Picture a Tunisian grandmother, a master at cooking kofta, making them with Ottolenghi. This scene from his Mediterranean series is a classic. She gets fully ticked off with his faffing around, the time he takes, the number of ingredients he uses. She sits on a stool in the corner, rolling her eyes and muttering under her breath. Ah, Grandma, we know, we KNOW.
It must have been a trial for Ottolenghi to bring out Simple, his latest book. Recipes pared down to their bare essentials. No more layerings of flavour upon flavour upon flavour. No more dishes that can be a meal in themselves. HE must have been the one rolling his eyes and huffing and puffing as testers and editors stripped yet another ingredient from a dish.
I am in 2 minds about Simple. Yes, there is a level of difficulty in his other books, and not all of those recipes are for typical week night cooking. But there is something in the Simple recipes that I miss. An undefinable something. It is as though every recipe in his other books stretches us in the kitchen somehow. A new ingredient, a new technique, a new way of cooking, a new combination of ingredients. Not so Simple. Some dishes are quite ordinary by comparison, albeit delicious.
Still, they are as visually pleasing as the dishes from his other books, and a delight in their own way (just a different way to the Ottolenghi we have been used to). This raita, a riff on an Indian dish, is quite good. I’ve said before that Ottolenghi does not yet understand Indian food very well – perhaps he doesn’t care about that. He has been known to use Indian ingredients in ways that don’t showcase them to their best. But in this dish, although not typically Indian, it is a pretty jolly good plate of food. Love the inclusion of preserved lemon in the chilli paste which is layered on top of the raita. Brilliant.
Raita is traditionally served with an Indian meal as a salad and as a cooling agent, contrasting well with the spiciness of the rest of the meal. Leave off the chilli paste if you want to serve it this way. But raita is very versatile. It is lovely as a dip, gorgeous with some warm pitta, and excellent spooned on top of spiced rice.
You can find the original recipe for this dish here.
Browse all of our Raita recipes. Our dishes from Simple are here, and all of our Ottolenghi recipes are here. You might like to check out our Indian dishes and our Indian Essentials. Or explore our Late Spring dishes.
Cucumber and Tomato Raita with Lemon-Chilli Paste
200g Indian (Desi) yoghurt or Greek yoghurt
10g mint leaves, finely shredded
1 Tblspn lemon juice
2 tspn cumin seeds, toasted and finely crushed
1 large regular cucumber or 3 small Lebanese cucumbers, quartered lengthways, seeds removed and cut into 1cm dice
0.5 onion, peeled and finely chopped
200g cherry tomatoes, quartered
green chilli paste
2 small preserved lemons, skin and flesh chopped
2 green chillies, deseeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2.5 Tblspn Indian Sesame Oil or olive oil
Put all the chilli paste ingredients in a mortar with 0.25 tspn sea salt, and pound with a pestle until smooth. Alternatively whiz in a food processor until it’s a coarse paste.
Put the yoghurt in a large bowl and whisk with the mint, lemon juice and 1.5 tspn of the toasted cumin seeds. Add the cucumber, onion and tomatoes, and stir gently. Transfer to a shallow bowl and spoon chilli paste on top. Swirl lightly, sprinkle with the remaining cumin seeds, and serve.