Raita: Dip. Spread. Dressing. Condiment.
By Tina Carlucci
There’s a reason why Indian families have so many yogurt containers in the fridge (though most of them are filled with leftovers and not actual yogurt). We eat a lot of yogurt – often in the form of raita. This yogurt-based condiment compliments spicier dishes and provides a cooling effect for the palate. And since many traditional Indian dishes pack a bit of heat, it’s not uncommon for raita to be served every day.
As for those of us who aren’t cooking traditional Indian meals on the regular, there are still plenty of fun ways to utilize this versatile condiment. Thicker raitas can serve as dips for veggies or pita chips, and can be used as a spread on burgers and sandwiches. Thinner versions can be used as a salad dressing or as a sauce for grilled chicken or fish. Heck, you can even add it to a pita sandwich or drizzle in tacos. No matter how you use it, raita can add a hit of flavor and color to just about anything you can think of.
When most people think of raita, their minds automatically go to cucumber. And while a yogurt + cucumber + ground cumin raita seems to be one of the simplest (and most popular) varieties, there are plenty of ways to get creative.
And if you’re looking to impress some pals (or even your parents), raita is a simple way to add color and punch up the flavor at your table. Plus, there’s no cooking involved – all you have to do is stir the ingredients together and chill. So, grab the yogurt and a fun combo of produce, and pull out your spice rack. That’s all you need for a quick raita.
There’s no wrong way to make a raita
Start with yogurt:
Though raita is typically made with dahi, you can just as easily grab a container of plain yogurt at the grocery store. If you’re going for a thicker dip or spread, try using a strained yogurt like Greek yogurt, or Icelandic skyr. For thinner sauces and dressings, any plain yogurt will do. Full-fat or non-fat? That’s totally up to you!
Add color with produce:
This is where the magic happens! Most produce items work well in a raita, so feel free to get creative. Clean out odds and ends in your veggie drawer, or pick your favorite combo. Use seasonal fruit for a hit of sweetness. And colorful veggies – like beets, carrots, tomato, red onion and, of course, cucumber – to amp up the nutrition. If you’re opting for a thicker raita, consider draining as much liquid from the vegetables as you can before stirring them in. Lay shredded or chopped vegetables on paper towels and sprinkle with salt to help draw out the extra moisture.
Season it up:
Top it off with herbs:
If you have fresh cilantro or mint on hand, chop it up and stir on in. Dill, chives, scallions, and even basil work well too.
A few ideas:
• Yogurt + shredded raw beets and carrots + ground cumin
• Yogurt + small diced tomatoes, cucumber, and red onion + ground cumin + fresh cilantro
• Yogurt + chopped avocado + pomegranate arils + ground cumin + fresh mint
• Yogurt + chutney
Nayana’s Pretty Raita
This colorful recipe is a basic raita that my mom frequently makes at home (though she rarely does anything the same way twice). Most Indian cooks, including my mom, do everything based on taste. The good news is that raita is pretty forgiving and can be whatever you want it to be, so feel free to adjust spices based on your preferences.
¾ cup plain yogurt
¼ cup shredded carrots
¼ cup small diced cucumber
2 Tablespoons small diced red onion
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
salt and pepper, to taste
fresh chopped cilantro (optional)
Mix all ingredients in a bowl until well combined. Chill in refrigerator until ready to eat.