Thursday, August 29, 2013

Cool As (Blueberry Tzatziki Salad)

The season dovetails nicely in that the finest of summer's greens, cucumbers, berries, and peaches become fresh and locally available just in time for the last few barbecues before labor day. Steaks and ribs tend to take center stage at such gatherings, but a clever assembly of bountiful produce can still manage to be a showstopper. The heirloom cucumber on our backyard deck has coiled forth in riotous abundance, overshadowing the meek carrots and beets I tried to nestle below, and I've over a dozen cucumbers to contend with. In order to thin the herd, I decided to make a rendition of tzatziki, spiked with darkly sweet blueberries and served as salad.

Also thicker and chunkier than most tzatziki, but I like it that way
Tzatziki in Greece, cacik in Turkey, and tarator in Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Serbia all refer to a many-varietied family of cool cucumber and yogurt preparations served alternatively as appetizer, condiment, and side dish. You may be most familiar with it as the creamy sauce accompanying gyros, falafel, and kebabs and may also find renditions under the name "milk salad" or "snow white salad." Cucumbers and yogurt lend themselves readily to chilled treatment, but the dish also relies on the amplifying alchemy of other flavors. Lemon brightens and harmonizes the tang of yogurt and adds sharpness to the cucumber, as does a bracing jolt of onion or garlic, all tied together with the fresh licorice-lemon herbacious air of mint.

I added blueberries because, like blackberries, their deeper color is the result of higher concentrations of anthocyanin pigments, which coincide with a richer depth of flavor. This dark berry flavor lends itself to more umami pursuits such as barbecue sauce and amps the slight vegetal melon muskiness of the cucumbers. The berries also provide bursting bites of juicy sweetness as  a textural counterpart to crisp cucumber. Oregano is a great herbal addition for similar reasons, with woodsy notes that echo a mellow underscore to the peppermint, and goat cheese provides a lush bloom of extra creaminess and added salt.

Two varieties of cool and refreshing
Given the number of countries that have embraced tzatziki, it's easy to see that it's a culinary treasure. As the blueberries show, this is also a dish that's easy to spin into something new. I like it best paired with some salad greens, like baby arugula or baby spinach, but you may find you prefer it alone. Either way, it makes for a great combination of new and familiar flavors to spring on friends and family for one of the last few gatherings before the summer's end.

Get it while it's hot (outside)
Blueberry tzatziki salad

This cooling, full-flavored salad can be rendered in a delightfully vegan version by substituting tahineh (ground sesame paste) for the yogurt and drained canned chickpeas for the goat cheese.

2 medium cucumbers, quartered and diced
1/2 pint fresh blueberries
3 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
1/2 tbs fresh peppermint leaves, minced
1/2 tbs fresh oregano leaves, minced
1 fresh lemon, zest and juice
7 oz full-fat greek yogurt
4 oz crumbled goat cheese
1 tsp sea salt
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil

Combine ingredients in a large glass bowl, stirring to combine. Chill for at least three hours, allowing flavors to meld.

The combinations are endless
Serve cold, piled atop baby arugula or spinach.

Piling on
This article is also available in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette.

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