MOST NEWCOMERS to a Vedic diet are quick to get a taste for two prominent categories of classic salads raita and kachamber. Both are fresh and light, the former yogurt-based and the latter made with many types of vegetables. Indian salads, usually served in small portions, are meant to be cooling contrasts to warm dishes in the main meal of the day.
Raita is little more than lightly seasoned yogurt and diced, sliced, or shredded raw vegetables. Kachamber, also called kosumalli, is a salad of barely seasoned raw or cooked vegetables, lightly dressed in a flavor-infused oil. Salad textures range from crisp and crunchy to smooth and creamy. These highly nutritious dishes are low-fat, simple to make, and full of flavor.
Like any ingredients used in Vedic cooking, the fresher the elements of the salad, the better. To ensure purity, freshness, and quality, many cooks in Indian temples and homes make yogurt once or twice a day and never use yogurt more than a few hours old. Today many Indian cooks opt to buy yogurt from a milk shop, but it is very fresh, rarely more than four or five hours old.
You can make your own yogurt, or for convenience you may rely on yogurt bought from a store. When buying yogurt, you'll have a few choices to make. Avoid yogurts made with gelatin, additives, preservatives, thickening agents, or long lists of ingredients, and look for the longest expiration date. Of course, if the words "organic" or "biodynamic" are on the label, you'll likely be pleased with the yogurt's purity. Indian dishes traditionally use whole-milk yogurt, but you may use fat-free or skim-milk yogurt if you prefer.
Yogurt in Ancient Texts
Yogurt is mentioned numerous times in Srimad-Bhagavatam, Caitanya-caritamrta, and other sacred Vaisnava texts, both as an auspicious ingredient in temple worship and as a food offering to the Deities. In Visnu temples, Deities are worshiped in a bathing ceremony called abhiseka using a nectarean mixture of ghee, milk, sugar, honey, and yogurt. In Vrndavana during the Annakuta festival to worship Govardhana Hill, temple priests traditionally offer the Deity many pots of milk, yogurt, buttermilk, cream, and thick cream. At an Annakuta festival in a temple at Govardhana Hill, I once counted more than a hundred silver pots filled with yogurt. The Ayur Veda says that too much milk can cause indigestion but that another form of milk fresh yogurt mixed with salt and black pepper relieves the malady.
Yogurt and How It Is Made
Yogurt, in Hindi called dahi, has been an ingredient in Indian kitchens for millennia. It is a fermented, slightly acidic food made from milk and a souring agent. Srila Prabhupada once said that in past centuries the culturing agent was usually sour tamarind. In India today, as in most of the world, yogurt is most commonly made using one or both of the lactic cultures known as Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. These cultures are in the yogurt you use to sour the milk to make new yogurt. So to make a classic Indian-style yogurt with a mild acidity and delicate flavor, you need nothing more than fresh cow's milk, a controlled temperature, and the right amount of yogurt containing the cultures.
Commercial yogurt is made by heating concentrated milk or milk fortified with skim-milk powder to about 194 degrees F (90 degrees C) for a few minutes. After the milk cools to 111 degrees F, a culture of Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus is added. Souring and thickening take about three hours. To arrest further souring, the yogurt is then refrigerated to bring the temperature to near 49 degrees F (5 degrees C).
If you can get organic raw milk or fresh milk from a local dairy, the brief effort it takes to make your own yogurt is well worth it. If you are an anxious newcomer in the kitchen, you might invest in an inexpensive yogurt-maker for fail-proof temperature control during the setting period. But most cooks can make good yogurt without buying any equipment save a thermometer. For that you just have to be willing to master the procedure with trial and error, the way I learned some thirty years ago.
Properly made fresh yogurt is firm, mild, delicate, and almost sweet, lending a special distinction to raita salads. If you are following the cooking class series, making several batches of homemade yogurt is a must exercise. Take time to read and study the sections in the class textbook, Lord Krishna's Cuisine, entitled "Homemade Yogurt, Cheese, and Other Milk Products," "Yogurt Salads," and "Little Salads." Aside from making yogurt, try the dishes on the preceding page and several more from the cookbook. Experiment to find a few variations of your own.
Yamuna Devi is the author of the award-winning cookbooks Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking and Yamuna's Table. She is a regular contributor to The Washington Post and Vegetarian Times. Write to her in care ofBack to Godhead.
How To Make Yogurt
(Makes one quart)
This is a simple recipe for mild, rich-tasting yogurt. If you want a less firm yogurt, omit the step adding milk powder. To control temperature, use a yogurt or candy thermometer, available at cookware stores. For setting, use an electric yogurt-maker, a wide-mouth insulated one-quart thermos, or a thick bowl wrapped in thick towels.
1 cup (70 g) non-instant, nonfat dry milk powder, optional
I quart/liter whole or skim milk
3 tablespoons (45 ml) plain yogurt
If you want thick, spoonable yogurt, combine the milk powder and 1/3 cup (100 ml) of milk in a blender and process until smooth and frothy. Heat the milk to the boiling point in a 2-quart pan. If you're using powdered milk, cool the milk to 118 degrees F (48 degrees C) and gently stir in the yogurt-milk mixture.
If you're not using milk powder, cool the milk to 112 degrees F (44 degrees C) and stir in the yogurt. To allow the yogurt to set, pour it into individual 8-ounce containers or a 1-quart container and set aside in a warm spot (85-110 degrees F, 29-34 degrees C). Yogurt is set when jellylike firm, and it continues to solidify and firm up when refrigerated. Cover and refrigerate. The yogurt may be kept for up to 4 or 5 days.
(Simple Yogurt-&-Tomato Salad)
Instead of tomatoes, you can try coarsely shredded beets, carrots, cucumbers, or radishes.
2 cups plain yogurt
1 cup diced tomato
salt, as desired
1 teaspoon roasted, coarsely crushed cumin seeds
cayenne, paprika, or freshly ground pepper, as desired
In a bowl, stir yogurt until smooth; add the tomatoes and salt if desired. Sprinkle with cumin, and with cayenne, paprika, or pepper as desired. Chill for 30 minutes to infuse the yogurt with flavor. Offer to Krsna.
(Yogurt Salad with Yam & Currants)
For outstanding results, try organic Jewel sweet potatoes or Red Garnet yams. To make long, thin orange zest (from orange rind), use a zester, available in cookware stores.
2 cups plain yogurt
2 baked yams or sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons currants
zest and juice of a small orange
salt, if desired
cayenne, paprika, or thinly sliced hot green chilies, as desired
In a bowl, stir yogurt until smooth. Add the yams, currants, zest, and juice; add salt, if desired. Gently mix and sprinkle with cayenne, paprika, or hot chilies as desired. Chill 30 minutes before offering to Krsna.
(Carrot Salad with Cashews)
This salad is not only delicious; it also helps digest a meal.
1 cup finely shredded carrots
1/3 cup toasted chopped cashews
2 tablespoons yogurt or sour cream
1 tablespoon ghee or corn oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1-2 hot green chilies, seeded and minced
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro or parsley
salt and pepper, as desired
Combine the carrots, cashews, and dairy in a bowl; toss to mix. Heat the oil in a small pan, add the cumin, and fry until darkened a few shades. Toss in the ginger and chilies and fry for 10-15 seconds. Pour the cooked spices into the salad, add the herbs, season as desired, and toss to mix. Offer to Krsna.
(South Indian Cucumber-&-Sprout Salad)
You can use chickpeas instead of sprouts for this salad.
1 large cucumber, preferably European, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
1/3 cup mixed sprouted beans or cooked chickpeas
3 tablespoons shredded fresh or dry coconut
1 hot chili, seeded and finely slivered
1 cup chopped cilantro
lemon juice and salt, as desired
1 tablespoon ghee or corn oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/8 teaspoon crushed red chilies
1/8 teaspoon yellow asafetida, if available
several fresh curry leaves, if available
coconut to garnish
Combine the first 5 ingredients in a bowl, add the lemon juice and salt as desired, and toss to mix. Heat the oil in a small pan. Add mustard seeds, and when they start to pop and turn gray, add the remaining ingredients. Within seconds, pour the seasoning into the salad and mix well. Garnish with coconut and offer to Krsna.