Raita, a side dish in Indian cuisine, is made by blending thick yogurt with various vegetables and spices. Some consider it a yogurt salad that is also used to offset some of the heat from spicier dishes. This cool specialty is very common in India and other parts of the world.
For those who tend to have trouble with spicy food but still want to eat at an Indian restaurant, be sure to ask for raita on the side, and specify that you don’t prefer a spicy raita. If you eat something too spicy, take a bite of the raita – it will temper the heat in spicy Indian dishes and cool your mouth, providing instant relief and allowing you to continue enjoying your meal.
You may also find raita enjoyable on its own. A memorable raita deserves a precise balance of the right ingredients. It is usually served cold and best consumed when freshly made.
Sandra Heuckroth, food director at the cafeteria at Intuit in Menlo Park, shared her first encounter with raita.
“A Midwesterner’s first experience with authentic Indian food is inevitably, and predictably, memorable,” she writes. “In my case, it required an immediate antidote to put out the fire in my Madras-curry-virgin mouth!
“Co-workers, in 1988, hell-bent on initiating me to California and its wide range in cuisine took it upon themselves to remap my palate with a skip and a hop to the best Bay Area Indian food at the (now closed) Pasand Indian restaurant in Santa Clara. They watched in cahoots when, my mouth on fire, I suffered until the well-seasoned waiter presented me with the exquisite pleasure, texture and cooling effects of raita.
“For the past 22 years, I have sought out a better yogurt fire extinguisher than that served at Pasand only to have, after a career change and a $46,000 tuition debt for a 12-month education at the California Culinary Academy, the need to continually drive to Pasand, week after week, to purchase their raita – then to unceremoniously pour it all over my kitchen counter to attempt to discover the perfect balance of yogurt, cucumbers, tomatoes, cumin, mustard seeds and chopped mint.”
I am sure many of you can relate to Sandra’s spicy food experience.
Gitika Baveja is author of “Indian Flavors to Savor: The Easy Home Cooked Way.” For more information and additional recipes, visit www.flavorstosavor.com. The book can also be ordered online on Amazon.com.
• 1 cup low-fat plain yogurt, whipped
• 1 tablespoon lime juice
• 1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
• 1/2 teaspoon cumin powder, freshly
• Salt to taste
• Pinch red chili powder
• 1 tablespoon cilantro, finely chopped
Whisk yogurt until smooth. Add remaining ingredients and stir well to combine. Place, covered, in refrigerator for one hour to cool and blend. Serve cold. For garnish, add diced tomatoes, chopped onions or fresh chopped mint.
Variation, for extra zest and flavor: Heat 1 tablespoon oil. Add dash of asafetida, two or three crushed curry leaves and a few mustard seeds. When mixture begins to crackle and pop, add immediately to raita.