Most countries along the Mediterranean enjoy a robust garlic sauce as part of their cuisine. The French and Spanish have aioli and allioli, respectively; the Lebanese have toum; and the Turks, tarator. But of all the great garlic sauces throughout Western cultures, the Greek contribution to this lineup, skordalia, might be the most versatile.
It’s cobbled together from the simplest of ingredients: Start with a starchy base of riced boiled potatoes or day-old bread soaked in liquid (ground nuts are sometimes added, too). Add fresh lemon juice (or wine vinegar) and a liberal amount of minced raw garlic, and then vigorously whisk in extra‑virgin olive oil until an emulsion forms. The resulting blend, with a heady aroma and fresh acidity, is used in myriad ways (see “Sauce, Dip, or Spread?”), making it an irreplaceable fixture of Greek cookery.
In crafting my own take on skordalia, I would need to determine the intensity of garlic flavor I wanted, as well as the consistency of the mixture, since both vary a good deal. After trying a handful of published recipes, I went after a well-rounded, bold, and bright garlic profile—nothing fiery or overpowering. To temper the bite of the garlic, I briefly steeped the minced cloves in lemon juice, since the acid in the juice deactivates alliinase, the enzyme that creates garlic’s harsh notes. Just a 10-minute soak cushioned some of the garlic’s sharpness while maintaining its underlying gutsiness.
Sauce, Dip, or Spread?
Skordalia is as all-purpose as a condiment gets. Its consistency can range from mashed‑potato thick to mayonnaise‑like depending on the ratio of binders to liquid in the mix, and its goes-with-everything flavor profile makes it endlessly useful in Greek cuisine. Garlic-forward, bright with lemon, rich, and smooth, it’s just the thing to spread on pita, scoop up with crudités, or serve alongside fried fish or grilled meat or vegetables.
The consistency of skordalia ranges from thin and silky to thick and chunky. I preferred a texture suitable for dipping (along the lines of hummus) and found that using earthy russet potatoes rather than bread worked best. I also added some water to loosen the mixture a bit. When I experimented with nuts (almonds and walnuts are common), I liked the richness they contributed, making the dip creamier and denser. I settled on almonds, as I preferred the ivory color of the dip made with the paler nuts.
Following the lead of a modern-day recipe from Boston-area chef and restaurateur Ana Sortun, making the skordalia couldn’t have been easier: Instead of emulsifying the mixture by hand, I whizzed the olive oil, sliced almonds, lemon-soaked garlic, some lemon zest (to double down on the citrusy notes), water, and salt in the blender. Once the mixture was thick and creamy, I folded it into freshly boiled and riced potatoes to yield a vibrant, luxuriously smooth puree (adding the potatoes to the blender would burst their swollen starch granules, which would form a sticky gel and create a gluey mess). Served warm, as is common, the skordalia had a consistency that worked well as both a dip and a spread. But as it cooled to room temperature, as it’s also frequently served, everything changed. At that point, it became barely spreadable.
It turned out that the mix was underhydrated, so over time the starch in the potatoes and the soluble proteins in the nuts (almonds are particularly high in these proteins) continued to absorb water until the puree seized up. To achieve a workable viscosity, I slowly lowered the amounts of potato and oil while increasing the water and lemon juice until I had a dip with a hummus-like consistency, no matter the temperature. Here was a skordalia that could proudly grace any table.