Raita is a quintessential Indian recipe that is the key to balance.
If you’ve ever eaten traditional Indian food, chances are it was quite spicy. After all, one of the keys to making delicious Indian food is being liberal with the spices.
But the spice-laden flavors of Indian food often need a cooling contrast. In India, this cooling factor often comes in the form of raita, a spiced yogurt dip. As with most dishes in India—an incredibly diverse country of 1.3 billion people, more than 2,000 ethnic groups, and hundreds of dialects—raita is made in different ways throughout the country.
What is Raita?
At most Indian restaurants in the U.S., you’ll find raita made with cucumber (as in this recipe), but it can be made in a wide variety of ways. You might find it with beets or pomegranate (yes, that means the yogurt will turn pink!) or with cooked potato or winter squash.
Raita also includes a combination of spices and herbs (usually ground cumin along with fresh cilantro and mint), but, of course, variations abound. For the best flavor, I recommend toasting whole cumin seeds and then grinding them yourself using a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, but I often make this with pre-ground cumin powder from the grocery store and it’s still delicious.
However you make it, raita makes a fitting complement to the bold, spicy curries and dals common in Indian cuisine. And the best part is how easy it is to make! It takes all of five minutes and stores well in the fridge for a few days.
Traditionally, raita is made with unsweetened full-fat yogurt (if you try using Greek yogurt in raita, every Indian aunty I know will give you a disapproving glance). Of course, my version is vegan and uses a plant-based yogurt.
I prefer using the Homemade Coconut Yogurt from my cookbook, The Vegan Instant Pot Cookbook, but I also love these brands of yogurt: Culina, GT’s Cocoyo, and CocoJune.
What to serve raita with?
Basically, almost any Indian recipe that is spicy can use a little raita :)
- 1/4 of a medium cucumber, unpeeled
- 1 cup unsweetened nondairy yogurt
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1- inch piece fresh ginger, grated or finely minced
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
- Juice of 1⁄2 lime
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
- Pinch of cayenne pepper or Indian red chili powder (this is NOT the same thing as regular chili powder; it’s pure chili powder and is much spicier)
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
- Grate the cucumber using a box grater. Wrap the grated cucumber in several layers of paper towels or in a clean dish towel and squeeze thoroughly to press out as much water as you can.
- Add the grated cucumber to a bowl with the nondairy yogurt. Add in the remaining ingredients. Stir well to combine. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for 2-3 days.