Oh, do I ever have a sauce for you today! Raita is just the sort of cooling, contrasting sauce that all of your summer grilling food needs. Warm with cumin, and studded with crisp cucumber and fresh cilantro, this yogurt sauce is welcome on everything from naan-wiches to grilled watermelon. This warm-weather-friendly sauce is one we think you should know by heart, for making all year long.
What Is Raita?
Raita is mixture of yogurt, fruits or vegetables, and fresh herbs and spices used a sauce or condiment. Indian raita is commonly made with dahi, a salted yogurt, and chopped cucumbers spiced with cumin or mustard seeds and fresh herbs. Variations abound, including those made with mango, tomato, or red onion in addition to or instead of the cucumber.
Yogurt, however, is not optional. Chatting with Deepa Thomas, author of Deepa's Secrets: Slow Carb New Indian Cuisine, I learned the importance of raita in Indian cuisine — for flavor and health. "Raita is an anchor piece of Indian table and home cooking, not just because of its cooling affect on spicy food, but also because it aids in digestion."
Essential Steps for Raita
- Use fresh toasted and ground spices. Look, I love my pre-ground spices for most weeknight cooking, but raita really does taste better when you toast the spices just before making it. Spices like whole mustard seeds can be left intact or ground.
- Grate and drain the cucumber. Use the large holes of a box grater to "cut" the cucumber for raita and squeeze as much moisture out of the cucumber as possible by gathering it in a clean kitchen towel and wringing the towel around the cucumber. Don't discard that cucumber liquid — it makes a damn fine lemonade addition.
- Season the yogurt well. Since traditional raita is made with dahi or salted yogurt, it is essential that your plain grocery store yogurt gets a healthy dose of salt before serving the raita.
What's the Difference Between Raita and Tatziki?
Raita and tzatziki share two similar base ingredients and some similar steps, but they are distinctly different. First, raita starts with dahi, a thinner salted yogurt, while tzatziki starts with thicker plain Greek yogurt. Tzatziki also has a heavy dose of lemon juice, making it decidedly more tangy than raita. Both pair well with heavily spiced, toasted, and grilled foods and can be served as either a dip or condiment.
How to Serve Raita
We're all sort of obsessed with serving raita on this naan-wich, but at home I love serving it over grilled salmon or on curried sweet potatoes. You can smear raita onto sandwiches or wraps or even just on top of naan bread for a quick snack. Spoon raita onto soups or curries just before serving or over quickly scrambled eggs in the morning.
How To Make Raita
What You Need
1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1/2 large English cucumber (about 4 ounces)
1 cup plain full-fat yogurt
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Measuring cups and spoons
Small frying pan
Knife and cutting board
- Toast the cumin and then coarsely grind. Toast the cumin seeds in a small frying pan over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a small plate to cool slightly, then grind into a fine powder using a spice grinder or small coffee grinder reserved for spices. Alternatively, you can use 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin.
- Grate the cucumber. Rinse the cucumber and pat dry. Set a box grater over a double layer of paper towels and grate the cucumber on the large holes of the grater. Remove the box grater.
- Squeeze the cucumber to remove excess moisture. Gather the paper towels around the grated cucumber and squeeze to remove as much water as possible from the grated cucumber.
- Add cumin, cilantro, salt, and cucumber to yogurt. Place the yogurt, cucumber, cilantro, cumin, and salt in a small bowl and fold to combine.
- Storage: Raita keeps well in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.