History of Tzatziki

Tzatziki, a humble dish prepared with yogurt and cucumber, has a rich and diverse history that spans the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and India.  In fact, tzatziki is perhaps the most Ottoman of all the dishes we prepared.  It demonstrates the scope and importance of Ottoman trade routes, especially in fostering cultural, and in our case culinary, exchange.  To make a long story very short, this quintessentially Greek appetizer and dip traveled from India through the Middle East before it made its way into Greek cookbooks. 
I am sure you are wondering when and where India enters tzatziki’s history.  The simple answer is that tzatziki is a Greek interpretation of Indian raita.  Tracing the culinary and cultural exchanges that occurred over time allowing for raita to be transformed into tzatziki is what makes this story interesting.
Believe it or not, the major dish linking raita to tzatziki is biryani, a Persian rice dish that was introduced to India while it was under Mughal control.  The Mughal Empire, which was mostly led by the Persian Muslim elite, controlled the Indian subcontinent from 1526 to 1827.
As is traditional in most hierarchical societies and empires, the ruling elite relied on locals for day-to-day tasks.  This meant that Indians cooked and prepared meals for the Persian Muslim ruling elite.  Biryani, which was often prepared for the Mughal court combined the familiar with the unknown: it combined the markings of a Persian pilaf but was cooked like many of the spicy rice dishes of Hindustan. It would appear however, that the Persian elite, unaccustomed to Indian spices, found these dishes to be too spicy.  The Indian solution to the issue of too much heat was raita: this yogurt and cucumber sauce helped tame Biryani’s spiciness.    
            Raita travelled back to the Middle East via the Persian Mughal Empire and was eventually introduced to the Ottoman world via common trade routes and exchange points.  For whatever reason, the Greeks, more than any other Ottoman nationality, appear to have appropriated and integrated this yogurt and cucumber dish into their culinary repertoire that its Indian roots are practically invisible. 


School Lunches take a Hit

**UPDATE: On Thursday, May 29, the House Appropriations Committee voted to allow schools to gut the new school meal standards! On a party line vote, the committee voted to put pizza manufacturers, French fry companies, and canned food makers, and other special interests ahead of kids’ health. **

Some members of Congress are playing politics with our children’s health: by attempting to gut nutrition standards through the appropriations process. They might say they just want to provide schools with a little more “flexibility,” but their changes would roll back standards on salt, whole grains, fruits/vegetables, and snacks. These are the same people who legislated that pizza is a vegetable (because it contains a little tomato sauce)!

Approximately ninety percent of schools now meet the updated nutrition standards for school lunch, helping millions of students get more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been responsive to challenges schools face in implementing the new lunch standards. Schools need support and technical assistance, not a free pass to serve junk to kids. Kids need nutrition standards based on science, not politics.

Middle Eastern ? Week

This week brought an interesting conversation/discussion to the pass, whether the food we served was Middle Eastern or Mediterranean? While I know that some of the food was African and Indian, its the majority of the dishes that their cuisine is questioned.

It was a rapid trip if you will from hitting various traditional dishes in Africa, such as Chicken Tangine, to India and their Pork Vindaloo, with a huge stop with my favorite cuisine, which I consider to be both Middle Eastern and Mediterranean.

As a whole, I was first introduced to this food while deployed in support of OIF and OEF. It was on my second deployment to the region that I fell in love with it.

The dishes as a whole are distinctive, down to the herbs used. Each dish had its own unique pros and cons. It was a week to remember herbs/spices are highly potent.

Heres a list of the dishes presented this week: Akara, Egg Plant Curry, Lamb Sis Kebap, Tabbouleh, Fattoush, Qahwah, Pita, Chicken Tangine, Grilled Tilapia, Naan, Dal, Pork Vindaloo, Samosas, Hummus, Spanikopita, Green Chutney, Raita, Tamarind Sauce and Rice, of course.

After this week, and all the changes made to these recipes to return them to authenticity. I thought I would put together a cookbook, including the different things I learned and the why.