Tzatziki Dip Is The Creamiest Way To Experiment With Pasta Salad

While it can be enjoyed any time of year, pasta salad has a special spot on the table when it comes to summertime dishes and evening barbecues. The cold, refreshing salad is also one of the most customizable recipes around. You can easily make a pasta salad with a box of pasta you have in the pantry, plus a variety of fresh veggies, herbs, and condiments in your fridge.

Most traditional pasta salads are made either with a creamy mayo or red wine vinaigrette to hold all the ingredients together and add depth of flavor and texture to the dish. However, there's a particular beloved dip that is perhaps a less-known powerhouse ingredient you can toss into your pasta creation: tzatziki. This is a yogurt and cucumber-based sauce that is traditionally used in a variety of Greek dishes like gyros.

When used as the creamy component of pasta salad, tzatziki adds an undeniably fresh and zesty flavor that accentuates the other ingredients in your dish. The tart, acidic yogurt pairs well with the refreshingly grassy and subtly bitter taste of crunchy cucumbers. That, as well as the herbaceous elements of the dip, make tzatziki an ideal dressing to boost your pasta salad with a Greek-style twist. 

Unlike macaroni salads made with mayo and other, heavier dressings, tzatziki is refreshing yet creamy. What's more, the delicate flavors of tzatziki allow for experimentation with an abundance of flavor profiles.

How to make tzatziki pasta salad

Making pasta salad with tzatziki is surprisingly easy. If you have the time and are up for first make an easy Greek tzatziki sauce at home. Basic recipes involve mixing full-fat Greek yogurt with grated cucumbers (in which the moisture has been squeezed out), olive oil, lemon juice or vinegar, salt, and herbs. The classic herb here is dill, but thyme, mint, and oregano make for great additions to brighten the sauce, too. 

In a pinch (or simply because there are lots of great packaged options these days), store-bought tzatziki will work great, as well. So, if you have a favorite tzatziki dip in the fridge, go ahead and throw that in, or use this as an opportunity to play around with different brands and even plant-based tzatziki varieties.

Once you've got your tzatziki ready, add the sauce into your mixing bowl with cooked and cooled pasta and fresh veggies like celery, peppers, and tomatoes. Add enough tzatziki (about one cup for every half pound of pasta and two cups of veggies) and mix it all together. Be generous with the tzatziki, as the dressing will soak into the pasta while it sits in the fridge. This step helps the flavors meld and makes for a great meal prep opportunity.

Tzatziki is a versatile, flavorful sauce

To expand upon this ode to traditional Greek cuisine, add in juicy cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives, crumbled feta, and bits of baked falafel or oven-roasted chickpeas. For protein, try tossing in some cooked and cooled shrimp.

For an element of smoky heat, add a dash of chili powder to the tzatziki before mixing it with the pasta. To introduce a spicy bite that pairs perfectly with the cooling tzatziki sauce, throw in diced pickled jalapeños. Add capers or relish to up the acidity and compliment the dill in your tzatziki. For a Mediterranean mash-up, include balls of mozzarella and chopped mint.

Experimenting further with your pasta recipes is a great way to try out new pasta shapes like rotini, farfalle, or cavatelli shells. When selecting your pasta, smaller cuts with a multitude of ridges work best to hold onto and absorb the flavorful tzatziki. Try a whole grain variety or one made from an alternate grain to add additional heartiness and nutrition to the dish. Whatever twists, turns, and (pasta) shapes you choose, adding tzatziki to your recipe is sure to brighten and expand your horizons of all that pasta salad can be.