When my fiancé & I went to Greece it was a dream come true! For almost two decades, traveling to Greece had been #1 on my bucket list. I dreamt of sunsets in Santorini, getting lost in the winding white alleyways, drinking ouzo in a taverna on the caldera and eating the best greek food of my life. I had been patiently impatiently waiting until I met ‘the one’ so to speak, because it seemed like such a romantic place and I didn’t want to go with just anyone. Luckily, when Rez came along he was quick to want to make that dream come true and we started planning an epic euro trip that would include the Greek islands for my birthday.
I have no idea how much Tzatziki we consumed while in Greece but it was a lot! Rez was totally in his element, feeling so at home with the familiar foods from childhood. The Tzatziki in Greece was so thick & creamy and was always served on a shallow plate; never in a bowl.
Why could I never get it quite right at home? What was I missing? I usually ended up with a runnier Tzatziki, most certainly not the thick spread I was served in Greece. After asking around at a few of the smaller tavernas, I learned that they were straining their yogurt to make a yogurt cheese. It’s similar to a soft cream cheese. The Lebanese culture also does this to make labneh. Ideally, you would strain it for up to 48 hours, but you can cheat and speed up the process for this recipe (I do it all the time). You just need a strainer, cheesecloth and a large bowl to catch the liquid as it drops from the yogurt.
Cut cheesecloth into 6-8 18 inch pieces and layer them in the strainer. Sit the strainer inside the bowl to catch the liquid as it drips from the yogurt. Pour the yogurt into the center of the cheesecloth and pull up the sides of the cloth, bringing the ends together at the top and tying with a string. Place in the fridge and let it sit for an hour.
In the meantime, grate your cucumbers. No need to peel them, just go ahead and start grating. You must use English cucumbers or the small Persian cucumbers for this recipe. Don’t use the wide, regular cucumbers because they are waxy and will give your Tzatziki a bitter taste. Put the grated cucumber in a another strainer and sprinkle with 1/2 tsp sea salt to help draw out the moisture from the cucumbers. If you’re in a rush, you can press down on the cucumbers to speed up the process. If you’re not in a rush, leave cucumbers in the fridge overnight or for 10-12 hours for best result.
After an hour take it out of the fridge and check the liquid in the bowl to make sure no yogurt is leaking. If there is yogurt in the bowl or coming out of the cheesecloth, it means you’re not using enough. If this is the case, cut a few more pieces of cheesecloth and tie with another string. No biggy!
If you’re trying to speed up the process, you can gently start ringing out the liquid. You can repeat this every half hour of so depending on how much of a rush you’re in. Ideally, you would be able to keep it in the fridge with the cucumbers, overnight or for at least 10-12 hours. The longer you let it sit, the thicker it will be!
Remove the yogurt out of the cheesecloth and voila Thats how you make yogurt cheese. It’s freaking simple eh? It just requires a little bit of your attention but its so worth it. If you want to do almost no work at all, leave it in the fridge for at least 24 hours so the liquid will drain out naturally.
Kalí óreksi! xx Greek
- 1 large English cucumber or 5 Persian Cucumber, unpeeled and grated
- 1½ cups strained full-fat Greek yogurt (roughly 3 cups unstrained)
- 2 large garlic cloves, finely minced
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil and more for drizzling
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- ½ tsp salt
- 3 tbsp fresh dill, minced
- 3 tbsp fresh mint, minced
- Cut cheesecloth into 18 inch pieces and layer them in the strainer (I suggest using 6-8).
- Put yogurt in the middle of the cheesecloth. Make sure you have a bowl under the strainer to catch the liquid. Gather the access cloth of the sides and tie at the tie with string. Put in the refrigerator.
- Check after 1 hr to make sure the liquid dripping from yogurt is only slightly milky. If there are pieces of yogurt in the bowl, it means you're not using enough cheesecloth. In this case, add a few more layers and tie with another string.
- Grate your unpeeled cucumbers and put into a strainer. If you're using English cucumber, make sure you remove the seeds first.
- Add ½ tsp salt to the cucumbers to draw out the moisture. Leave it in the fridge overnight along with strained yogurt for 10-12 hours. If you're in a big rush, you can use your hands to press down on the cucumbers.
- The next day remove the yogurt and cucumbers from the fridge and combine in a medium sized bowl. Add remaining ingredients to the bowl and mix them all together.
- Refrigerate until ready to use.
- Serve in a shallow plate and garnish by drizzling olive oil, olives and fresh herbs.
To speed up the straining process for both the cucumber and yogurt, you can sprinkle a little kosher salt on top to help draw out the moisture.