Cooking should be easy and extremely rewarding. Not many things in life are better than eating one of your favorite dishes. This satisfaction only increases when you made the dish yourself to your own standards of perfection. Ordering a nice burger at a restaurant is always fun, but I find more enjoyment when I can cook it exactly the way I want it, with every topping and condiment that sounds good to me.
I believe that making good food comes down to two very simple guidelines: combining quality ingredients, and not burning the hell out of them. If you can master these two main ideas, everything you make will be edible at the very least.
This is not to say that cooking isn’t complex. Anyone who has seen Iron Chef, or other similar programs, knows that there are about a billion different ways you can do things with food, and many of them look extremely difficult. The reason that everything on Iron Chef looks so incredible is because the participants are doing so many things simultaneously, and they are doing them all so very fast. If anyone knows how to make amazing food, and make the preparation of that amazing food look impossible, it’s those guys. But here is the thing, these chefs have a lifetime of experience, and yet all they are doing is combining quality, and sometimes fantastical, ingredients while not burning the shit out of them.
Sometimes the simplest and most basic dishes are the best. I am here to teach you that cooking is easy, fun, and rewarding. You don’t need to be an Iron Chef to make great food that both you and your friends will enjoy. Over the course of these upcoming columns, I hope that you will agree with me. I also hope that you will achieve a better understanding of the simplicity of cooking and realize your own skills as a cook. You’ll do fine, I’m sure.
For the first recipe, I am going to teach you how to make a tzatziki sauce that I use in my own restaurant.
Ah, tzatziki sauce. Considered the traditional “Greek” condiment that no gyro is complete without. Creamy, flavorful, and so wonderfully simple that it’s guaranteed to impress. And it couldn’t be easier! For this one, we aren’t even cooking; we will simply be combining ingredients properly.
A side note on food costs. My local food/supply company sells 32 oz. tubs of tzatziki for $15. With this recipe, you can make it for about $4. Try getting your spices from a local health-food store; you can buy spices there for a fraction of the cost of any grocery. Typically, you can buy them by weight. Whether you need a several pounds of garlic a week like I do, or just a small pouch for a couple recipes, you can save some dough by going the bulk route. Right next door to my restaurant is Toms Natural Foods, which is my spice hookup and I couldn’t live without it, both financially and otherwise.
I would like to remind you that no matter what you are making, it’s all up to personal taste and nothing is an exact science. When I need to whip up a batch of tzatziki in a hurry, I forgo all the measurements and eyeball everything to what I think will taste good. After a little practice you can likely do the same. Don’t be afraid to experiment. This is the recipe I teach a new hire until they feel comfortable making it on the fly.
What you’ll need:
Whisk or Fork
Cheese grater or Food Processor
32 oz. nonfat, plain yogurt
1 large, fresh cucumber
1 tbsp garlic powder
½-1 tbsp ground black pepper (to taste)
½ cup dried dill weed (to taste)
½ cup lemon juice
A pinch of salt
1. Empty the yogurt into the bowl. Take the plastic film off and turn the container upside down. Gently squeeze the sides of the container and the yogurt should fall right out.
2. Grate the cucumber right on top of the yogurt using the larger grates. No need to skin or seed the cucumber. The skin will add color and the seeds will get mashed up in the grater and add a nice texture.
3. Pour in the lemon juice along with all the spices. Mix it all up with a whisk or fork.
4. Serve and impress. Serve with pita pieces, chips, your favorite bread, as a condiment for gyros, grilled meats, vegetables, or with any other particular dish that you as a cook think it will compliment.
5. Well done, chef. Well done.