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Calling Dibs on The Dips

Yassas, our beloved Greek food enthusiasts!

We hope you're ready for a refreshing and packed with flavourful insights reading, promise to keep it short and to the point. So today we'll go about Greek sauces and we'll try to spread them all nicely for you.

The dips are an integral part of Greek cuisine and for good reason. Served as part of a meze platter with pita wedges or spread on a pita to enhance the souvlaki flavours, the Greek sauces are vital.

And when speaking of Greek dips there is one in particular that pops to mind... no, not hummus (not Greek at all!), but Tzatziki! Tzatziki is made of strained yoghurt (usually from sheep or goat milk) mixed with cucumbers, garlic, salt, olive oil, and sometimes lemon juice, and dill or mint or parsley. Every household will have its own recipe and the same applies to souvlaki shops: you might see tzatziki on the menu, but the ratio of dairy and condiments will vary from shop to shop.

We have to mention the history of tzatziki so you can taste the ancient affiliation to our much-cherished souvlaki. Athenaeus, in describing eating habits in different regions, wrote about the importance of kandaulos, a creamy sauce accompanying the sliced meats. Kandaulos was also found in references as being based on a particularly expensive type of cheese produced from a mixed donkey and mare’s milk (half and half).

Later this particular cheese was replaced by goat cheese, and later on, the soft goat cheese put in the souvlaki pita was replaced by low-cost and yummy-scrummy yoghurt, and the sauce became known eventually as tzatziki.

Perhaps equally surprisingly, another important condiment ancient Greeks used which is almost identical to today was mustard. The spicy yellow delicacy was used for marinating as well as a condiment for consuming meats. The Greeks used mustard as both a condiment and medicine: The mathematician and scientist Pythagoras (570-ca. 490 B.C.E.) prescribed it for scorpion stings and the pioneering physician Hippocrates (460-377 B.C.E.) used it as a medicine and for poultices, a use that continued until recent times as mustard plasters.

An early reference to the potent nature of the mustard seed was in an exchange between King Darius of Persia and the young Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.E.). Darius gave Alexander a sack of sesame seeds to represent the number of men in his army, and Alexander responded with a sack of mustard seeds to represent both the number and the fiery nature of his army. And if the mustard is good enough for Alexander the Great, it is good enough for us and our Authentic sauce (our pride and joy). Without revealing the recipe, we can disclose it is made of mayo, mustard, and lime.

It is worth mentioning other traditional dips, even if we do not serve them, but they are a massive part of the Greek heritage:

A very rustic, ethnic Greek dish, extremely tasty and great for every occasion is the Greek cheese dip - Tyrokaftery. If we are to translate it to plain English, this will mean "hot cheese" and the secret lies in the ingredients... The preparation of the dish may vary from region to region, but ingredients most commonly include feta cheese (sometimes combined with one or more other types of soft, white cheeses), hot peppers (such as red cherry pepper or boukovo - hot chilli flakes), roasted peppers, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, yoghurt, or oregano. This spread is commonly eaten as part of a mezze platter, or by itself, with slices of warm pita bread or, in rare instances, in souvlaki and gyro wraps.

One other of the nation's favourites is Melitzanosalata which literally translates as "eggplant salad". (Psst, don't tell anyone, but it's not a salad, but a spread...) It is traditionally made of chargrilled aubergine, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and parsley. This Greek dip is often confused with its Levantine relative - baba ganoush, but, despite both being made of eggplant, they differ in both taste and texture. Melitzanosata is all about the smooth and silky texture of the aubergines, while baba ganoush is about the marriage of the spices.

Another traditional, creamy, smooth, simply delicious Greek sauce is Taramasalata. Even if it translates as a salad, much as melitzanosalata it is more a spread than a salad. Taramasalata or taramosalata is a Greek meze made from tarama, the salted and cured fish roe (typically that of the cod, carp, or grey mullet) mixed with olive oil, lemon juice, and a starchy base of bread or potatoes, or sometimes almonds. Variants may include garlic, spring onions, or peppers, or vinegar instead of lemon juice.

If you love garlic, then this amazing traditional Greek spread is for you. Skordalia is a rich and hearty Greek potato dip, which takes its name from the main ingredient used to prepare it and is of course skordo - "garlic". It is a thick saice traditionally made by combining crushed garlic with a bulky base —which may be a purée of potatoes, walnuts, almonds or liquid-soaked stale (day-old usually) bread—and then beating olive oil in to make a smooth emulsion, to which some lemon juice (or rarely vinegar) is added.

Another delicious traditional veggie dish straight from the island of Santorini is Fava dip! This creamy and super tasty sauce makes the perfect starter for a cold winters day. It is prepared of pureed yellow split peas with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and a handful of onion and thyme.

In Corfu, a special tomato sauce is added to souvlaki - Kokkini saltsa, plainly called "red sauce". This sauce is made with ripe tomatoes, onions, olive oil and, obviously, spices (cinnamon, sugar, salt, black pepper, oregano). Some continental souvlaki shops have adapted this recipe and have a ketchup&mayo sauce on their menu.

Some places add to their menu hummus (Turkish chickpea and tahini dip) or tapenade (French black olives and capers spread) but none of them is authentic Greek.

If you find yourself drooling after reading this, we are happy to satisfy your souvlaki cravings 7 days a week at one of our markets. See our locations here.

Kali orexi!

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