Recipes: Hummus and Tzatziki

Mediterranean food is perfect summer fare, and not simply because it features light, flavorful ingredients and tends to be served at room temperature. The most important aspect of this cuisine’s appeal, particularly in hot weather, is the relaxed, sophisticated attitude to food that it evokes. From Greek mezedes to Spanish tapas, Mediterranean meals tend to consist of many small dishes, inviting diners to graze among the different flavors and textures, and to linger over the meal and the conversation that accompanies it. Because of the preponderance in the Mediterranean diet of olive oil, fish, and yogurt, it is also generally healthy.

Below are simple recipes for two popular Mediterranean dishes: the yogurt-based tzatziki and the chickpea-based hummus. These can be served individually or together as side dishes, but with the serving suggestions below, they make an excellent warm weather snack or meal.

Tzatziki

Tzatziki is a tangy yogurt-based dish that is a major staple of Greek cuisine. It is often served with kebabs or fish, but made with Greek yogurt, it can be a stand-alone treat. Greek yogurt (Fage is the easiest-to-find brand in the U.S.) is slightly more firm than its American counterpart, with a slight tang to it reminiscent of goat cheese. This makes it an excellent ingredient for savory yogurt dishes. It can be found in full fat, 2%, and fat-free versions. The herbs used in tzatziki vary widely and are subject to fierce debate – some chefs swear by dill, some others use thyme. I prefer spearmint because it provides a sharp, light counterbalance to the other flavors.

Ingredients:
– 1 container of Greek yogurt
– juice of 1 lemon, to taste
– 2 tbsp finely chopped spearmint leaves, to taste
– 1-2 cloves minced garlic, to taste

Directions:
– Add the lemon, mint, and garlic to the yogurt, a small amount at a time. Taste the mixture to see if it needs more of anything, but remember that the flavors will mellow and merge as they sit in the refrigerator, and what tastes sharp and assaultive now will become a more complex flavor as the mixture chills.
– Cover, refrigerate, and let sit for at least 3 hours.
– Tzatziki keeps well in the refrigerator for a day or two, but after that the mint and garlic flavors will become too sharp.

Hummus

Hummus is a nutritious, creamy dish made from chickpeas. It is popular in various cuisines throughout the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Chickpeas keep well when refrigerated, and the lemon and garlic help extend their shelf life. Hummus is often served with crudites (raw sliced or chopped vegetables). Combine it with pita for a complete protein.

Ingredients:
-2 cans chickpeas
-1/4 to 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
-1/4 cup finely chopped fresh curled parsley, to taste
-2 cloves minced garlic, to taste
-3-4 tbsp olive oil
-1-2 tbsp tahini (Joyva brand is good)
-pinch of salt, to taste

Directions:
– Add everything to the food processor a small amount at a time, keeping a balance between liquid and solid ingredients.
– Blend in short bursts until the mixture reaches a firm, creamy texture.
– Adjust lemon, olive oil, and tahini until the desired taste and texture is obtained.

Serving Suggestions

– For appetizers, serve one or both dishes with crudites and lightly toasted pita wedges.
– To add a touch of the exotic to your breakfast, serve a dollop of each with scrambled eggs and toasted bread or pita.
– Serve with a traditional Greek salad.
– Layer with grilled chicken and slices of cucumber into a sandwich.

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