Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Cacık (Turkish Yogurt with Cucumber and Garlic)

Whether consumed as a cold soup, a meze, or a condiment atop rice or bulgur, cacık adds a hint of brightness to any meal.  This very popular Turkish dish combines plain yogurt, salt, crushed garlic and cucumber.  Thinned with a bit of water and/or ice, it is generally served very cold. Beyond that, there are many cacık variations.  Here is mine -- which I daresay is the bomb!

I start with really good plain, full-fat yogurt.  Nowadays, good quality plain "Greek-style" yogurt is easy to find.  That was not always the case.  Chobani is quite good, as is Fage, and The Greek Gods, but my husband Asaf and I have sworn by Alta Dena for decades, and it remains an excellent choice despite all the competitive and trendy brands that have recently emerged in the marketplace.

As for the cucumbers, it's best to use organic because some of the skin is consumed.  My first choice is always the old fashioned pickling cucumber, followed by English hothouse.  My contempt for Persian cucumbers is certainly no secret on my blog (I find them sweet and often rubbery), but they are a popular choice for Middle Eastern salads, and my husband thinks they are fine in cacık. (We have just agreed to disagree on this point.)

The other essential ingredients for delicious cacık include fresh garlic, extra virgin olive oil, Kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper, and really fresh mint leaves.

I start by measuring out 1 cup of yogurt and 1/4 cup of cold water, which I stir or whisk together until creamy.  To that I add 1 large or 2 small cloves of crushed garlic and 1/2 teaspoon of Kosher salt.  At this point I taste and adjust the seasonings and consistency by adding more of whatever might be needed (yogurt, water, salt, and/or garlic).  I prepare it so that the texture is just slightly thicker than desired, as I will be adding some ice cubes to the cacık later -- to make it really cold -- and I like to factor in the melting ice effect.

Next I partially peel 1 pickling cucumber (or 1/2 English hothouse cucumber) in stripes, and then I thinly slice and dice the cucumber, into very, very small pieces, like so.

I also slice 8-10 fresh mint leaves into very thin ribbons (chiffonade), just like this.

Then I stir the cucumber into the yogurt mixture and top it with the fresh mint, a nice drizzle of really good olive oil, and a couple of grinds of freshly ground black pepper.  Finally, I plunge 2 ice cubes into the bowl and let it sit a good 15 minutes before serving, so the flavors fully develop.

1 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup of cold drinking water
1 large or 2 small cloves of fresh garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt (more or less to taste)
1 pickling cucumber or 1/2 English hothouse cucumber, partially peeled and diced very small
8-10 fresh mint leaves cut into ribbons
About 1 tablespoon of very good extra virgin olive oil
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste

Combine the first 4 ingredients, and then taste and readjust by adding more yogurt, water, garlic or salt, until the flavor and consistency are to your liking.  The mixture should be creamy, and just slightly thicker than desired.  Next, stir in the diced cucumber and top with mint, olive oil, and black pepper.  Plunge in two ice cubes and let everything rest for at least 15 minutes before serving so the flavors develop.  The ice cubes will keep it cold.