The tomatoes are ripening. You can barely keep up with all the cucumbers, zucchinis and peppers. You want — nay you need — to enjoy the fruits of the season, but it’s too hot to think about anything more complicated than lighting the grill.
It’s time to turn to the Greek classics: souvlakia, horiatiki, and tzatziki.
Greek foods feature bright, briny flavors that are incredibly refreshing on a hot summer day. And if you have at the ready a few key ingredients, you can throw together a Greek-inspired, company-worthy meal with minimal fuss.
Stock up on high-quality feta (it should come packed in brine — avoid the vacuum-sealed blocks or pre-crumbled stuff), olives, extra-virgin olive oil, whole-milk yogurt, lemons, a bold vinaigrette (see my feta, red wine vinaigrette recipe below), and fresh herbs such as mint and dill.
This time of year, I like to make tzatziki on a weekly basis. I use it as a dip for veggies and pita, as a condiment to grilled meats or seafood, or dolloped onto a bowl of chilled carrot soup or sliced heirloom tomatoes.
Tzatziki is often referred to as a yogurt salad, a term that confused me (it’s more sauce than salad) until I started making it. Then I realized it really is a salad, only in this case yogurt and grated cucumber replace the greens. Like any salad, you want to avoid wateriness, so it’s important to use strained yogurt and squeeze or pat dry cucumbers. The “salad” is then dressed with olive oil, vinegar and/or lemon juice, and seasoned with garlic (mashed to a paste with a little salt), fresh dill or mint and salt and pepper.
Ina Garten has a recipe for tzatziki (available online) that is not quite traditional — she adds sour cream — but oh my is it good!
For a recent get together, I served tzatziki alongside souvlakia (grilled skewers of pork and chicken), horiatiki (Greek salad), and freshly made pita bread.
For my Greek salad (tomato, cucumber, Walla Walla sweet onion, chopped fresh mint), I added spiced chickpeas for texture and flavor. To make spiced chickpeas, drain canned chickpeas (but leave them wet enough for the spices to adhere). Sprinkle with 1 tsp. turmeric, ½ tsp. cumin, ½ tsp. cinnamon, ½ tsp. chili powder, and 1 tsp. kosher salt. Lightly fry in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.
The spiced chickpeas and other salad ingredients can be prepped earlier in the day. Just before serving, toss everything together with red-wine vinaigrette and scatter chunks of feta over the top.
Feta, red-wine vinaigrette
2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
1 medium shallot, sliced
3 basil leaves
1 tablespoon dried Greek oregano
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 large clove garlic, smashed
1/8 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
In a food processor, combine all ingredients except for the olive oil. With motor running, drizzle in the oil until mixture is smooth. Season with salt and pepper if needed.