Monday, May 17, 2010

Peonies, tzatziki, and lamb

It was a gorgeous spring weekend here, full of gorgeous weather, gorgeous friends, and gorgeous food. I love those weekends that strike the perfect balance between relaxation and productivity. Relax too much, and that To Do list in the back of your head makes you feel lazy. Relax too little, and you spend the next week cursing yourself. Strike that perfect balance, and you feel like a genius. This weekend, we were geniuses.

Do you have peonies on your table right now? I hope so. This is the only time of year that you can buy a bouquet for the typical price of a single stem. These flowers are just stunning.

After a week of catching up on work and sleep post-vacation and lazily eating takeout, it felt great to get back in the kitchen again. We ate so well. It was a lamb feast weekend, which happened entirely by accident. To continue our theme, I'll call it accidental genius. Also genius: my great little garden growing up a storm outside, supplying us with all the fresh herbs we needed. 

Before we get to the lamb, we must begin with tzatziki. My quest for the perfect tzatziki began, in all places, in Vienna. We arrived there from Prague full of delicious beer and sausage and cheese. The Austrian specialty of schnitzel wasn't at all appealing to us, nor were the smoky restaurants that served Austrian food. We needed to detox from heavy food and from the smoke that had surrounded us since landing in Europe. We found what we needed in a tiny little Greek restaurant tucked away in an alley in Vienna. It was late and it was raining and we were dying for something fresh to eat. That Greek meal was everything we needed to jumpstart our senses. Fresh, green, clean, and served with the perfect tzatziki.

I've made tzatziki many times, but never using a preferred recipe. I usually peruse a few recipes, throw cucumbers and dill and Greek yogurt into a blender, and eat it all up. That flavor combination is never disappointing, but it was never perfect, either - usually too runny for my taste, with not enough punch. This tzatziki, though, in the unlikely locale of Austria, was perfect. I like a thick tzatziki, full of dill, with more than average garlic. I came back determined to recreate it. After a Friday night of tinkering and sipping on wine, I think I've got it. In fact, I made it again the next day and am sure of it. If you like tzatziki the way I like tzatziki, this recipe's for you.

Maggie's Perfect Tzatziki

1 cucumber
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain Greek yogurt (2% or whole) updated to note: I use whole
1.5 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
2 small cloves garlic, minced

1. Cut cucumber in half and scrape out seeds. Discard seeds.
2. Grate the cucumber into a small strainer that's placed inside a bowl. Add salt and let drain for 30 minutes, then squeeze dry.*
3. Mix together the yogurt, cucumber, dill, and garlic. Season with salt.
4. Try and leave enough time for the tzatziki to sit in your refrigerator a while before you serve it. The flavors come together really nicely if you give them a moment to get to know one another.
5. Serve with lamb, chicken, falafel, salad, pita - anything you please!

*I found that this manual technique helps release the water and gives the tzatziki a texture that I much prefer than when I've used a blender or food processor in the past.

Now what about the lamb? We actually cooked lamb two ways this weekend, thanks to Whole Foods' sale on boneless butterflied legs of lamb in addition to our hunger for moremoremore of that delicious tzatziki. In the photo above, you see lamb prepared very simply - simply oiled lightly with salt and pepper and a touch of dill before grilling. A huge thunderstorm rolled in as the meat was on the grill, so in the circumstances we actually overcooked it a tad, but it was still delicious. I mean, that tzatziki! You cannot go wrong! On Sunday we used a recipe from this month's Food & Wine, and it's absolutely going into our permanent rotation. We prepped the meat in the morning, went out for an afternoon of Open Houses and urban exploring, and cooked the lamb that night. Truly, truly amazing. Without further delay:

Greek-Style Leg of Lamb
Courtesy: Food & Wine Magazine

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, coarsely chopped
1 garlic clove
2 dill sprigs
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 pounds boneless leg of lamb, in one piece
salt and freshly ground pepper

1. In a blender, puree the oil, onion, garlic, dill, lemon juice, zest, and oregano.
2. In a baking dish, pour the marinade over the lamb and turn to coat.
3. Refrigerate for at least four hours.
4. Remove from the refrigerator 1 hour before cooking.
5. Light a grill. Scrape off the marinade and season the lamb with salt and pepper.
6. Grill over moderate heat for 28 minutes, turning once, until medium-rare.
7. Transfer to a surface and let rest for 10 minutes.
8. Slice the lamb against the grain and serve with tzatziki.


  1. oh, yum! i had a gyro wrap this weekend, but yours sounds divine. and i die for peonies.

  2. This looks de-licious! I had some pretty wonderful tzatziki this weekend, too, but with what I'm pretty sure was tarragon. It was an interesting change (and totally tasty), especially for someone who is ambivalent about dill (hello, me).

  3. Too funny- I have always thought schnitzel was german! So much to learn!!

    That looks absolutely delicious. I love greek food but have never attempted anything other than hummus. I might have to give this one a shot. Lamb has always intimidated me for some reason, but this looks very doable. Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. So your blog title named three of my favorite things ever! I can't wait to try this tzatziki recipe. I like mine thick, too. I feel the cucumber always makes it too watery. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Those peonies are beautiful, I'm going to start scouring the markets to find some now that I know they're in season! I can't wait to try this tzatziki recipe, I always buy mine premade from Trader Joes, but this looks great!

  6. I love lamb and tzatziki. For some bizarro reason, my mom does not like lamb so she never made it much. I went through a stage where I made it all of the time, but haven't in a while. You have inspired me, as always!


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