The Indian dish known as raita is a condiment; a side dish based on cooling yoghurt mixed with a choice of other ingredients, from fresh vegetables or fruit to herbs and spices, which give flavour and texture to the dish. The best-known of all raitas is cucumber raita.
In the north of India, raita is usually served as a side dish, while in the south, it is eaten with boiled rice at the end of the meal, to calm the stomach after the hot curries for which this part of the country is known.
Some examples of more exotic raitas are aubergine raita, potato raita, banana raita and watercress raita.
Did you know...?
That painful feeling in your mouth after having taken a bite of vindaloo is caused by the capsaicin in the chilli peppers. The best remedy for this is a sip of milk or some yoghurt as their fats soothe the pain receptors that the capsaicin activates. With water, beer or soft drinks, the heat takes longer to dissipate; raita speeds up the process. Lassi, the Indian yoghurt-based drink, has the same effect as raita.
The secret of good raita is in the hands of the chef, and everyone has their own recipe. For cucumber raita, the basic ingredients are natural yoghurt and finely chopped cucumber. You will generally find fresh mint or coriander in your raita, as well as salt and pepper, but everything else is entirely up to the chef. Often this is chaat masala, a spicy-salty-sour spice mix made from, amongst other things, cumin, coriander and mango powder; sometimes it is simply cumin and lemon juice. The resulting side dish is fresh and sour, soft and creamy, all at the same time.
How to eat
Raita can be served as a dip or a side dish. In the latter case, it is easiest to view it as a salad. In India, people snack on raita between courses to cool the mouth, or they mix it first with rice before eating it with a curry.
Are you planning to have an extra hot curry like a vindaloo? Then have a mango lassi, also made of yoghurt, as a drink next to the raita. Lassi has an extra cooling effect and is also wonderfully sweet and delicious, making it an excellent choice for dessert.
Raita is particularly tasty as a dip for papadums.