Friday, April 25, 2008

Yogurt and Cucumber Sauces: Cacik, Tsadziki, Raita

Yogurt, originally from the herders of Central Asia, who cultured milk to preserve it for later meals before the advent of refrigeration, has an affinity for cucumbers, which also were also grown in Central Asia. In warm weather, which is already with us in Atlanta, cold yogurt sauces with grated cucumber make refreshing condiments.

Extending from the raita of India and Pakistan, to the mastokhiar of Iran, to the cacik (ja 'jeek) of Turkey (with the Helenized version of the name, tsadziki, in Greece and the Balkans), the dish is nearly the same across cultures and cuisines. The fresh herbs vary from place to place, dill, mint, or cilantro, and the amount of garlic varies, but the combination of yogurt and grated, slightly squeezed-out cucumbers is basic to all these dishes. In the Middle East, it can be served as a meze, or snack, garnished with olive oil, sumac, or dill, and accompanied by pita or other flat bread. Or it can dress grilled meats in a gyro or shwarma sandwich, or accompany a rice dish or a meal. In India, it cools hot curries as a condiment.

Here are two versions, cacik/tsadziki, and raita. Both can be made ahead and refrigerated before serving. Both are easy to make. The best yogurt for this available in Atlanta is the whole milk Stonybrook, Fage (from Greece), one from New Jersey with a little cedar tree on it (read "made by Lebanese"), Seven Stars Farm (organic), and Friendship low-fat yogurt. I'd avoid the non-fat, unless there is a health restriction. The flavor is simply not as good.

Yogurt “Sauce” with Cucumber and Dill (Cacik; Tsadziki)

1 medium cucumber
1-1/2 cups yogurt (whole milk or low-fat, rather than non-fat, or add a little sour cream)
1/2 clove garlic (or more, to taste – much more in eastern Turkey)
3/8 teaspoon salt, plus more, to taste
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill,
or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint or 1 teaspoon dry mint leaves

Peel, cut lengthwise, seed, and coarsely grate the cucumber. Then with your hands squeeze out and discard some of its juice. Mix the cucumber with the yogurt. Using the back of a spoon, thoroughly crush the garlic on a saucer with the salt to a pasty consistency. Mix in with the yogurt and cucumber, adding the pepper and dill or mint. Combine well, taste and add salt to taste. Make at least 1/2 hour before serving. This stores several days refrigerated. Stir before serving. Taste and adjust the salt if necessary.

Serve as an appetizer (meze) with pita bread or as accompaniment for a rice pilaf or a meat or fish dish.


Make raita nearly as for cacik, but typically there is a higher proportion of yogurt to cucumber, fresh chopped mint or cilantro would replace the dill, and black pepper would usually not be used. Generally garlic is used sparingly or not at all.

There are versions of raita that have finely diced and drained tomato and a little minced onion added, or even chopped banana or pineapple (leaving out the cucumber in the fruit versions).

Raita is served as a condiment with rice and curry. It can be sprinkled with a tiny bit of cayenne or garam massala for color.


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