I had a lame raita experience over the holiday break, which led to my discovery of making raita with juicer pulp. Raita, for the uninitiated, is a South Asian condiment consisting of yogurt, finely grated cucumber and/or carrot and radish, cilantro or mint, salt, pepper and perhaps a little freshly ground cumin. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a savory Indian dish it doesn’t pair well with. I just wish I hadn’t dived into my raita-crafting frenzy under such circumstances.
Last week, I ordered my comfort food standby at an Indian joint in my husband’s hometown of Columbus, Ohio: plain basmati rice, standard yellow dal and a little dish each of raita and pickle. Sometimes you just need to reset your digestive system after so many days in a row of eating Columbus’ phenomenal fare willy-nilly. Rice and dal is how I do it. To my great disappointment, the raita had been watered down to the point of no return. It didn’t cling, and clinginess is one of the key points of yogurt in Indian cuisine. I understand stretching ingredients as far as they’ll go, but regular ol’ yogurt is inexpensive to buy (and downright cheap to make). I classify this felony-grade dilution in the same Crimes Against Curry category as the substitution of firm tofu for paneer, assuming nobody will notice, ignorant of the mighty judgmental power of Jess Kapadia’s Crimes Against Curry campaign.
Anyhoo, I let it slide because it was Christmas Day and who wants to get into a whole seasoned yogurt condiment battle on Christmas, right? When we got back home to New York, my husband made a beeline for his beloved juicer while I mulled over which dish would do my proper raita as much justice as possible. And then I saw it: a juicer hopper full of cucumber pulp. I added most of the two cukes’ worth of pulp and the other raita ingredients to about two cups of plain lowfat yogurt. It was amazing. Peeled cucumbers are mostly water with little fiber, so their pulp doesn’t turn into sawdust like beets, kale or carrots — I tried making raita with the pulps of all three, and though beautiful to behold with an almost confetti-like visual effect, the resulting texture was unpleasant and chewy. Chewy raita with undigestible bits is about as useful as raita that’s 2/3 water. If you want to add other veggies, grate them whole.
And there you have it! Juicer pulp that was going to be discarded finds new life as one of the most important condiments on the entire Indian subcontinent. We drank and ate the same cucumbers. You could also easily tweak it to make cucumber-dill sauce for salmon or a low-fat dip for crudité.
I’d like to wrap this up with additional praise of yogurt and cucumber-based dishes — specifically, the garlicky delight that is Turkish cacik. My good friend Jeff (author of this phenomenal restaurant review) who moved teaching jobs from Iraq to Turkey penned this upgraded version of the Spice Girls’ smash hit “Wannabe” in a Facebook status for the ages. Seriously, this is the guy you want teaching you English.
Tell you what I want, what I really really want
So tell me what you want, what you really really want
I want tza- I want ja- I want ca- I want ca-
I really really really want cacik, cacik, yeah!
If you want to eat tzatziki,
You’ve got to say cacik
‘Cause cacik means tzatziki
When you’re speaking Turkic!
If you want to make some cacik,
You’ve got to make garlic shreds
‘Cause garlic makes it zesty,
And zesty’s where it is!
Pour the yogurt down and grind the garlic out.
POUR THE YOGURT DOWN AND GRIND THE GARLIC OUT!