August 11, 2017 Green Beans and Cucumbers with Miso Dressing

I couldn’t bear to do it, smash the cucumbers and green beans as called for in this recipe that is. This very easy and flavorful dish from the June issue of Bon Appetit uses a technique popular in many Asian countries. Smashing the cukes and beans with a cleaver or a rolling pin tenderizes them and makes lots of nooks and crannies for the dressing to permeate. But not with the first green beans and cucumbers from the garden this season. Maybe in a week or two but for now I will use a more traditional approach. This recipe is quite similar to pau huang gua, a Sichuan cucumber salad, typically served with rich spicy food.

Start the recipe by peeling the cucumber, I like to leave a small strip of skin for color contrast. Chop into bite sized pieces and toss with a little salt to draw out excess moisture. The beans were an interesting addition, the original recipe in Bon Appetit didn’t call for cooking them, I presume they thought dressing them would do the job of tenderizing them. I chose to blanch the beans for just a few minutes to make them crisp-tender and ready to absorb the dressing.

The dressing couldn’t be easier, the ginger, garlic and serrano pepper are all grated, a Microplane makes quick work of that. Combine these ingredients with white miso, rice vinegar, olive and sesame oil. Miso is a fermented soybean paste traditionally used in Japanese cooking. White miso will provide a more delicate flavor, switch in a red miso for a stronger and saltier flavor. You will find miso in the refrigerated section of Asian grocery and health food stores.

Place the well-drained cucumbers and green beans in a bowl and toss with some of the dressing, just enough to coat the vegetables. You will have more than enough, which is a good thing. Toss sautéed eggplant and zucchini with halved cherry tomatoes with the dressing for another version of this dish.

Cucumber vines in the greenhouse, circa 2015.
Joe is growing both bush and pole beans.

Green Beans and Cucumbers with Miso Dressing

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 3 Persian cucumbers or 1 English hothouse cucumber
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 lb green beans, stems trimmed
  • 1 1½ piece ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • 1 serrano or Fresno chile, finely grated
  • 1 garlic clove, finely grated
  • 1/3 c unseasoned rice vinegar
  • ¼ c white miso
  • ¼ c olive oil
  • ½ t toasted sesame oil
  • Toasted sesame seeds and scallions or thinly sliced shallots for serving

Directions

  1. Peel cucumbers and chop into bite-sized pieces. Toss with a pinch of salt in a medium bowl. Let sit to allow salt to penetrate.
  2. Bring a medium sized pan of water to a boil with a pinch of salt. Add beans and cook until just tender, 3-4 minutes. Drain beans in a colander.
  3. Whisk ginger, chile, garlic, vinegar, miso, olive and sesame oils in a medium bowl until smooth.
  4. Transfer the beans to a bowl for serving and toss with the dressing. Drain cucumbers well and add to the bowl, toss again. Top beans and cucumbers with toasted sesame seeds and scallions.
Toss cucumber chunks with a pinch of salt to extract excess water.
The beans I used were just picked, blanching them for a few minutes tenderizes them and brings out their flavor.
The original recipe used scallions, I used shallots from our garden.

 

July 28, 2016 Ginger Cucumber Salad with Scallops

DSC_7580aOur current scorching, almost 100 degree temperatures with no end in sight, call for a minimum of time cooking over a hot stove. This recipe, from Mark Bittman’s Minimalist column in the New York Times is just what I was looking for. Ginger cucumber salad with scallops combines sweet buttery scallops with a crisp refreshing cucumber salad.

The cucumber salad is very simple and good in it’s own right. To get the thinnest cucumber and onion slices possible, use a mandoline. Since I am using smaller just picked cucumbers from the garden, there is no need to seed them, but I do prefer to peel them and leave strips of green skin. A classic dressing of rice wine vinegar, fresh grated ginger, sugar and salt provides a quick pickle for the cucumber slices. Remember to use plain rice vinegar, seasoned rice vinegar is flavored with sugar, salt and sometimes MSG. Plain rice vinegar is just mildly acidic and allows the cook to choose the amount of seasoning in the dish. A two inch piece of ginger translates into about two tablespoons. That might seem to be a bit too much but it is mellowed out with the other ingredients. If you are not sure, hold back a little and taste first.

While the cucumbers are marinating, preferably in the fridge, sear the scallops. Use a large non stick pan and brush with two tablespoons of a neutral oil, like grapeseed or canola, olive oil would compete (and win) against the delicate flavor of the scallops. When the oil starts to sizzle, add the scallops like the numbers on a clock starting at the top and going around, putting any additional scallops in the middle. If your pan isn’t large enough to cook all the scallops in one batch, divide them into two. Give the scallops room to sear, if they are too close they will steam. Check the first scallop, (twelve o’clock) after two minutes, if there is a nice brown crust, it’s time to flip. Continue checking around the clock until all the scallops are flipped. Repeat the step for the second side, this time moving the finished scallops to a plate.

The remaining oil, thinly sliced onion and turmeric are added to the same pan, no need to wash in between. Turmeric is the spice that gives Indian curries their vibrant color and adds warmth and a slightly bitter taste to dishes. The medical component in turmeric, curcumin, is used to make a wide variety of medicines as an anti inflammatory agent. The addition of turmeric is optional but adds another dimension to the salad.

Don’t skip the toasted sesame seeds, they add their own fragrance and just a little crunch. Stir the sauteed onions into the cucumber salad, top with the scallops and serve.

Seared Scallops with Ginger Cucumber Salad

Serves 2-3

Ingredients

  • 1 ¼ lbs small cucumbers
  • ½ c rice vinegar (not flavored)
  • 2-inch piece of ginger, minced or finely grated
  • 2 T sugar
  • 1 t salt
  • 3 T canola oil
  • 1 lb medium to large scallops
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • ½ t ground turmeric
  • 2 T toasted sesame seeds

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Directions

  1. Slice cucumbers thinly, a mandolin  does the best job, if the cucumbers are large, peel and seed before slicing.
  2. Combine rice vinegar, ginger, sugar and salt and toss with cucumbers. Let stand 30 to 60 minutes.
  3. Put 2 tablespoons oil in a large non stick skillet over medium high heat. When the oil starts to sizzle add the scallops. Sear on first side for two minutes, flip to the other side and  sear for about two minutes. Remove scallops to a plate.
  4. Add the remaining oil, then add the onions and turmeric. Cook until the onion softens, about five minutes.
  5. Toast sesame seeds in a small dry skillet until fragrant and brown, three to four minutes. Stir the onions into cucumbers, top with scallops, garnish with sesame seeds and serve.

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July 21, 2016 Wakame and Cucumber Salad

DSC_7557aSeaweed has been a regular part of the Japanese diet for centuries. It is low in calories, fat and cholesterol, a good source of dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals. So why don’t I think of making seaweed salad more often?

Granted it’s not the most attractive item you will find at your local health food store or Asian market and the word weed makes it sound like something you might toss in the mulch heap. But sea vegetables, as they are also known, make an interesting addition to salads. I have several types in my pantry, nori for rolls, kombu for dashi, the base for miso soup. I chose wakame (wah-ka-may) for this salad. It has a chewy texture and a very mild flavor, a little sweet and a little salty. Not much is needed, an ounce of dried seaweed is enough for a salad to serve four. Dried wakame may not look like much but after soaking, it expands up to six to eight times it’s original size.

The wakame should not soak any longer than the directions suggest, it will get soggy. Drain well and rinse with cold water. Remove the inedible stem if present. Thinly slice an equal amount of Persian or seedless cucumbers with a mandolin. The simple dressing uses staples from the Japanese pantry, miso, rice vinegar, and mirin. Combine the wakame, scallions and cucumbers in a medium bowl and toss with the dressing. Top with toasted sesame seeds.

We nibbled on this light, refreshing salad while enjoying the sushi and sashimi dinner Joe prepared last weekend. In Japanese cuisine it is considered a sunomono (vinegar based cold dish).  The crunchy cucumber, (fresh from the garden of course) contrasts nicely to the soft chewy texture of the wakame.

Wakame and Cucumber Salad

Serves four

Ingredients

  • 1 ounce dried wakame seaweed
  • ¼ c rice wine vinegar
  • 1 T fresh lime juice
  • 1 T yellow miso paste
  • 1 T freshly grated ginger
  • 1 t honey
  • 1 T mirin
  • 1 T dark sesame oil
  • 1/3 c canola oil
  • Salt to taste
  • 6 thinly sliced, Persian cucumbers or 1 large seedless cucumber
  • 2 thinly sliced scallions
Ingredients for the salad.
Ingredients for the salad.
Dried wakame.
Dried wakame.
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Wakame can expand six to eight times it’s size from the dried state.
The mandolin gives uniform thin slices, always use the finger guard!
The mandolin gives uniform thin slices, always use the finger guard!

Directions

  1. Soak seaweed in warm water to cover, 5 minutes. Drain, rinse briefly with cool water and drain again. Use a paper towel to blot excess water. Set seaweed aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the vinegar, lime juice, miso paste, ginger, honey, mirin, sesame and canola oil.
  3. Add the wakame along with the cucumbers and scallions and toss well.
  4. Garnish with sesame seeds and serve immediately.

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October 13, 2015 End of Summer Green Gazpacho

DSC_4896aSummer was officially over several weeks ago and the first touch of frost was on our lawn Sunday. That doesn’t mean the garden is giving up yet. There are still some tomatoes, peppers, both sweet and hot, eggplants and herbs ready for the picking.The tomatoes may not be the prettiest, but they are certainly the sweetest.  Joe has planted a large crop of spinach and salad greens in the garden greenhouse that we will enjoy for several months to come. After a week of indulging in Denver’s finest cuisine it was time to get back on the healthy eating track. What better way to use some of  these ingredients than in a cold refreshing green gazpacho?

Gazpacho by definititon is a liquid salad that originated from the southern Spanish region of  Andalusia. The name possibly originated from the Latin word “caspa” meaning fragments, alluding to the small pieces in gazpacho. You can make this as chunky or as smooth as you choose. I love the addition of avocados in our nightly salad with dinner and had a few extra ripe ones to give this soup a creamy texture. I used the bounty of our garden and the addition of a cucumber for it’s crisp sweetness. Give this soup several hours to chill and the flavors to blend.

Substitutions  are permitted, watercress for the spinach, that will bring a spicy kick to the soup.  Cilantro can sub for the basil, add a touch of Tabasco if you don’t have a fresh hot pepper, I would be happy to share.  I always stock up on vinegars at The Tubby Olive and used their Alfoos Mango in my soup, love them in our vinaigrettes too. If you don’t  have a fruit vinegar, use white wine vinegar and a touch of honey. A little chopped cucumber as garnish gives a little crunch and since our nasturtiums are still in bloom I couldn’t resist adding a few for their vibrant color and spiciness.

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A new crop of spinach in the garden greenhouse is ready for harvest.
A new crop of spinach in the garden greenhouse is ready for harvest.

 

End of Summer Green Gazpacho

Makes about 4 cups

  • 2 medium tomatoes or 12-15 small tomatoes
  • 3-4 small cucumbers peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 avocado, flesh cut into large chunks
  • ½c basil leaves
  • ½c flat leafed parsley leaves
  • ½ to 1 whole hot pepper, jalapeno or serrano
  • 1 sweet pepper, seeded, stemmed and cut into chunks
  • 2c packed baby spinach leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2-3T fruity balsamic vinegar (I used Mango from Tubby Olive)
  • Cold water to blend
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Water as needed
  • 1T extra virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. Reserve ½ cup cucumber chunks and chop finely.
  2. Combine the tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado, basil, hot pepper and sweet pepper, spinach, garlic and balsamic vinegar with cold water as needed in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Process until smooth adding more water as necessary to achieve a smooth texture. Taste and season with salt, pepper and more vinegar if desired.
  3. Refrigerate until cold, pour into bowls and garnish with cucumber chunks.

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August 20, 2015 Cucumber, Basil and Peanut Salad

DSC_4048aThese days Joe is bringing in more cucumbers than I know what to do with them. I’m really not complaining, the season is short and I am using them in as many salads and cold soups as I can find recipes. Native to India, cucumbers require 70°F plus soil and air temperatures to grow but have a relatively short time from sowing to harvest. He has had great success growing them in the greenhouse that is situated in the garden. That environment provides just slightly warmer temperatures.
Since cucumbers are 96% water they are happiest when watered on a consistent basis. A well watered cucumber vine will produce the sweetest fruit. We stick with two varieties that produce well, Persian and Bush Champion. Persian cucumbers are small, about 6 inches long and 3/4 inch diameter with smooth edible skin and undeveloped seeds. They are the perfect size for pickling, if that is your inclination. Bush Champions are a bush variety that take one third of the space and are also suitable for containers.

One of my all time favorite cucumber salads to make is a Thai cucumber salad.  Light and crunchy, it is quick and easy to make, combining sweet, spicy and tangy flavors. The dressing draws most of it’s ingredients from the Asian pantry. Seasoned rice vinegar is either made from sake or by adding salt and sugar to regular white rice vinegar and is an easy boost to the sweet, salty and tangy elements of a dish. Plain rice wine vinegar is a bit more versatile and could be substituted. Just remember to adjust the seasonings accordingly. Whether you call it nam pla, nuoc nam or patis, fish sauce is made from the liquid drained from fermented anchovies and is a flavor enhancer like salt or soy sauce. A little goes a long way here. I am partial to the Three Crabs brand that is readily available in Asian markets. Sesame oil was one of the first exotic ingredients to grace our kitchen. Be sure to look for toasted sesame oil. It is dark in color and has a very intense aroma and flavor. Use Thai basil in this salad if you can find it. The beautifully named Siam Queen is one of the varieties we grow. The plant is more compact in apppearance than the standard Italian basil with smaller bright green leaves. There are clusters of purple flowers at the top of the plant. It has an intense licorice aroma and flavor.

To make the salad, add the rice vinegar, sesame oil, lime juice and fish sauce to a large bowl. Peel about 1½ lbs cucumbers, I leave a little skin on for color contrast. Slice in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and slice diagonally into crescents. Peeling the cucumber allows the flavors of the dressing to be absorbed right into the flesh. Add cucumbers, basil and peanuts to the bowl, toss and serve. So simple to make, refreshing Thai cucumber salad is as much a natural next to a grilled satay as it is with your standard picnic fare.

Cucumber vines in the greenhouse.
Cucumber vines in the greenhouse.
This little flower is the beginning of a cucumber.
This little flower is the beginning of a cucumber.
Persian cucumber in the middle, flanked by the spiny Bush Champions.
Persian cucumber in the middle, flanked by the spiny Bush Champions.

I removed the seeds for this salad but really didn't need to.

Beautiful Siam Queen basil.
Beautiful Siam Queen basil.

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Cucumber, Basil and Peanut Salad

Adapted from Fine Cooking magazine

Serves six

Ingredients

  • 3T seasoned rice vinegar
  • 1t Asian sesame oil
  • 1t fresh lime juice
  • 1t fish sauce
  • 1½lb cucumbers
  • ¼c torn basil leaves (Thai is preferred)
  • ¼c coarsely chopped salted peanuts

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, mix the first four ingredients.
  2. Peel cucumbers (I like to leave small strips of skin for contrast), slice in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and slice diagonally into ¼ inch crescents.
  3. Add the cucumbers, torn basil and peanuts to the bowl with the vinaigrette, toss and serve.

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Sept 13, 2014 Tomato, Cucumber and Watermelon Salad

DSC_8707aCool, crisp, quick and delicious, what higher praise could I bestow on a summertime salad? This best-of-summer salad brings together sweet cherry tomatoes, crunchy cucumbers, succulent watermelon and creamy salty feta.

Joe has grown more tomatoes than ever and the varieties are amazing. Indigo Blue Berries, Black Cherry, Pink Bumble Bee, Sungold, to name a few, as beautiful to behold as they are sweet and juicy to devour.

Indigo Blue Berries are a new variety this year. Like the blueberry, Indigo Blue Berry tomatoes contain high levels of anthocyanin, a naturally occuring antioxidant. Pink Bumble Bee tomatoes are a round pink cherry tomato striped with yellow and orange.  The Black Cherry tomato is a deep red with a blackish hue. Sungolds are an apricot orange in color with a sweet tropical flavor.
It’s best to cut the tomatoes in half for easier eating. My serrated edge Cutco knife always gives me a neat cut through the tomato skin. I peel most of the skin from the cucumber and leave a strip of skin on for color. Scoop out the seeds if they are too large.

Another member of the cucurbit family, watermelon, brings a refreshing sweetness to the salad. The watermelon you will most likely find anywhere these days will be seedless.  Over the past several years it has become increasingly difficult to find seeded watermelons. Only 10% of watermelons grown on farms in 2011 were of the seeded variety, in 2003, almost 37% were.

Seedless watermelons are not genetically modified but are “the watermelon version of the mule.” They are a sterile hybrid achieved by crossing the pollen of the normal diploid (2 sets of chromosomes) watermelon with a female flower that is a tetraploid (4 sets of chromosomes). The genetic change occurs from the use of colchicine, a chemical derived from the fall blooming crocus that impacts chromosomes and has been used for years to treat and cure gout. The resulting seeds from these two plants are triploids (3 sets of chromosomes) and will produce sterile seedless watermelons. The white seeds, also known as “pips”  you may find in your seedless watermelons are hollow seed coats that didn’t mature.

Seedless or seeded, which type tastes better? Is it just nostalgia, do we fear the end of the days of watermelon seed spitting contests? If you still want seeds in your watermelon you may find those varieties at your farmers market or you may just need to grow your own.

As someone who always likes to sprinkle a little salt on her watermelon, feta just seems like a natural addition to this flavor combination. Feta brings both a creamy texture and a contrasting saltiness that brings out the flavors of the other elements of this salad. The simplest of dressings and a scattering of fresh basil and you have a great summer salad, colorful and easy to put together, a refreshing addition to any barbecue or cookout.

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Pink Bumble Bee is a new addition to our tomato selection this year.
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The Indigo Blue Berry is definitely blue, when ripe it develops a reddish hue.

Tomato Cucumber and Watermelon Salad

Serves four

Ingredients

  • 2c assorted cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 1/2c medium diced seedless watermelon
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled, quartered, seeded if necessary, cut into 3/4″ pieces
  • 3/4c feta cheese, cut into half inch cubes
  • 1/4c fresh mini basil leaves or large leaves torn into small pieces
  • 1T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1T lemon juice
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions

  1. Put the cherry tomatoes, watermelon, cucumber, feta and basil in a large bowl.
  2. In a small bowl whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, 1/4t salt and a 1/4t fresh ground pepper. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss gently to coat.

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August 23, 2014 Chilled Buttermilk Cucumber Soup

DSC_8646aI can’t remember a year when we have had such a prolific crop of cucumbers! We are growing two varieties this year, Bush Champion and Baby Persian. The Bush Champion has a compact growing habit. Ours are in the greenhouse area of the garden but are also suitable for patio and container gardening. The Baby Persian variety is growing up a trellis in the greenhouse. The term “baby” refers to the size when it is best to pick them, 4 to 6 inches. Of course, like many cucumbers, they will continue to grow larger than this. Hence the need to be diligent in picking to get them at their best.

Along with tzatziki sauce, I have been making lots of cold cucumber soup. Buttermilk cucumber soup is crisp and cool from the cucumbers, celery and shallots bring depth of flavor and buttermilk and sour cream provide a refreshing tang.  This no cook soup comes together in minutes, the only appliance you need is a blender.

Simply add rough chopped cucumber, celery, shallots, olive oil, buttermilk and sour cream to the bowl and blend until smooth. Force the soup through a fine strainer for the smoothest texture.  Chill for at least an hour, longer if possible to blend the flavors. Add a little crabmeat or cooked shrimp for a more substantial dish. A simple garnish of chopped garlic chives and you have a cool and delicious treat for summer dining.

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Chilled Buttermilk Cucumber Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 ­lb. cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks
  • 2 medium celery stalks, roughly chopped
  • 1 small shallot, coarsely chopped
  • 2T extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 c sour cream (low fat is fine)
  • 1/2 ­c buttermilk
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Chopped chives, to garnish

Directions

  1. In a blender, purée the cucumber, celery, shallots, olive oil, and 1 tsp. kosher salt until smooth.
  2. Strain through a medium-mesh sieve into a large bowl, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible.
  3. Whisk in the sour cream and buttermilk and season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 1 hour. Serve drizzled with olive oil and garnished with chives.
Make Ahead Tips

You can make this soup up to 2 days ahead.

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Bush Champion cucumbers grow close to the ground. That little blossom will grow into a cuke soon!
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Tiny Persian cucumbers growing up the trellis.
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Almost the right size for picking.

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August 19, 2014 Tzatziki Sauce

DSC_8546aIt’s a deliciously creamy sauce or dip based on yogurt, cucumbers and dill, and yes the Greeks do have a word for that, tzatziki. Pronounced in English, zat-zee-key, it is a traditional Greek “meze” or something to whet the appetite. I serve it with chicken, fish and vegetables. Tzatziki is also great as a sauce with gyros or wraps.

Until the last several years, you would have needed to drain the yogurt for several hours before proceding with the recipe. With the advent of Greek yogurt, that step is eliminated. “Greek style” yogurt is strained to remove the whey, the watery part. The term “Greek” is not regulated and some yogurts are thickened with cornstarch and milk protein concentrates. Read the label, Greek yogurt should contain only milk and live active cultures. In Greece, sheep’s milk yogurt is traditionally used in tzatziki, I have read that it is sweeter and richer than cow or goat’s milk yogurt. If you are using regular yogurt it needs to be drained in a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth for about four hours to obtain the thicker texture of Greek yogurt.

Grated cucumber, garlic, dill and sometimes mint are added to the yogurt base. Peel and seed the cucumber before grating. I use a teaspoon to make one long scoop down the middle to eliminate the seeds. Keep the cucumber in halves, they are large enough to shred on a box grater without hurting  your fingers. Put the shredded cucumber in a strainer over a bowl and sprinkle a little salt on it. This will drain out some of the excess liquid. I squeeze out the rest of the liquid by putting the cucumber in a clean cloth dishtowel and wringing it out. Alternately, squeeze the cucumber in your hands. This is an important step to ensure the sauce does not become watery.

The dill and mint should be fresh and if I am adding mint I will wait until right before serving since just picked mint can overwhelm the dish. Tzatziki is a versatile sauce that combines the slightly sour tang of yogurt along with the cool refreshing flavors of cucumber, dill and mint. It’s a great addition to your summer menus.

Tzatziki Sauce

Makes about two cups

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 c plain whole or 2% milk yogurt, preferably Greek
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 3/4 c peeled, seeded, and grated cucumber
  • 1 T fresh lemon juice
  • 2 t chopped fresh dill
  • 2t finely chopped mint (optional)
  • 2 t extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. Put the cucumber in a colander over a bowl and lightly sprinkle with salt. After a half hour wrap the cucumber in a clean cloth dishtowel and squeeze as much liquid out of it as you can. Alternately, squeeze the liquid out with your hands.
  2. Add the chopped garlic, cucumber, lemon juice, dill, and olive oil to the yogurt mixture. Stir to blend and season to taste with salt. Cover and chill for at least 4 hours before serving.
Make Ahead Tips

The dip can be made up to a day ahead.

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