A Pahadi Raita For All Seasons
If you have ever visited the lush green hill stations of Kumaon to spend a quiet summer vacation, you might have tasted Pahadi kheere ka raita. Nestled at the foothills of the Himalayas, Kumaon is bestowed with a maze of mountains, luxuriant greenery and breath-taking landscapes. The culture, cuisine and the rich heritage of the region is still an untold saga to the rest of the world. Many renowned food historians and novelists have captured the essence of the cuisine in their writings though.
From the ancient times, Kumaonis have been famous for their valour, warrior skills and indomitable honour. Like the persona of the natives, their food is simple, subtle and comprises largely of locally grown greens, vegetables, herbs and grains.
The cuisine of Kumaon evolved over the centuries, drawn from the generosity of the fertile landscape – tender greens, root vegetables, pulses, whole grains and not to forget, the wild game and birds all became the identity of the cuisine. Rice grown in the neatly lined up terrace farms, is one of the staples without which no Kumaoni meal is considered complete.
One more condiment that is a quintessential part of Kumaoni food is Pahadi kheere ka raita. The rhythm of the season and fruitful soil build the flavour of this wild cucumber. The giant shape and the yellowish skin tone of the pahadi cucumber make it stands out among the batch of the regular ones.
The predominant flavour in the Pahadi kheere ka raita is the bold and pungent flavour of tiny pale yellow pahadi mustard seeds. These mustard seeds are combined with plenty of mustard oil and green chilli to escalate the flavours to a new high. Traditionally, this paste for raita is ground in stone mortars and pestles. Often served with Aloo ke Gutke, Pahadi kheere ka raita is the most sought-after dish in this region. The first taste impression of Pahadi kheere ka raita is like a hit of strong savour, and definitely not subtle at all. Eventually, your palate starts developing a kind of affection with this rare sapor.
While travelling across the region, you can buy pahadi cucumber and mustard from the local flea market. Or, make use of your everyday cucumber if you are not visiting Kumaon any soon.
Recipe for Pahadi Kheere Ka Raita (serves 4)
2 cups yoghurt
1 medium size pahadi kheera (cucumber)
1 tbsp small size pahadi yellow mustard
2 green chillis
1/4 cup mustard oil
Half a bunch of coriander leaves, chopped
1 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
Salt to taste
1. To prepare the raita, peel and cut cucumber lengthwise into half.
2. Remove the seeds from each piece using a spoon.
3. Grate the cucumber, squeeze out all the liquid from the grated cucumber. Set aside in a bowl.
4. Whisk yoghurt to get a smooth consistency. Use a little water to get the desired consistency. Kheere ka raita is usually on a thicker side.
5. Now in a stone mortar and pestle, add mustard seeds, green chilli and salt. Grind to a coarse paste.
6. Add this paste in the yoghurt along with grated cucumber, mustard oil, coriander leaves, chilli powder and turmeric. Stir to combine.
7. For the flavours to mature let the raita sit at room temperature or in the fridge for 30 minutes or more.
8. Serve Kheere ka raita chilled.
Hina Gujral is a banker by education, food blogger by passion, and food stylist by profession. Living and working in and around food fuelled her desire to travel, explore and put it all together in Fun, FOOD and Frolic. Find easy-to-cook recipes from her mother's kitchen, everyday kitchen stories and accounts of food from her childhood.