Just a scoop of Gardens of Salonica’s tzatziki (yogurt cucumber dip) transports me to that sunny restaurant in northeast Minneapolis. This sauce, with its garlic punch and lemon-bright flavor, is great on chips, sandwiches, lamb, chicken, shrimp and fish.
Anna Christoforides, chef of Gardens of Salonica, starts with Old Home yogurt.
“We strain it for three days so the texture is naturally thick, rich and tangy, before stirring in the cucumber, garlic, dill, lemon and olive oil,” she said. The small batches have no preservatives or additives.
Nearly 30 years ago, Christoforides and her husband, Lazaros, began making their signature Greek products to sell at art fairs throughout the Twin Cities. These included tzatziki, patzaria (a vinegary beet salad), melitzana (eggplant spread), piaz (black-eyed bean salad with lemon and parsley) and yigandes (giant beans braised with tomatoes).
Soon they were wholesaling them to several of the area’s food co-ops, while pursuing advanced degrees at the University of Minnesota and raising a family of four children. (He holds a Ph.D. in sociology and immigration patterns; she has degrees in studio arts, photography and Russian art, and speaks Russian.)
By 1991, the wholesale business had morphed into a restaurant.
“Initially, we were planning on a coffee shop, but the interest in our food just kept growing,” Christoforides said. “We purchased the building and renovated the space ourselves. The production facility is in the basement below the restaurant, so everything is made on site.”
Ever curious, the energetic Christoforides applied her academic skills into researching traditional Greek foods.
“But this isn’t your grandmother’s Greek food,” she noted. “It’s lighter and fresher, yet authentically rustic and frugal. Our deli products are menu staples, but the restaurant dishes are seasonal and change all the time.”
Christoforides finds inspiration for the menu and deli items on her visits to Greece, where she guides occasional tours. (Lazaros Christoforides was 19 when his parents and siblings moved to the U.S.)
For home cooks, the Gardens of Salonica products add interest to simple winter meals. The yigandes and piaz make a fine side dish to broiled steak or roast chicken; the melitzana and tzatziki are great dips and sandwich spreads. I admit to eating them right out of the tub, too. They are perishable and need to be refrigerated.
Find Gardens of Salonica deli items in Twin Cities food co-ops and specialty stores. They range from $3.50 to $5 for a half-pint.
On Jan. 21, Anna Christoforides will host an information session for her tour to Greece this summer. For more information, see gardensofsalonica.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.