I remember sitting out on my terrace as a 7 year old child, eating a bowl of plain yogurt, cucumber, dill, garlic and salt. Looking out at the Hudson River and Tappan Zee bridge, I’d crunch the chunky cucumbers in between my little, crooked teeth and smack my mouth together from the tart yogurt.
I liked it and I didn’t. It was weird and yet totally pleasurable to eat this thing that was neither liquid nor solid.
It was comfort food for a hairy little mediterranean girl. It was strange like the buttered cheap caviar sandwiches or stuffed grape leaves I’d bring to school. The faces I’d get when my friends came over and my mom made this dish called spaghetti and yogurt were funny to think back on. “Eeewwww…” my friends would say.
While I was easily embarrassed about things like boys or being on stage, somehow I always seemed to march to the beat of my own drum when it came to clothing and food. Being a public elementary school kid in NY before sushi became the popular cuisine it is today, I was in a grade with kids from Taiwan, India, Puerto Rico, Hungary, Roumania, the USSR (yes), and Ireland.
If you ask me to remember multiplication tables, you’ll never get me beyond 12 without grabbing a calculator or pencil. But I can tell you with clarity of the bright orange, syrupy julabi at Shamila’s birthday party or of biting into the little yellow and pink pickles in the futomaki at international food day.
When I think back on those days, the blessings of growing up with people from every color, background, and walk of life is not lost on me.
If there’s anywhere in the world to learn that people can in fact live, work, interact, and be together, it’s here in New York City.
When I make this simple little tzatziki, I think ofit’s humility, of my mom stirring together the ingredients with a fork in our riverdale kitchen and of what it means to share authentically your own family culture so that others can learn, connect appreciate and celebrate our diversity.
Serving Size: Appetizer for 6-8 People
2 cups strained Greek yogurt
1 seedless cucumber, peeled and cut in half crosswise
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup dill, freshly chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
On the small holes of a box grater, grate the cucumber, rotating around the less firm, seedy center, discarding the inside. Using cheese cloth or a clean dish towel, wrap the grated cucumber and squeeze until very dry.
In a small bowl, combine the yogurt, garlic, cucumber and dill. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and place in the refrigerator. The Tzatziki can be made up to two days in advance.