Tzatziki (Cacik) – Yogurt cool as a cucumber

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WHAT'S SPECIAL

Maybe it is better known to you all as Tzatziki this refreshing yogurt dish goes great in the summer months with almost everything. However as the Greek name already suggests, the Turkish version directly didn’t catch on making for the question: Is cacık originally Turkish or Greek?

What is Tzatziki (Cacik)?

Cacık is yogurt mixed with a little bit of water, cucumber, olive oil and seasonings such as salt, garlic, mint and dill. There are, of course, regional differences and variations of thickness. Some recipes call for the cucumber to be thinly sliced while others call for grating it, although no matter the method, it isn’t cacık without cucumber.

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The origins

One can’t speak of cacık’s origins without mentioning the history of the yogurt. As fridges weren’t really available in the distant past—like in 5,000 BC—milk had to be consumed on the spot or it would quickly spoil. People tending to their herds in Mesopotamia carried milk in bags made from animal stomachs. The milk would curdle when it came in contact with the digestive fluids in the stomachs, which then served to preserve it. (1).
Ancient Greeks were the first to mention it in writing around 100 BC, but noted even there that “barbarous nations” also made yogurt, as Mauro Fisberg and Rachel Machado have attested (2). But where does cacık fit into the history of yogurt.
The earliest reference to cacık is from the 17th century is by Evliya Çelebi’s in his “Seyahatnâme”, an expansive travelogue, in which he describes “cacıχ” (cacıg) as a kind of herb that is added to food. He specifies that any kind of herb or greens fit for consumption is referred to as such. As a herder in the pastures already had yogurt, it was a natural to spice it up a bit with herbs, creating the predecessor of the cacık Turkey knows and loves today.
One version of this dish called “mastabe” found in Ottoman records from 1469, which was made with chard instead of cucumbers, confirms that greens were added to yogurt in place of herbs (3).

Etymology

The word tzatziki entered English dictionaries in the mid-20th century through Greek, itself a loanword from the Turkish cacık. There are connections to the Armenian word “cacıχ”, but that might derive from the Turkish as well. the related Persian ژاژ (zhazh) and Kurdish jaj similarly refer to the definition Evliya Çelebi gives of herbs added to food.
The earliest mention of cacık as a mix with yogurt and herbs is from the dictionary “Lügat-ı Çağatayî ve Türk-i Osmanî” by Ahmet Vefik Paşa in 1876.

Cacık – Yogurt cool as a cucumber

Servings 10 portions
Prep Time 15 mins

Ingredients

  • 700 gr yogurt
  • 200 ml water
  • 3-4 cucumbers
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • ¼ bundle of dill
  • 1 tsp mint
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

Instructions

  • Peel the cucumbers in alternating stripes, then either cut into small pieces or grate them to your desire. Finely chop the dill.
  • Crush the garlic with the salt until it resembles a paste. Add the garlic paste, dill and cucumbers to the yogurt and gradually add the water until you reach the consistency you would like. Serve with olive oil and mint sprinkled on top.

Notes

Bibliography

(1) H. McGee, “Fresh fermented milks and creams” in “Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen”. New York: Scribner, 2004.
(2) Mauro Fisberg and Rachel Machado, “History of yogurt and current patterns of consumption” Nutr Rev. 2015 Aug. 73 Suppl 1:4-7.
(3) Marianna Yerasimos, “500 Yıllık Osmanlı Mutfağı”, 2002
Course: Appetizer
Keyword: SideDish
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