Have you ever eaten something spicy at an Indian restaurant? Did you ever notice the timid looking bowl with a yogurt sauce on the side and wondered what it was for? Well, let me introduce you to the Indian raita – the perfect, yogurt-based condiment that’s meant to help you cool your palate, and balance spicy flavors in Indian cooking.
If you’re thinking, that sounds an awful lot like tzatziki, I hear you. But it’s quite different! So what is the difference between raita and tzatziki? Both use the same base ingredients (namely yogurt and cucumbers). However, raita uses softer yogurt, while tzatziki uses thick, plain Greek yogurt as well as lemon juice to add an acid component.
The post contains helpful tips and tricks to make sure you’re successful in your first attempt. But if you’re in a rush, please use the link above to jump to the recipe card at the end!
📋 Ingredients (and top tips)
There are two main ingredients for making the perfect Indian raita – yogurt and salt. The toppings and spices you add are entirely up to you (check out the variations section for five different options. But a couple of important ingredient notes before we jump into the actual recipe and tips!
Use plain yogurt, and try to avoid Greek yogurt
Indian yogurt (dahi) tends to be a bit less “solid” than Greek yogurt, and is typically unflavored. So, I suggest buying normal yogurt that’s unflavored. If you only have Greek yogurt on hand, don’t fret – you can just add about 1/3 cup of water to every 3 cups of Greek yogurt and mix well to bring it to the optimal consistency for making a raita. If you want to thicken it, you can strain the excess water using a cheese cloth.
Chill the yogurt first
Indian raita is typically served as a cool condiment. So, I suggest chilling your yogurt (if it’s not already chilled). If you’re chilling it, just remember to add the cilantro or any other fresh herbs right before serving.
Salt to your tastes!
Technically, raita can be either sweet or savory. But the base almost always has a pinch of salt – my recipe uses a mild amount of salt (about 1/4 teaspoon for every 3 cups of yogurt). You can increase or decrease to your liking (also depending on whether you want a sweet or savory version)
Add a tadka at the end (optional)
One of the things I remember the most about my mother’s version of raita is that she’d toast some mustard seeds, and green chili peppers in ghee and add it to the top. This tadka (or tempering) made a world of a difference and I invite you to try it out if you’re up for it!
Though raita is such a simple dish, it’s also equally versatile. I mentioned before that it can either be sweet or savory, so I’m sharing below a wide range of toppings and seasonings you can include to customize your raita based on your tastes, as well as what you’re serving with. Every one of these variations basically involves whisking the yogurt with the toppings and spices to ensure a smooth consistency (except for the mint one, but read to find out more about that)
This is the simplest version, and in my house, this includes yogurt, salt, finely chopped red onions, some green chili peppers, cilantro, cumin powder … and no cucumbers.
I don’t usually share random things about me in the middle of recipes, but this one deserves a callout – I am deathly allergic to cucumbers. So, even though basic raita almost always includes cucumbers, I can’t add them to mine. So if you’re looking at pictures and wondering why there’s no sign of cucumbers, this is why – sorry!
This is probably my favorite raita out of the list. You take 1/2 cup of mint and cilantro leaves, grind them together with some green chili pepper (to taste). Then add that to the yogurt, along with finely chopped red onions and some spices. Delicious! If you don’t have mint on hand, you can make one with just cilantro too.
Boondi refers to these small, fried chickpea flour drops that are a snack in many parts of India. For this version, you make the basic raita and then add the boondi on top. It’s crunchy at first, but absorbs the yogurt so you get this mixture of crisp and soft boondi. I typically use 1 cup of boondi for every 3 cups of yogurt for this raita. You can make the boondi yourself or buy it.
To make boondi, mix 1 cup of chickpea flour with 2 tablespoons of rice flour, as well as some turmeric, red chili powder, and salt. Then, add roughly 1/2 cup of water to make a fluid batter. In a large pot, heat oil for frying, and when hot enough, drop the batter in through a serving spoon with many small holes. Fry until golden brown (about 3-4 minutes) and drain onto a bowl with paper towel to blot the oil.
Okay, there are endless variations I can talk about here, but here are a few unconventional additions to traditional Indian raita. I recommend testing the more basic versions first before experimenting with these (most of which might be a bit too much contrast for any heavy or spicy dishes).
- Carrot (julienne carrots added to the basic version)
- Aloo (boiled potatoes added to the basic version)
- Ginger (similar to the mint or onion one, with ginger)
- Cabbage or okra (add those to basic version)
- Fruits (pomegranate, mango, grapes and pineapple are all combinations I’ve seen)
🍴 Serving and storage suggestions
How long does raita last in the fridge? You can store this in the fridge overnight (or up to 8-12 hours). Just make sure to add fresh herbs (like cilantro) right before you serve it since they can get really soggy.
What can you eat with raita? Almost anything! You can serve it as a dip, condiment or sauce with almost any dish that has some spicy or grilled component to it. I have a series of Indian dishes that taste great with raita (and some off-the-beaten-path ones too) – check them below.
What do you do with leftover raita? This is almost an oxymoron to me because there’s never any leftovers. However, if you do have some, here are a few simple but creative ways in which you can use up any leftovers:
- Dip: Use it as a dip for any crispy snack (for instance, I routinely serve it as a dip for my vegan fritters or even my crispy baked avocado fries). Not going to lie, sometimes I literally just eat it with chips.
- Dipping Sauce: If you have leftover pita or naan at home, you can use it as a dipping sauce for that. Or you can serve it as a dipping sauce for crudites. Or serve it as a sauce for any sandwich you make!
- Salad or Veggie Dressing: Use it as a salad dressing or as a topping for roasted vegetables. Brussels sprouts taste particularly amazing with a raita sauce.
- Taco Sauce: Use it as a sauce for tacos – once in a while, when I want to tone down the spice for my gochujang cauliflower tacos, I add a raita sauce to it. Talk about mixing flavors from all over the world.
- Chilled Soup: You can literally add some cold water to it, thin it out and serve it as a chilled soup.
- Marinade: This is something I’ve also done for my carnivorous partner. If you add a few more spices to your liking, you can use this as a marinade for almost anything (salmon, lamb, chicken, etc.)
- 3 cups yogurt Plain yogurt, see note for Greek yogurt
- 1 teaspoon salt Adjust to taste
- 1 red onion medium sized
- 1 teaspoon cumin powder
- 1 green chili pepper de-seeded, Thai preferred, substitute with Serrano if unavailable
- 1/4 cup cilantro finely chopped
- Add onions, green chili peppers to yogurt and mix well
- Season with salt and cumin powder and give another mix
- Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve chilled!
- I suggest using plain yogurt. Avoid Greek yogurt if possible (it’s quite thick) – or think Greek yogurt with 1/3 cup of water to get to the right consistency
- This is a simple and basic raita recipe, but I’ve include five different variations (featuring mint, fruits, onions, and other unconventional varieties) in the main post. Please refer there if you want to try something different!
- The basic raita typically includes cucumbers, but I’ve swapped that out here because I’m very allergic to cucumbers – feel free to include 1 cucumber for this portion and scale according to your tastes!
The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.