Tzatziki Sauce

Sauces Part XI – Sour Cream & Yoghurt

While Sour Cream and Yoghurt based sauces are fairly common on desserts, and as the “dressing” for some Fruit Salads, they are perhaps most closely associated with Mediterranean and Tex-Mex main dishes and sides. But there’s so much more!

Tzatziki Sauce

Greek Tzatziki Sauce. Yoghurt and Cucumber are best buddies!

A substitute for Mayo…

Recent trends toward “healthier alternatives” in our diet have shone a spotlight on the frunctional similarities between fatty, high calorie Mayonnaise and Sour Cream in particular and, to a lesser extent, Yoghurt.

Sour Cream has en edge on Yoghurt in traditional Mayo based recipes because it has a nice tangy flavour top note, not unlike Mayo. Both Sour Cream and Yoghurt readily accept other ingredients without breaking and both provide relatively bland flavour canvasses on which to paint your best creamy sauces.

Yoghurt and Sour Cream are frequently used in place of Mayo in popular creamy dressings such as “Cool” Ranch.

Just be sure NOT to get flavoured Yoghurt! I’ve found that Yoghurt’s current fame as a healthy dessert and breakfast component has resulted in the relegation of good old plain Yoghurt to the sidelines in supermarket dairy coolers. On the plus side, the meteoric rise in the popularity of thick, Greek Style Yoghurt has ensured that you can find it unflavoured in at least one brand in just about any grocery store worthy of the name.

A substitute for Heavy Cream

And let’s not forget that you can use Yoghurt or Sour Cream in placer of Heavy Cream in a number of Sauces, specifically those that are finished by the addition of a dollop of Heavy Cream just before serving. Try it in Suprème Sauce for a a nutritionally lighter approach with all the creamy goodness and rich flavour you were expecting.

Of course, Yoghurt is often added to Indian Curry sauces and other Asia  dressings, both hot and cold. And let’s not forget the cherished place Sour Cream holds in Russian and Polish cookery, for instance, in the sauce for Classic Beef Stroganoff!

A cool counterpoint

Whether it’s Greek Tzatziki, Indian Raita or Polish Herbed Cream, Sour Cream and Yoghurt Sauces are essential components of signature dishes in a variety of cuisines.

It’s interesting to consider how often Sour Cream and Yoghurt Sauces are featured as cooling counterpoints to rich, savoury dishes or hot and spicy flavours. In fact, they’re often used by themselves, with no additional ingredients, as sauces and garnishes.

The Cucumber connection

Okay. Here’s a question that will get the culinary conspiracy theorists going. Why are Greek Tzatziki and Indian Raita both based on Yoghurt and Cucumber? As all dedicated conspiracy theorists know, there are no coincidences. So it must have been the spaceship “Gods”, right? Case closed.

Or, maybe, it’s that Yoghurt and Cucumber is a match made in flavour heaven.


Start with equal parts of Yoghurt (thick, Greek Style is preferred) and Cucumber.

Straight English Cucumber is best. But you can use whatever Cuke you have. Just be sure to remove any big seeds. Then grate through a box grater or with the grater blade in a food processor. Now comes the important part. Squeeze the grated cucumber in a piece of old cotton sheeting or cheesecloth until you have removed most of the water. Now the cucumber won’t water down the Yoghurt, ruining the Sauce. Blend the Cuke and Yoghurt thoroughly with two or three cloves of minced garlic, a dash of Lemon Juice, a sprinkle of Greek oregano if you  fancy it, a couple of tablespoons of good Olive Oil, a pinch of Nutmeg and some finely chopped Mint.


Start with the Yoghurt and grated Cucumber, prepared as for Tzatziki. Add seeded diced Tomatoes, two or three peeled and minced Garlic Cloves, a level teaspoon of ground Cumin, a good pinch of Paprika and season with Salt and pepper to taste. Raita is often made with a teaspoon of curry powder in place of the Cumin and Paprika. This adds some pleasant pastel colour as well as a nice sharp edge to help refresh your palate. A garnish of chipped fresh Cilantro is also traditional.

A well-balanced Raita offers a welcome cooling contrast to the spicier specialties of Indian and Southeast Asian cuisine. Add traditional steamed White Rice on the side and you have all the firefighting tools you need to dig in fearlessly to the hottest Curry or Sambal.

What next?

In Part XII of our Sauces series, we’ll finish up our tour of the Sauce kingdom with a rundown on Dessert Sauces. We’ve saved the best and sweetest until last!

~ Maggie J.