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July 5, 2016 | 3 minute read

The Sauce That Makes Summer Grilled Foods Sing

For summer weekends, I like meals that are easy and expandable in case friends ask to bring a guest. I also like weekend food that makes good leftovers, in case of cancellations that happen, too.

Grilling makes filling the center of the plate easy, especially serving turkey burgers or kebabs. I can add fillers to either of them to accommodate a growing head-count—blending some cooked quinoa into the burgers, along with chopped spinach, or threading more tomatoes and mushrooms between the chicken chunks for kebabs.

For side dishes, I focus on make-aheads, usually tabbouleh and some kind of slaw. Both are good made even two days ahead and are colorful. They work with nearly any main dishes and bring lots of vegetables and, with tabbouleh, some whole-grain to a meal, as well.

radish and cucumber raita

Then come the condiments. With kebabs, I like serving them laid between a mound of tabbouleh and a pool of raita, the South Asian yogurt-based sauce. This idea came to me while eating souvlaki, the Greek stuffed pita sandwich served with garlic-sharp yogurt sauce. Then, a friend from Pakistan explained that South Asians serve raita with nearly anything grilled, from lamb or chicken, to shrimp and even tofu.

Raita has one constant, its yogurt base. This makes cool raita a perfect partner with foods that are warm in temperature or warmed with spices. The most familiar raita combines cucumber and mint with yogurt. But you can include almost anything, even fruits, so with salmon, I have served a raita using cucumber, blueberries, and fresh mint.

Preferring to be more traditional, here I combine creamy full-fat yogurt cucumber, crunchy radish, a pinch of cumin and a generous amount of black pepper. To make this raita, any radishes will do, even those lingering in the crisper drawer for a week or more. But the cucumber used does make a difference so please look for the Persian kind.

Cucumber Radish CuttingTo digress briefly about cucumbers, supermarkets mostly carry three kinds. First is the familiar American slicing cucumber, which has thick skin, firm seeds in the center and usually not much taste, mostly because they are full of water.

Next is the long, smooth-skinned cucumber called seedless (although actually they are semi-seedless), burpless, European or English. Often they are plastic-wrapped. Their flesh is firm and sweeter than the American classic.

Four kinds of cucumbers

clockwise from top left: Persian, Kirby, American slicing. Below: seedless cucumber.

For me, though, Persian cucumbers are the best. They look like a six- to eight-inch, slimmer version of the seedless cucumber. Their thin skin does not need peeling, what seeds they have are tender and sweet, and their flesh is delightfully crisp and flavorful.

In a pinch, you also could use a Kirby cucumber, the short, fat, bumpy kind often used for pickling. They tend to be seasonal and do need peeling but like Persians, the Kirby is crisp-fleshed and on the sweeter side.

Finally, Greek yogurt is too pasty, so be sure to use regular yogurt, preferably full-fat for a creamy raita that is not runny.

Here’s the full recipe: Radish and Cucumber Raita

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