A Good Raita is surprisingly easy to make and is no longer a sideshow at an Indian feast but rather a delicious, cooling everyday salad option that is high in protein and full of gut-beneficial raw veggies. With the crunch of sweet red onion and the juiciness of red tomatoes and green cucumbers, an Indian Raita is a nutritious no-cook recipe that can be made a couple of days ahead, ready in the fridge when you need it.
India’s love affair with the Raita
With documented instances as early as the 19th century, the Indian Raita – a cooling yoghurt condiment with grated veggies and cumin has probably been around for much longer. Very similar to the Greek Tzatziki, the Indian Raita is served at restaurants, wedding parties and in humble households all over the country. The purpose of this throw-everything-in-the-bowl dish is quite simple. To have something cooling that aids digestion and combats the fieriness of the spices in the main Indian meal.
Growing up in Bombay, a hastily put together raita and a bowl of sliced onions and tomatoes were a constant at every single meal in my mum’s kitchen. A task that was relegated to me from the age of 10. The raita always had grated cucumber and coriander while the onion and tomatoes were always sliced and sprinkled with salt and pepper. These two sides added a fresh and crunchy element to the simple mains which were often just homecooked daal and seasonal vegetables cooked in spices.
On some days mum would make banana raita (firm banana slices in salty yoghurt), a dish that I abhorred but which was quite popular all around. My favourite was pineapple raita. Maybe because that was usually served at restaurants and the whole eating experience was elevated due to either a special occasion or the company. But that was considered fancy and so I loved it even more.
And then there was Boondi Raita (crispy fried chickpea balls in yoghurt), Beetroot Raita (a beautiful pink concoction), Mint Raita (a vibrant green bowl of delicious yoghurt), Pomegranate Raita and Potato Raita. So you get it, there is a deep-seated love for the Raita in its many forms and if you make my recipe, you’ll know why.
The Anatomy Of A Good Raita
I learned a thing or two from my years of making that cucumber raita and slicing the tomatoes and onion quite diligently.
When I moved out, I started chopping all three veggies and stirring them through my yoghurt to get vibrant, crunchy raita that felt very grown-up and restaurant-style fancy I might add. It was the cookbook Dishoom that inspired me to start toasting whole cumin seeds and adding them as a garnish rather than stirring ground cumin through the raita. The result was highly aromatic and the colour of the yoghurt vibrant white and unsullied by the ground spice.
Some things to remember
- A Good Raita should be creamy and thick. Unsweetened Greek yoghurt is a good choice to use as the base. Unsweetened coconut yoghurt is a good vegan option. If you can buy Buffalo Yoghurt, your raita will be even more authentic. Buffalo milk and yoghurt are widely used in India. Buffalo milk yoghurt has a beautiful tang and acidity.
- The ratio of the yoghurt to vegetables should be almost 1:1. For this recipe I use 1 1/2 cups yoghurt (375g) and 1 1/2 cups of chopped veggies.
- Most recipes call for the cucumber to be de-seeded and the soft centre to be scooped out. I like to add this de-seeded soft centre of the cucumber back into the raita. Why waste all the lovely green cucumber goodness? It also amplifies the raita’s flavour.
- All veggies should be chopped into very tiny pieces.
- Raita should be made a couple of hours ahead of serving and chilled in the fridge to allow for the flavours to develop.
- Raita can be made prettier for serving with a sprinkle of ground cumin, ground chilli, toasted cumin seeds and micro herbs.
A slightly larger quantity of raita is a good habit to indulge in as it keeps in the fridge for 3 days and is there when you need it. It is an excellent source of protein and fibre and really good for your tummy.
- 375g (1 ½ cups) unsweetened full-fat Greek yoghurt
- 60ml (¼ cup) chilled water
- 1 small red onion, finely diced
- 1 small tomato, deseeded and finely chopped
- 1 small cucumber, deseeded and finely diced
- ½ cup fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon sea salt flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon raw sugar
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- Place yoghurt, water, onion, tomato, cucumber and coriander in a large bowl. Add salt, pepper and sugar. Mix well. Chill in the fridge for at least 1-2 hours before serving. Will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days.
- Toast cumin seeds in a hot, dry pan on medium heat for a few seconds until they start to turn a shade darker and crackle. Remove from heat. Add to the raita just before serving.
Use the thickest full-fat yoghurt you can find. Make sure your yoghurt is unsweetened. Buffalo yoghurt, sheep’s yoghurt or goat’s yoghurt works really well too because they all have a beautiful tang.
Make it vegan by subbing regular yoghurt with unsweetened coconut yoghurt.
Elevate flavour by sprinkling a pinch of ground cumin and ground chilli to your finished raita before serving.