Getting saucy

When eating food that's as healthful as possible is uppermost in your mind, make these cooler-than-cucumber sauces.

At a Greek restaurant in Los Angeles I was surprised when my plate of falafel arrived, not with tehina, but with a whiter, thicker sauce flecked with herbs. It turned out to be yogurt garlic sauce and, to my surprise, was so pleasant with the falafel on that hot summer day that I didn't miss the tehina. In fact, I noticed that it was served with most of the entrees. To give the sauce a luscious consistency, Greek cooks often use strained yogurt, which is known in the Middle East as labaneh. With the addition of chopped, sliced or grated cucumber, the sauce becomes tsatsiki, a triple-role cucumber-yogurt preparation that you can serve as a sauce, a dip or a salad. Few sauces are as easy to prepare as these. Think of them as "yogurt plus." You season the yogurt with salt and pepper or cayenne (red pepper), and then stir in any of these additions that you like: crushed garlic, green onion, fresh herbs like mint, dill, parsley or fresh coriander, or grated or chopped vegetables like cucumber, carrot or tomato. When eating food that's as healthful as possible is uppermost in your mind, make these cooler-than-cucumber sauces with plain nonfat yogurt. For richer results, replace all or part of it with whole-milk yogurt or labaneh. You can add a few tablespoons sour cream too, or even creme fraiche for a French accent. Another way to enrich the sauce is to stir in a little olive oil, mayonnaise or tehina. The sauce is good on just about any grilled or fried food, like grilled fish, veggie burgers, potato latkes or grilled eggplant, or to accompany savory pastries like spinach burekas. I never thought of eating yogurt with rice, but at a restaurant specializing in South Indian cooking I discovered a dish called yogurt rice, served cold. Although the combination seemed odd at first, the refreshing rice was very tasty. I then remembered that in the cuisine of Sephardim from Lebanon yogurt-cucumber sauce is a traditional accompaniment for majadrah - lentils with rice. GRILLED FISH WITH CREAMY HERB SAUCE On a hot summer day, serve the fish cool or at room temperature, accompanied by its assertively seasoned, pale green sauce flavored with hot green pepper and garlic. You might like to accompany the entree with crisp strips of red peppers, carrots and celery, which provide a pleasant contrasting texture to the smooth sauce. For a vegetarian alternative, the sauce is delicious with grilled eggplant or portobello mushrooms. 2 large garlic cloves, peeled 1⁄2 hot fresh green or red pepper, seeded and quartered, or pinch of cayenne pepper 1⁄4 cup loosely packed fresh coriander leaves, patted dry 1⁄4 cup packed small parsley sprigs, patted dry Salt 1⁄2 cup mayonnaise, regular or low fat, or 1⁄2 cup additional yogurt 1⁄4 cup plain yogurt 1⁄4 cup sour cream or additional yogurt 700 gr. cod, halibut or sea bass fillet, about 2.5 cm. thick, rinsed and patted dry 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice 2 to 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil or vegetable oil Salt and freshly ground pepper 11⁄2 to 2 tsp. white wine vinegar 8 romaine or other green lettuce leaves, halved To make the sauce, finely chop garlic and hot pepper pieces in a food processor; a small food processor works best. Scrape down mixture and process until well blended. Add coriander, parsley and pinch of salt and chop finely. Add mayonnaise and process briefly to blend. Transfer to a bowl. Stir in yogurt and sour cream. Add cayenne if using; taste and adjust seasoning. Refrigerate until ready to use, or up to one day. Cut fish in four pieces. Sprinkle them with lemon juice and 1 tablespoon oil. Let stand for about 15 minutes, turning once or twice. Preheat broiler or grill. Sprinkle fish with salt and pepper. Grill or broil about 3 minutes per side or until a skewer inserted into center of piece comes out hot to touch, and the color changes from translucent to opaque. Transfer to a plate and let cool to room temperature. Whisk remaining oil with vinegar, salt and pepper. Toss lettuce with dressing in bowl; taste and adjust seasoning. Arrange lettuce on platter or on plates. Set fish on top, discarding any liquid that escaped onto plate, and coat fish with a little sauce. Serve remaining sauce separately. Makes 4 servings. CREAMY CUCUMBER SAUCE WITH LOX AND DILL Cucumbers and smoked fish are traditional partners because the mild, refreshing cucumber is the ideal foil for the concentrated, salty taste of the fish. Serve this sauce with poached fish, either hot or cold, or with warm steamed or microwaved potatoes. For a festive touch, you can garnish the fish or potato with a few teaspoons of red caviar. 1 green onion, white and green parts, finely chopped 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill or 1 teaspoon dried salt and freshly ground pepper cayenne pepper to taste 1 cup sour cream, labaneh or additional yogurt 2 cups plain yogurt 2 or 3 slim cucumbers 70 to 110 gr. lox or smoked salmon, cut in thin strips Reserve 1 tablespoon chopped green onion for garnish. Mix sour cream and yogurt in a bowl. Add remaining green onion, dill, a little salt, pepper and cayenne pepper. Mix well. Either grate the cucumbers on the large holes of the grater, or, for a chunkier sauce, cut them in thin slices and put in a shallow serving bowl. Add sour cream mixture and mix gently. Reserve a few lox strips for garnish and stir in the rest. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve cold, garnished with reserved lox and green onion. Makes 8 servings. Faye Levy's latest book is Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home.