The color of beets alone is luscious. Rich like a burgundy velvet chaise. Wet and slick, when in your hands, the color penetrates your skin. Sliced up or grated into a salad, it stains and saturates everything it touches. Adorned with flowers, this is one dish begging for the start of spring, but dismayed at the demise of winter. We’ll get beetroot here in Texas for just a bit longer, but you can enjoy raita of any kind year-round.
Just to explain briefly, raita is not a condiment. It’s a side dish. It’s not for dipping. It’s for spooning. So make the recipe, put it in a bowl and eat it by the spoonful in between bites of a spicy hot curry or even with a fish fillet and rice, like my students did in a recent class. I like chunky raitas so I’ve cubed the beets, rather than grating them. I find that grating beets is not only messier but too much of the color leaches into the yogurt resulting in a raita that is for me overbearingly discolored. The tempering spices are optional in raitas, but really make raita more complex than just a bowl of simple, salty, vegetable-laden yogurt. So, I urge you to temper the spices, make a little seasoned oil, and drizzle it over the raita.
1 1/4 cup well-stirred plain yogurt
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground roasted cumin seeds
1 cup diced cooked cold beets (previously boiled or roasted and peeled)
1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil (or any high smoke point oil)
¼ teaspoon asafetida
½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
¼ teaspoon cumin seeds
4-5 fresh curry leaves (optional) (Don’t use bay leaves or any substitutions here)
¼ cup crushed toasted peanuts
edible flowers (optional)
1) Stir yogurt with salt and cumin powder in a medium mixing bowl. The consistency should be that of a thick but pourable yogurt, like a smoothie.
2) Very gently, stir in the beets. Set aside.
3) Temper the spices: heat oil in a small 6 or 8 inch skillet over medium heat until very hot but not smoking.
4) Add a few mustard seeds. If they sizzle and pop, the oil is ready for tarka (the name of this technique).
5) Very quickly and add the mustard seeds and asafetida. Quickly add the cumin seeds, then carefully add the curry leaves, which will splatter so keep a lid nearby if you are new to this technique. Take my class if you can, to improve upon tarka :)
6) Stir for a few seconds to fry the leaves and adequately season the oil, then turn off heat.
7) Spoon out some of the seeds, leaves, and a bit of the oil and top the raita with it. You will not need to use all the oil, but try to get most of the spices and leaves.
8) Stir the seasoned oil gently into the raita.
9) Garnish with the peanuts and flowers.
© Shefaly Ravula/ Shef’s Kitchen