Cucumber yogurt sauce is a condiment or dressing that is made primarily of plain yogurt and fresh cucumbers. It is very common in Greek and Indian cuisines but has iterations all over the world. Most of the time, cucumber yogurt sauce is prepared and served chilled with raw ingredients. It is served on the side of many savory and often spicy foods. The sauce also can be baked into breads or added to simmering sauces to lend texture and flavor, or it can be sweetened and added to various desserts.
Tzatziki, a traditional Greek sauce, is one of the most well-known cucumber yogurt sauce combinations. It is prepared as a spread on gyro sandwiches, as a dip for roasted eggplant or as a garnish for many braised and grilled meat dishes. Cooks usually make tzatziki with thick Greek-style yogurt, and they commonly add garlic and lemon, as well as herbs such as dill and mint. The more garlic the tzatziki contains, the sharper its bite will be. It is often designed to add a kick to dishes, tempered with the cool taste of cucumber.
A similar cucumber yogurt sauce is the traditional Indian raita. This name applies to basically any thin, yogurt-based sauce, often served as a chilled soup to accompany an Indian entrée. Cucumber raita usually contains fresh cucumbers, unflavored yogurt, salt and ground pepper. Garlic is a common addition but in small proportions. Raita yogurt sauces are blended until smooth and watery. Most of the time, they are eaten by spoonfuls between bites of spicy Indian food.
Yogurt, as a dairy product, has natural properties that help the tongue neutralize intense spices. Eating yogurt helps the mouth cool off from spice-hot dishes in much the same way that drinking a glass of milk does. Pairing this property with the natural crispness of cucumber can provide a pleasing relief from the heat of many Indian foods. Raitias are very common among foreigners who are not accustomed to the spices of Indian cuisine, and they are staples in many Indian homes.
A cucumber yogurt sauce does not need to fall into a defined category of yogurt-based foods, however. Virtually any sauce that is made with both yogurt and cucumber will qualify, whether it is to be used in a specific dish or added to a meal as a garnish. Most cucumber yogurt sauce is prepared to accompany savory foods, but it also could be used as the base of certain yogurt desserts. Cucumber is a flexible vegetable, with a taste that could be just as easily salty as sweet. A cucumber yogurt sauce with sugar makes a nice accompaniment to sliced fruit, for instance, and it goes well with cookies and cakes.
Baking also is a possibility with yogurt sauce. Many cooks add cucumber yogurt sauce to savory breads or scones to lend moisture and more complex flavor to the finished product. Simmering meats in a warmed sauce is another innovative way of cooking with yogurt, and it often leads to tender, succulent meat with unparalleled flavor and crispness.