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Santa Maria—the Raita Proselytizer


I don’t know how cooking for the family is for you, but, personally, I get tired of what I make all the time. I’m too tired from work and other duties to do much about being tired, but on occasion I dream about making new dishes, and that’s a bit of relief, at least for a moment. One of my cousins from Ireland recently sent me a book from abroad, “The Hairy Bikers' Great Curries,” by Si King and Dave Myers, and at least one recipe, for “All-in-One Lamb Dhansak," enticed me. But my arms got tired holding the hardcover well before my brain could wrap itself around finding all the ingredients, so that will have to wait.

I don’t say much about how I feel about my cooking because I’m afraid that if I bring it up, I’ll have a revolt on my hands. As it is, my kids are already sick of roast chicken once a week and feel much the same about salmon, and some of my other regular dishes. One of them is even rethinking her allegiance to hot dogs. I don't want to give them any ideas. Things could become dire.

So, I quietly keep cooking, knowing there’s always one seasoning that never lets me down—hunger. When we all come home from work and school, it’s a blessing to have those black beans ready to warm or that Bolognese ready to defrost.

In the meantime, I do what I can to vary my repertoire. Lately, I’ve been returning chicken tikka masala to the mix, and Santa Maria has been stepping in to spice things up. She loves Indian food, and on Saturday she mixed a raita to go with it.

Raitas, according to “The New Food Lover’s Companion,” are “yogurt salads popular in India” that are typically “used as condiments,” and commonly “seasoned with black mustard seeds, garam masala, and herbs such as chervil, coriander, cumin, dill, mint, parsley or tarragon.” There’s a wide latitude to how you can make them—consider Mark Bittman’s post on The Diner’s Journal, from a few years ago.

And, according to Santa Maria, raitas “are a condiment that deserve wider acceptance, like the way salsa has crossed over from Latin-American cuisine.” She made the raita for the chicken tikka masala, but it would work well on lamb chops or roast pork, for example.

On Saturday, Santa Maria had a hankering for black mustard seeds, so she toasted a handful and mixed them with plain, non-fat yogurt, a few leaves of fresh basil, some olive oil, and some lemon. The black mustard seeds popped in our mouths as we ate the chicken tikka. It was refreshing, and I almost felt renewed.

Black Mustard Seed Raita 

  • 3/4 cup non-fat yogurt
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • Juice of 1/4 lemon
  • Couple of shakes of salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 7 washed and chopped basil leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds, toasted

Mix the ingredients together, and serve as a cooling accompaniment to your favorite dish.

Note: This recipe could easily be enhanced by adding julienned cucumber (seeded and peeled), or grated carrot.

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