A week or so ago, my French other half was under the weather. And it wasn’t until that point that I learned that not everyone understands the healing power of chicken soup. So I made a Poule au pot (chicken cooked in the pot) with carrots and little bits of pastina (pearl-shaped pasta) floating around in the broth, and stopped at the market to pick up a bunch of fresh dill to chop into it.
Fresh herbs are widely used in French cooking and available in Paris markets, although some are hard to find, especially oregano, marjoram, and sage. Others, like thyme, rosemary, and tarragon are sold in generous bunches, as well as fresh dill. Although I’ve always wondered what people in Paris do with all that fresh dill since you only rarely see it on menus, unless it’s paired with salmon.
It was hard to explain the appeal of dill with chicken soup, but not only did the soup work its magic, the dill was a surprise hit. However I had half a bunch left over and since wild salmon isn’t so abundant, but cucumbers are, so I decided it was Tzatziki time.
Speaking of spices, and surprises, a friend had given me two containers of spices from Israel and they weren’t labeled, but when I removed the lid and took a whiff, I knew that I needed to someday go to Israel and stock up on more because I’ve been using them for everything, from jazzing up a bowl of Baba Ganoush to a marinade for pan-fried chicken breasts.
There are lots of variations on Tzatziki – some have you grate the cucumbers and call for plain yogurt, which I find a bit runny, so I use Greek yogurt. If you can only get plain yogurt, use a full-fat variety and drain it in a mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth, or a similar draining fabric, for a few hours in the refrigerator.
Everyone in Paris has been a bit under-the-weather, not necessarily physically, but mentally, because even though we are on the cusp of spring, it’s been drizzling rain and cold, and we’ve all had enough of winter, merci beaucoup. So in spite of the weather – and for a variety of reasons – it was time to break out the rosé and the Tzatziki made an appearance as an appetizer while a few of us braved the chill and made the best of the overcast weather on a makeshift table set up in the courtyard of the building.
The leftovers made a cool contrast to the marvelously seasoned chicken breasts, which I’d marinated in the green spices from Israel. It’s funny when people tell me they don’t have time to cook because this chicken took less than ten minutes to prepare. (Admittedly, it might have taken less time if there wasn’t rosé involved.) But even if you don’t have friends that give you spices, I often keep a jar of this Tuscan herb mixture around prepare chicken the same way, so I always keep a jar on hand.
So if find yourself with some fresh dill on your hands, and the weather is promising where you live, I can’t think of a better way to accompany a glass of wine or whatever you’re serving for dinner.
About 6 servings
You can use any herbs that you like. I prefer heavy on the dill, with a good dose of fresh mint in there. Some folks like flat leaf parsley as well. Tzatziki is actually better is made the day before you plan to serve it, which gives the garlic time to infuse the yogurt.
- 1 large cucumber, peeled and sliced in half lengthwise
- 1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 2 cups (450 gr) Greek yogurt
- 1/3 cup chopped dill and fresh mint, mixed
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
1. Use a spoon and scrape out the seeds from the cucumber, and discard them.
2. Dice the cucumber into small pieces or shred with the large holes of a box grater. Mix the cucumber pieces in a strainer with the salt, and let them stand for about 30 minutes, shaking and turning them a few times to encourage them to expel their water.
3. After they’ve drained, squeeze the cucumber pieces in a dishtowel to get out most of the excess liquid, and transfer them to a large bowl.
4. Mix the cucumbers with the garlic, yogurt, herbs, and olive oil, and taste, adding more salt if desired. Depending on the brand of yogurt, you might want to add a squirt of fresh lemon juice if you want it more tangy.
Serving and Storage: Tzatziki is actually better served the day after it’s made, so plan accordingly. It can be made up to three days in advance.