Raita — A Cool Contrast

August 5, 2012

Fueled by scorching temperatures, a severe to extreme drought has settled over much of the continental United States. The most brutal heat wave in many decades, readings above 100 F have become commonplace. The Midwest is evolving into a dust bowl, while the Southwest and Rockies are becoming tinder boxes, and lakes and rivers across the South are withering up. More than half of all counties have been designated primary disaster areas this growing season. Almost four million acres of conservation land were opened by the Department of Agriculture for ranchers to use for haying and grazing. Crops and pasture lands throughout much of the country have taken more than a drubbing — they have simply become a debacle with little relief in sight. Somber days in the breadbasket as the drought has touched so many, so much.

Beat the heat fare should be trendy this cruel summer. A cooling concoction with infinite variations, raita is a traditional Indian-Pakistani-Bangladeshi condiment used as a salad, relish, spread, dip or side dish. Other versions include tomato, diced veggies, avocado, chutney, beet, masala, potato, sweet potato, onion, chile, chickpea, etc.  Although always finely mated with Indian dishes, versatile raita need not be relegated to south Asian eats.

RAITA

1 t cumin seeds, toaasted and ground
1 t coriander seeds, toasted and ground
1 t black mustard seeds, toasted and ground

2 C plain Greek (strained) yogurt
1 t sugar
1/2 t crushed red pepper powder or flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2+ large fresh English cucumber, peeled and diced
1 C fresh mint leaves, chopped

In a heavy dry medium skillet, toast cumin, coriander and mustard seeds until just aromatic. Allow to cool and then grind the seeds in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.

Whisk together yogurt, sugar, red pepper, cumin, coriander, mustard, salt, black pepper, cucumber, and mint. Chill, covered, until ready to serve.

Pourboire: a brief word about measuring. Although baking demands precise measurements, savory cooking generally allows some laxity. So, unless you are as OCD as Ina Garten, just mete out ingredients with your eyes. Use that oversized 3 lbs of meat between your ears (and hippocampi) to judge and recall amounts — simply pour a carefully measured, even brightly hued, chosen spice into an open palm in order to ascertain the quantity of a teaspoon, tablespoon, cup or portion thereof and take note. Then, use that memory forward.

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