What is Raita?
Raita is a side dish in Indian cuisine that is made by blending thick yogurt with various fruits, vegetables, and spices. Some people consider it to be a form of salad, while others use it more like a condiment. There are an assortment of ingredients which can be used in raita, creating dishes that range from almost sweet to intensely spicy. It is very common in India and around the world.
This dish is very similar to tsatsiki, a Greek dish that also takes advantage of the tangy nature of yogurt. In both cases, the yogurt used is typically plain, whole fat, and very thick. Strained yogurt works especially well, because it is extremely thick and it has a texture almost like that of soft cheese curds; in some parts of India, raita is known as a curd preparation in a reference to the desired texture.
Outside of India, cucumber raita is probably the most common version of this dish, although in India, this form can be difficult to find, because the combination of yogurt and cucumber is frowned upon in Ayurvedic tradition. Carrot and onion raita are both common in India, and it is also possible to find it made with bananas, tomatoes, kiwis, and an assortment of other foods. It may also be seasoned with things like cumin, coriander, black mustard seeds, mint, dill, and cayenne, among other ingredients.
Traditional raita is a bit of contradiction. The dish is both cooling and spicy, with the yogurt soothing the mouth while eating spicy food, while the chilies that are frequently used keep the taste buds on their toes. The dish can be used as a dip for breads as well as being served alongside or on curries. Some people also enjoy eating it straight.
People who tend to have trouble with spicy food may want to ask for raita on the side of the plate if they eat at an Indian restaurant. They can also specify that they want it to be less spicy. When very spicy food is eaten, taking a bite of the raita may help; the acidity of the yogurt will help to cool the mouth down, making it feel more comfortable.
This dish is very easy to make at home. Finely chopped fruits or vegetables of choice can be tossed with some yogurt, and spices added to taste. Traditionally, raita is salted, and if a vegetable with high water content like cucumber is used, salting it first will pull some of the water out so that the dish will not turn runny.
@SarahGen-- Mint or cucumber raita is usually served when you want to cool down the food you're eating it with. And I think these go well with fried foods, especially mint raita.
Mint raita is really easy too. You just need thick plain yogurt, ground mint leaves and if you want, some dry roasted cumin seeds. You can keep it simple and almost plain or add more spices to add more flavor to it. And it literally takes two minutes to prepare since you just need to stir all this together. But keep in the fridge until you serve it so it stays cool.
If you want to add cucumbers for a cucumber-mint raita, make sure to drain the chopped cucumbers well before adding them to the yogurt or it will become very watery.
I have some guests coming over this weekend and I have planned to make ethnic Indian snacks for them. I'm going to make plain and cumin poppadoms and potato and peas samosas. I have some jarred tomato and mango chutney to serve along side these. But I think it will be good if I serve some raita too. I've never made raita before though so I'm not sure which kind of raita would be good with these foods.
I love raita! It's so delicious. The one I've had was a mixed raita made just with spices. But they used a very light hand with the spices so the raita was definitely cooling. It was served as a condiment to cool down the spice in the other foods.
I actually got odd looks when I took a huge bowl of raita with my food. I basically dipped Indian roti bread in it and ate it because the other dishes were way too spicy for my taste. I'm more used to the spice in Indian food now. But this was several years ago when I couldn't tolerate as much spice. I understood then that raita is meant to be like a sauce and not an actual side dish then.
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