I will forever be indebted to the hostess at the Moma Rest & Cafe on Adrianou Street, Athens, who introduced me to the wonderful union of Greek dips and freshly baked pita bread. Thank you!
It was a ‘perfect’ moment as I sampled the freshly baked warm pita bread dunked in cool tzatziki, my senses doing a jig in delight at the refreshing flavours. And then there was the silky fava dip, so unassuming in appearance yet filled with flavour. Watching the world go by from the corner table on that April evening, I was yet again reminded of my mother’s cooking mantra “simple works wonders.”
The tzatziki is a yogurt-based dip that packs a punch with some dill/mint seasoning while the fava dip, simply put, is pureed lentil.
Several months later, I could not get the flavours of these two beautiful dips out of my taste palette’s memory. This translated into an attempt to recreate the flavours of Greece at home, with my limited experience.
Getting the ingredients for tzatziki was easy-peasy. I did fumble majorly with the fava dip, bringing to light the urgent need for some lentil identification lessons. You see, as per all the recipes that I perused, fava dip is made of fava beans which can be substituted with yellow split peas. And I merrily kept thinking red lentils are yellow split peas! Duh uh…
Now you would say this isn’t any big deal. But it is because yellow split peas are not easily available where I live.
Luckily for me, a friend, who had travelled to Greece a few years ago and spend a few weeks there asked me to try out the skordalia. “Look it up Rapti. You will love this dip. Especially since you have never found a potato you do not love!” she laughed.
Holy moly was she right! This is a delight for all those who love garlic. Seasoned simply with a generous dose of garlic, lemon and olive oil, skordalia has zoomed to the ‘love this’ list of my parents too!
Time: 30 minutes
Potatoes – 500 grams
Garlic cloves – 5
Olive oil – 140ml
Lemon juice – 2 tablespoons
Roasted almonds (crushed) – 80 grams
Salt – to taste
Black pepper powder – to taste
Fill a big pan/boiler with water, add a few spoons of salt and place on low flame. Scrub and wash the potatoes. Slice them into halves and dunk in the salted water. Let them cook. While the potatoes and hot water do their thing, make the seasoning.
Roughly mince the garlic cloves and place them in a mixer. Add a pinch of salt and then crush the garlic into a fine paste; or as fine as you can. You can also use a mortar pestle for this, I did. The idea is to ensure the garlic’s flavour and oils are released*. Set aside.
In another bowl, whisk together the olive oil and lemon juice and keep ready.
Once the potatoes are cooked, strain and allow them to cool enough for you to peel them. But don’t let the potatoes go cold. They need to be between ‘not burning hot’ but ‘not yet warm’ to facilitate mashing. Then use the masher to squash and pummel the potatoes to turn them into a puree*.
Add the garlic paste. Mix well.
Gradually add the lemon juice-oil mix, whisking till the potato mixture has a silky consistency. Adjust salt and pepper to your taste. Your skordalia is ready.
Pour this dip into a bowl or a small plate, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle the crushed nuts and serve with warm pita bread, lavash or chips. This could also be a perfect side with your grilled/sautéed vegetables.
* If you don’t have a potato masher, throw the potatoes in a mixer grinder to turn them into a pulp. Then run the potato pulp through a sieve with the back of a spoon. Laborious but gets the job done.
* You can increase the amount of garlic if you like pungent. But you might want to keep the mouth freshener handy then! Use the leftover lemon juice-olive oil mix, if any, as salad dressing.
* You can store this dip in the refrigerator for a day. To adjust the consistency, bring the cold dip to room temperature. Add hot water and whisk the skordalia back into the silky consistency.
Time: 15 minutes + 2 hours to refrigerate
Greek yogurt/hung curd* – 1½ cups
Lemon juice – 1½ tablespoons
Olive oil – ½ tablespoon
Garlic cloves (minced) – 2
Cucumber – 1 medium
Fresh mint/fresh dill (chopped) – ½ tablespoon
Salt – to taste (and some more)
Black pepper powder – to taste
Peel and grate the cucumber into a bowl. Add a dash of salt to the cucumber, mix well and set aside for 30 minutes to draw out the water.
Pour the yogurt in a large bowl and whisk to smoothen.
In a second bowl, mix the lemon juice, minced garlic, chopped mint or dill or both, salt and pepper to taste. Squeeze the cucumber hard to remove all the water and add to this mix. Give it a quick stir and pour it into the yogurt. Mix well and pop the tzatziki into the refrigerator for 2 hours (at least) to cool and give the flavours a chance to mingle.
Pour the tzatziki in a bowl, drizzle some olive oil, garnish with mint leaves and serve. This pairs well with warm pita bread and can also be used as topping for homemade gyros or other roles.
* In absence of Greek yogurt, you can use hung curd. What is hung curd? Regular curd rid of excess water. How to go about it? Spoon the curd into the centre of a thin muslin/superfine cotton cloth/cheese cloth. Bring together the edges and tie them together. Hang this over a bowl for 2 hours. You will get thick curd, the consistency similar to that of Greek yogurt. Since I had none of these, I placed the regular curd in a big sieve and placed it over a bowl for 2 hours. Used the back of a spoon to press out excess water, if any and I was set.
Don’t throw away the curd water. Maa uses it to make masala puris1.
1 masala puris – Spicy fried unleavened Indian bread
Photos: Gautam Chakravarty