Homemade Greek tzatziki sauce is easy to make and adds a creamy citrus flavor to any meal. This versatile condiment goes well with meats, sandwiches, or warm pitas and vegetables.
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Creamy, cool, and tangy, it’s no wonder tzatziki sauce is a must-have at Greek restaurants. I always order extra to dip with warm pita bread or to drizzle over gyro meat and kabobs. It’s simple to make and adds the finishing touch to any dish. It can also shine as a dip for crisp vegetables.
The ingredients are straightforward- yogurt, cucumber, garlic, citrus, vinegar, and herbs. That’s it! However, preparation is crucial in yielding a thick and creamy sauce. You could just dump shredded cucumber into the mix, but don’t be surprised when it gets too runny. I’ll show you an easy technique to remove the moisture while making it taste even better.
English cucumbers have thin, tender skins and tiny seeds. That means you can skip peeling and removing the centers. I like how it adds a pop of color and a more interesting texture. I use the large holes on a handheld or box grater to shred them into small pieces.
All you need is one cucumber, then measure out 1 cup for the recipe. You can peel off the skin for a lighter-colored sauce. If you purchased a variety with thicker, more waxy skin, I recommend removing the skin and seeds as they are tough to chew.
Drain the cucumbers
The moment you shred the cucumbers, you’ll notice a ton of water being released. The pieces feel heavy. If left in the vegetable, this can cause the sauce to become thin and runny as it sits. To avoid this, toss the grated cucumbers with a small amount of salt, then allow it to drain for 30 minutes.
Press the shreds down to squeeze out any extra moisture. I was able to remove about ⅓ cup of liquid. That’s a lot that would end up in the sauce. You can also place them in cheesecloth to further ring out the water.
Use a very thick plain strained yogurt, like Greek, to make the sauce. It’s high in protein because the excess moisture has already been removed. I like the creaminess of whole milk. However, you can use nonfat or reduced-fat varieties. You can even substitute full-fat sour cream, but it will have a slightly tangier taste.
Using regular yogurt
If you only have unstrained yogurt available, it’s easy to remove the liquid yourself. Simply place a triple layer of paper towels over a fine-meshed strainer, set on top of a bowl. Add double the amount of yogurt, then let it chill for at least 30 minutes or overnight. You should see the water separate from the yogurt over time.
The power of alliums
Garlic is an essential ingredient in Greek cuisine to add depth. When minced, the small allium packs a strong flavor. The finer the cut, the more of the sulfurous allicin compound releases and the familiar lingering odor.
Mixing it with the fat in the dairy product helps coat some of the pieces, so the flavors infuse into the sauce without overpowering it. I use a microplane grater because of its fine openings. As the grater breaks down the clove, the texture becomes more of a paste, making it easy to mix in. Alternatively, very finely mincing the garlic can be done. However, you might notice little bursts of the characteristic bite.
Citrus and vinegar add dimension
Greek yogurt has a sour taste due to the lactic acid production by the probiotics during the fermentation process. Mixing freshly squeezed lemon juice adds a bright citrus note. If you like, you can grate the peel for a more potent aroma and lingering taste from the lemon oil. A small amount of distilled white vinegar adds a tanginess that complements the tart flavor of the yogurt. A little goes a long way!
Add fresh herbs
You can enjoy tzatziki sauce without any additional herbs, but I like the herbaceous notes they provide. I add a generous amount of chopped dill. The slight grassiness and delicate citrus taste complement the lemon and garlic.
You can also use mint for a refreshing note. Just make sure it’s finely sliced. Chives and parsley are good additions. However, it starts to taste more like a ranch-style sauce.
How to make tzatziki sauce
Combine the yogurt with lemon juice, garlic, dill, vinegar, black pepper, and extra virgin olive oil. The fat from the oil smoothes out the consistency and provides a lovely richness and fruit note. Once you drain the cucumber, stir them into the sauce.
You can serve it right away, but for the best taste, let it chill for at least an hour. This duration gives all of the ingredients time to infuse together for a more harmonious flavor.
Serve this with
- Lamb kabobs
- Greek chicken skewers
- Salmon greek salad
- Greek chicken with roasted potatoes
Plain strained yogurt (typically Greek) is the main ingredient, giving it a strong, slightly tart flavor profile with a cool, creamy consistency. Cucumber adds a hint of melon taste with a slight crunch. Garlic adds a little sulfurous note that is balanced with citrus and/or vinegar. Fresh dill or mint can be added for a herbaceous taste.
The acidity in the sauce helps to cut richness from meats like lamb, beef, chicken, and pork. It pairs nicely with smoky, grilled, and rotisserie meat like gyro, kabobs, and kefta. Soft pita and vegetables are good to dip in the condiment.
Yes! The combination of protein and probiotic packed yogurt with fibrous vegetables, lemon juice for vitamin C, and monounsaturated fatty acids in extra virgin olive oil. It’s a good choice for a topping or dip.
Salt helps remove moisture from cucumbers
Cucumbers are incredibly crisp and refreshing because they contain over 90% water. A majority of it needs to be quickly removed for the tzatziki sauce to prevent a thin consistency. The sodium draws out the moisture from the cut plant cell walls by osmosis, releasing the liquid. It also seasons the vegetable for a slightly briny flavor.
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- 1 english cucumber, at least 10 ounces
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
- 2 cups plain greek yogurt, whole milk
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon chopped dill
- 1 teaspoon garlic, finely grated or very finely minced
- 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- Trim off the ends of the cucumber and cut it in half crosswise. Use the large holes of a grater to shred into pieces. Alternatively, chop into very fine shreds. Measure out 1 cup (7 ounces, 202g) for the recipe.
- Set a fine-meshed strainer over a bowl. Add the shredded cucumber and salt, gently stir to combine. Let sit for 30 minutes to drain. Use the back of a spoon to press down on the shreds to remove most of the excess moisture.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the yogurt, lemon juice, olive oil, chopped dill, garlic, vinegar, and pepper. Stir in the drained cucumber. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Cover and refrigerate for a least 1 hour before serving, or up to 5 days.
- Recipe Yield: 2 cups
- Serving Size: ¼ cup
- Storing: Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Stir before using.
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