Monday, October 3, 2011

Vegan Mofo #6 - Isa & Terry’s Mediterranean-Style Cashew-Cucumber Dip...

Vegan Mofo #6 - Isa & Terry’s Mediterranean-Style Cashew-Cucumber Dip

The Book - Veganomicon
The Author - Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero
The Recipe - Mediterranean-Style Cashew-Cucumber Dip
Page # 66
Difficulty - Easy
Duration - 15 minutes total time

Posting this today I see a third unintentional theme emerging during my Vegan Mofo. "Foods I loved as an omnivore that I never thought I’d eat again as a Vegan." Tzatziki certainly fits the bill there.

I absolutely love Tzatziki! Honestly, just how much I love it could never accurately be described in words. It is the quintessential Greek food for me. Growing up I ate a lot of Greek food, sometimes homemade but usually take-out from a very good authentic Greek place near where I lived. I remember the square white carry-out containers my dad would bring home, the aromatic scent of lemon and garlic wafting out of them like steam. Inside, each box would contain a portion of Greek Salad, Chicken or Beef Souvlaki, Greek Rice Pilaf, sometimes dolmathes or Greek style potatoes, a lemon wedge, thick warm Pita bread, and of course a generous dollop of tzatziki. Though we always ordered extra tzatziki because however generous that dollop it was never enough to satisfy us - or at least me. The food was divine but it was the tzatziki I loved the most. It was the tzatziki I craved, and waited in eager anticipation for. It was always perfect, thick, creamy, garlicky, and lemony. It is and has always been my favorite part of Greek Cuisine. I smothered it on everything. The pita, the souvlaki, the rice, the dolmathes and the potatoes. If there was any left over after that I’d literally eat it straight from a spoon.

In Greek restaurants when we ordered pita and tzatziki as an appetizer every bite I took was more tzatziki then pita. I loaded up on it - much to everyone else's amusement. I literally couldn’t get enough, and I was quite the tzatziki connoisseur and critic. Though Vancouver and the greater Vancouver area plays home to many very good Greek restaurants, all serving very good tzatziki I definitely favored some over others. In fact to this day the best ‘conventional’ tzatziki I’ve ever eaten was at a small hole in the wall Greek place downtown, on Davie Street. Unfortunately I’ve since forgotten the name, and honestly have no idea whether or not it’s still there. When I moved to Chicago another North American city that boasts a relatively large Greek population I found the tzatziki to be a bit different, slightly more watery, but still pretty good.

The perfect tzatziki is thick, creamy with nice shreds of cucumber and minced mint or dill. It’s level of garlic should be overpowering but in a good way!

Yet strangely despite my love and passion for tzatziki it was the one Greek dish I always seemed incapable of making properly. Everything else in Greek Cuisine? No problem. Moussaka? No problem. Spanokopita? No problem. Baklava? No problem. Tzatziki? Huge freaking problem! How ironic that, that’s the one culinary skill my Greek Ancestors didn’t see fit to impart on me.

I have tried so many recipes over the years and failed miserably at every single one. Before I went vegan I’d made tzatziki so many times with so many differing ingredients from regular yogurt, to Greek yogurt to cultured yogurt to goats milk yogurt. Different levels of herbs and lemon varying degrees of garlic, and every experiment only left me in frustrated tears. It’s really impressive when you think about it, there is not one other dish on earth that has seen me fail so spectacularly so many times.

Then I went vegan, and I thought happily that things might change. I excitedly tried a handful of vegan tzatziki recipes all to the same glorious end. I failed, utterly and completely over and over again. At that point what’s a pour tzatziki loving Greek Vegan to do? Give up, that’s what. I decided to give up, and resigned myself to the certainty that I would never eat tzatziki again. It broke my heart of course but I found that as long as I didn’t think about it, as long as I pushed it to the furthest reaches of my mind I was okay.

Then I got hold of Isa and Terry’s brilliant "Veganomicon" Of course an initial read-through of the Contents revealed they had a vegan tzatziki, which I bitterly decided to ignore. No way could it be good, not after so many failures. I just wasn’t ready to try again. I’d given up hope of ever making a delicious vegan tzatziki and didn’t want to get my spirits up again if this recipe too proved to be a failure.

Then I decided to throw a party, and found myself in a mad scramble to find creative yet delicious appetizer recipes. Most people tend to make their tried and true recipes for parties, but not me. You see I cherish originality, I crave creativity and eating the same thing - tried and true or not - at every party is just well... boring. Making something new for the first time for a party is always a gamble but at this point in my life I’m very confident in my culinary ability and so far everything - with the exception of a disastrous Pineapple Upside-down cake, which I’ll write about later - turns out top notch.

Originally I wasn’t even interested in the tzatziki recipe, I was interested in another recipe on the opposite page. Then I caught a glance at the ingredients list and found myself intrigued. Nowhere was there a non-dairy yogurt sub listed. Also nowhere to be found was the traditional mint. Now, how silly I thought. How can you make tzatziki without yogurt and mint? In their place were raw cashews and dill. Who’d ever heard of such a thing, really! I thought it so silly I nearly laughed. Yet as absurd as it sounded I couldn’t stop myself from periodically flipping back to the recipe. My curiosity was definitely peaked, and we all know what happens next. Despite my many reservations I set about the task of making yet another tzatziki.

I went about preparing this tzatziki like a chemist working with potentially volatile compounds. Carefully following all instructions exactly. Carefully measuring out all ingredients exactly. Offering up a few whispered words to Buddha. When the tzatziki was finally finished I hesitantly poked my finger into my vitamix for a taste test. Quickly closed my eyes in anticipation of pain, like you would when getting a shot at the doctor, and literally could not believe my tastebuds. It was amazing! Phenomenal even, in need of slightly more garlic and dill but otherwise incredible! I quickly added in a little more garlic and dill to taste and tried it again. It was a miracle! Not only was it the best tzatziki I’d ever made, but it was easily one of - if not - the best tzatziki I’d ever eaten vegan or not. It’s as good if not better then my gold standard for tzatziki from that now nameless Greek restaurant in Vancouver’s downtown.

This tzatziki is so rich, so creamy and so garlicky. All of the things a good tzatziki should be. It might not have been prepared in a ‘traditional’ way with the ‘traditional’ ingredients and yet it tastes more ‘traditional’ then ‘traditional’ tzatziki. How that’s possible I have no idea. What I do know is that I’m super ecstatic that I no longer need to live a tzatzikiless life. I can now eat my favorite Greek food with pleasure anytime I desire.

And how did my omni friends and family feel about it you might ask? Several of whom are also at least in part Greek? They freaking loved it! Everyone praised it, everyone was amazed by it, everyone agreed that it was one of the best tzatziki’s they’d ever eaten. They had no idea that it was full of cashews and missing yogurt. They devoured it. Smothered it on pita bread, Naan bread and dunked raw veggies into it. They could hardly keep away from it and in fact several people just decided to plunk themselves down at the table in front of it to make eating easier.

If you love tzatziki as much as I do and haven’t tried this recipe yet, it is a must! Serve it with pita, naan, flatbread crackers or raw veggies. Spread it onto a vegan Donair or gyro, thin it and use as a salad dressing. Smother Seitan, Tempeh or Tofu kebabs in it, or pour it over Gardein ‘Beefless Tips’ dip a dolmathes in it or just eat it by the spoonful. Whatever you decide to serve it with I’m absolutely sure you won’t be disappointed.

PS: Do not be tempted to skip the step in which you are asked to squeeze all the water from the grated cucumber. This step is absolutely crucial even if it is a pain in the ass.


  1. Yum! I've had that book for ages and I have yet to try that recipe.

  2. Why haven't I tried this recipe yet?!? Thank you for this post, I'll definitely be making this soon ^_^

  3. As I love this recipe (although I was a little bit scared and didn't know what to do with all this green cucumber water ;) I also enjoyed your story! Great that finally you broke this "tzatziki bad karma" :)

  4. Damn, now I want tzatziki & pita bread! =D - Matt