Raita is a cooling Indian condiment with countless variations. This classic version uses plain yogurt, cucumber, and fresh herbs.
For almost all of my adult years I have made yogurt for my family, mostly from store-purchased milk and later from our own goat’s milk. It’s always been for a trifecta of reasons: to save money, to reduce plastic waste, and (the best reason) for the flavor!
Probiotic Yogurt Cultures
The transformation of milk into thickened, slightly tart, flavorful yogurt custard requires the work of two very special types of bacteria: Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus delbrueckii ssp. bulgaricus. These two types of bacteria are essential for making yogurt. They have evolved a mutually beneficial and reliant relationship during fermentation. For both to do well, they should be included in the culture blend in approximately equal amounts.
When you’re shopping for cultures, you will find that most of them are labeled with the same bacteria names on most of them. But within those groups there will be many different strains, all offering different nuances to the yogurt.
Here are a few of the many options for purchasing probiotic yogurt cultures:
Using Your Homemade Yogurt: Classic Indian Cucumber Raita
When you use your homemade yogurt as a base for cooling, healthy salads and sauces, like Classic Indian Cucumber Raita, you are tapping into a long-standing cultural tradition. Who knows — it may nudge your dairy ferment fun in a whole new direction!
This is your core recipe for making almost all yogurts. It is my go-to formula to try with any new type of milk (whether it is a new source or a new species) or any new culture. Once you have made an initial batch, you can evaluate the yogurt’s thickness, flavor, and tartness and make adjustments as needed.
Makes ½ gallon
- ½ gallon milk
- ⅛ teaspoon powdered yogurt culture or ⅛ cup fresh plain yogurt with active cultures
- Heat the milk to 180°F (82°C) and hold it there for 10 minutes. Then remove the milk from the heat and let cool to 115°F (46°C).
- Add the culture. If using powdered culture, sprinkle it on top of the milk and let sit for 1 minute, then whisk it in.
- Incubate at 110°F (43°C) for 8 to 12 hours. Chill and store in the refrigerator.
Classic Indian Cucumber Raita
If you love Indian food like I do, then you are familiar with creamy, refreshing raita. No Indian meal, in my opinion, is complete without a bowl of this tangy, cooling sauce flecked with bits of cucumber and spice.
Makes 4 cups
- 4 medium cucumbers, diced
- 2 green chiles, seeded and finely diced
- 1–2 garlic cloves, finely minced or juiced
- Handful of mint leaves, finely chopped
- 2 cups plain yogurt
- 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil or ghee
- 2–4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Combine the cucumbers, chiles, garlic, and mint in a large bowl.
- Stir in the yogurt, oil, and lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Cover and chill in the refrigerator for a few hours to improve the flavor. Before serving, stir and season as needed. Raita will keep for about 1 week in the refrigerator.