that’s the only time you should make this.
In fact, I think it’s the perfect thing for these still dreary March days when we need something light and green to remind us that spring and warm weather and life is coming again.
Tzatziki: the basics
Tzatziki is the Greek word for the yogurt dip that accompanies grilled meats and is found on mezze platters. There are lots of variations throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East that are called different things. But generally it’s strained, thick yogurt made into a sauce or soup by adding liquid (lemon juice, olive oil, water, etc.) and herbs.
For tzatziki specifically you add shredded cucumber and herbs like dill, mint, and parsley (any or all three depending on your preference). The cucumber makes the sauce especially refreshing and the yogurt is tangy and acidic.
The tanginess of the yogurt and lemon goes really well with rich and savory things, because it cuts through that richness. One thing I always like to see is the parallels that one dish or tradition has across cultures and cuisines.
For example, raita does very similar things in Indian food. Labneh is similar in Middle Eastern food. To bring it even closer to home, think about a baked potato or latke. It’s better with sour cream on it, no? Same idea – something tart and acidic when paired with something savory and mellow are matches made in heaven.
Which brings me to…
Za’atar and Cumin Roasted Naan
This baked naan is addictive. Like crazy addictive. And when dipped in the bright and fresh tzatziki sauce? The best.
You could easily use pita in place of the naan here. I actually normally use pita bread because you can split it open to get extra crispy pieces (basically pita chips). You can do the same thing here though by cutting slashes in the naan for the olive oil and spice mixture to seep into.
And in the time it takes you to roast the naan, you can easily whip up the tzatziki sauce. This whole thing takes 15 minutes, and is so worth it. Both dishes individually have tons and flavor, and when you put them together they just work.
The flavors in the naan come from the spice blend that you’ll mix together. Olive oil along with za’atar seasoning, crushed cumin seeds, and kosher salt. When buying Za’atar make sure you find some that has sumac in it. There are some blends that just have thyme, sesame seeds, and salt, but that’s not the one you want. This Za’atar blend is a good one if you can’t find a spice shop locally that has some.
Also, a note on cumin. Try to find whole cumin seeds if you can and crush them yourself. It makes such a difference for flavor and texture!
For the tzatziki, you want to go heavy on the herbs. I like mint, dill, and parsley so they all join my party! A good bit of fresh cracked black pepper and salt go a long way.
I also prefer using lemon zest over lemon juice for my tzatziki sauce. I want that lemon flavor without watering down the sauce too much (the cucumber liquid does a lot of that already).
Another key ingredient is the olive oil. By now you’re probably sick of me talking to you about seasoning your food with good olive oil. If you’re not, then check out this post about my beautiful week at cooking school in southern Italy.
But seriously, good olive oil is grassy, peppery, and herbaceous. It’s actually a seasoning in this tzatziki sauce, so break out the good stuff. Olive oil has an expiration date, and you buy the stuff to use it! So don’t feel guilty. It’s a real thing, I know.
And finally we have the cucumber. The cucumber can be mystifying for some people in this tzatziki sauce. Do you chop the cucumber so finely until it’s beat into a pulp? Do you blend it in the food processor? Nope and nope.
You can use a box grater (the same one you use for massive amounts of cheese shredding) to finely grate the cucumber. You’ll use an English cucumber so no need to peel or de-seed, just shred it like it’s a block of cheese and you’re all set.
Oh and another great use for your box grater? Getting the light and pillowy potatoes you need for gnocchi and mashed potatoes without buying a ricer! Just grate cooked potatoes exactly the same way as the cucumber in this tzatziki sauce.
The box grater is not just for cheese, my friends.
That’s it! 15 minutes (20 tops if you count preheating your oven) and you have homemade za’atar roasted chips and bright, flavorful tzatziki sauce.
Tzatziki Sauce with Za’atar Roasted Naan
Easy Greek Tzatziki Sauce with tons of fresh herbs and cucumber – served alongside Za’atar and Cumin Roasted Naan. It’s a match made in heaven!
For the Naan:
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 tsp zaatar seasoning
- ½ tsp crushed cumin seeds
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- 6 rounds of naan
For the Tzatziki
- 1 ½ cups plain greek yogurt around 16 oz
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 1 cup shredded cucumber
- 1 ½ tbsp finely chopped mint
- 1 ½ tbsp finely chopped dill
- 2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- ½ tsp cracked black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400. Combine olive oil, za’atar seasoning, cumin, and salt in a bowl.
Slice shallow slashes on the surface of the naan for the seasoning to soak into. Brush the olive oil and spice mixture and place on a baking sheet.
Bake at 400 for 10-12 minutes or until crisped and golden
While the naan bakes, combine the greek yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, in a small bowl
Grate the cucumber and add it to the bowl as well
Add the mint, dill, parsley, kosher salt, and cracked black pepper and stir to combine. Taste test and add additional seasoning as necessary.
Serve the tzatziki sauce cold and the naan warm!