Posts Tagged ‘yogurt’

Everyday Raita

July 14, 2016
 cucumber raita

cucumber raita

Each spring I spade my garden plot, sink in promising tomato plants and wish for baskets of ripe red fruit. I’m ready to cook through fantasies of the Italian table. Along the way I tuck a few cucumber seeds into the ground near the obligatory summer squash. One year there’s a blight, then a drought, then critters, and I’m usually left in August with scarcely enough tomatoes to garnish a few salads. Meanwhile the cucumbers thrive. We have green gazpacho, salads, quick pickles, wilted cucumbers and cucumbers to give away. Cucumbers grow profusely, and the one tiny plant near my garden fence has now crested its 8-foot stake with fresh vines tumbling over the patio. An abundance of the vegetable allows me to pick them young and fresh each day. I still long for tomatoes, but we’ll enjoy the cukes .

Early in my foray into spicy foods, I learned the balance of tangy yogurt. Yogurt with its naturally fermented sour is the perfect foil to anything peppery or bland. Its tartness lifts and deepens flavor with a dimension often lacking in the standard American diet. We haven’t learned to value the sour, while we add sugar to everything. The glory of yogurt is almost destroyed by sweetening it with jam and fruit until most people think of it as dessert. The tradition of yogurt like buttermilk, sour cream, labneh, etc, was not to be sweet but to refresh. Think of the lift a squeeze of lime brings to a taco or a drop of lemon to a cup of tea.

I learned to make raita (rye ta) from Indian friends who called yogurt “curd.When I first tasted it alongside a dish of chana masala, I though I’d found a perfect match. It’s so good with almost everything that a simple raita makes its way to our table alongside grilled chicken or fish, roasted vegetables, baked potatoes, vegetarian bean stews and sometimes just to jazz up a plate of leftovers.

I usually prepare the simple cucumber raita in a small mortar and pestle. First I crush a clove of garlic and a couple slices of green chili with a pinch of coarse salt. I mix in some finely chopped green or red onion, cucumber cut in tiny dice, some shredded mint, cilantro or parsley then stir in enough homemade whole milk yogurt to make a nice sauce. I test it for salt, sprinkle over a little ground cumin and there it is. It’s ready right away or easily waits for a few hours. Many other vegetables such as grated carrots or radishes, chopped cooked spinach or potato may be used in place of cucumber, but the garlic, onion and optional chili remain consistent.

Last night I thought of simplifying this preparation for someone who doesn’t have a mortar, who doesn’t like to chop into fine dice but needs a sauce in a hurry. The following recipe encourages you to use a microplane and a grater to create the same lovely mixture in fewer minutes. Cucumber Raita is a hot weather remedy for any slump in your summer cooking. It’s health giving, satisfying and tempers the appetite.

Cucumber Raita

1 clove garlic

2-3 slices Serrano chili with seeds (optional)


half a young seedless cucumber (or regular cucumber, seeds removed)

1-3 green onions chopped, or 1 tablespoon chopped red onion

1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley, mint, cilantro

½-¾ cup plain whole milk yogurt, preferably homemade   (

ground cumin or freshly ground pepper

Peel garlic, hold by root end and grate on microplane into small bowl. Grate in a small amount of green chili (or chop the chili). Add pinch of salt and dissolve salt in grated garlic and chili. Using the large holes of a box grater or the julienne blade of a Japanese mandoline grate in the cucumber. Stir in the chopped onion. (At this point you should have almost a cup of vegetables). Gently stir in whole milk yogurt. Taste for salt. Scrape into a serving bowl and sprinkle with cumin. Serves 2-4.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon




Beet Tzatziki

July 14, 2011

It was mid summer on a small island in the Cyclades. Evening fairy lights twinkled in the plane trees around a village square. There, in an open air taverna, I first laid eyes on a bowl of beet tsatziki. Ravishingly purplish pink, I had to have it. Creamy, tangy, sweet, it turned out to be the taste highlight of a journey to the place of the “wine dark sea” where that “rosy fingered dawn” breaks through the night. It’s as ancient as  yogurt, beetroot, garlic and walnuts that come together in this traditional salad perhaps Socrates or even Homer may have eaten.

Today we return to these nourishing Mediterranean foods that have held on through centuries and sing of good health. Yogurt to stimulate beneficial flora, beets to cleanse and strengthen the blood and garlic to boost immunities.

When I presented this dish to a group of vegetable-curious cooks, even those who shied away from beets were swayed with this amazing flavor combo. Here the humble beet lifts to Elysian heights as a perfect picnic side dish. Beet Tsatziki may be a dip for pita or vegetables, a sauce for grilled fish or chicken, part of a composed salad plate or a lunch in itself, nestled in a bowl of butter lettuce leaves with crusty toast on the side.

Greek Beet Tzatziki

 1 or 2 small beets, baked, steamed or raw

1 clove garlic


1 teaspoons fresh lemon juice or wine vinegar

1 cup plain whole milk yogurt, preferably homemade

freshly ground pepper

chopped fresh dill, mint and/or chopped green onion

olive oil

chopped roasted walnuts (optional)

Mash garlic with salt and mix with lemon juice or vinegar, let stand few minutes. Peel and grate beets on wide holes of a box grater (use small holes for raw beets); you should have a scant half cup. Combine beets with yogurt, macerated garlic; season with little chopped dill or mint and green onion. Taste for salt and acid. Garnish with olive oil drizzle, freshly ground pepper and chopped walnuts. Makes generous l ½ cups.

                                                                         Mary Jo’s cookbook is available at