Bathua ka Raita | Raita with Lamb's Quarters
Raitas come in so very many shapes and tastes in India that it seems almost beside the point to use a recipe for one. I grew up eating just one kind of raita—the one my mother always made, with onions, green chillies, yoghurt—and tomatoes. While her version still holds a special place in my heart, it’s been fun to taste raitas from other people’s homes and realize that there are very few vegetables that can’t go into a raita—from radishes to carrots to eggplants (I’ve even seen recipes for raitas with beans in them).
This version, though, with cooked-down bathua (known commonly in the US as lamb’s quarters) is something I’m particularly fond of, though. I love the silky texture of the cooked, lightly bitter, greens against the cool richness of the yoghurt. But even more, I love that it gives me yet another excuse to use these greens, which I didn’t grow up eating, but which I think are absolutely delicious, and all the more fascinating because they grow so freely in the wild, seemingly the world over. I’ve bought them in Bangalore in giant bunches sold on the side of the road (where some vendors call them naati chakkotha, though I've heard this name applied to other wild greens in Karnataka), I’ve seen them beside country lanes in Piedmont (farinello in Italian), and of course in the summer the streets of New York City are positively weedy with them.
Again, as with all raitas, there are any number of ways you could make this one: you could boil and then drain the bathua; you could blend the cooked greens to a smooth purée; you could add amchur, chilli powder, or other spices to it. The version I like best, though, is thick but not stodgy, with greens that have been quickly stir-fried with mustard oil and then finely chopped by hand with some green chillies, and dressed with just a smidgin of freshly toasted and ground cumin, a touch of red chilli flakes (I use kırmızı pul biber—not traditional, but fantastic), and a fresh drizzle of raw mustard oil. It’s heaven alongside parathas, with rotis, or even (less usual perhaps) with rice.
So, as the weather turns warm and lovely green things start shooting out of the ground, keep an eye out at your farmers’ market (or even your local Indian grocery store) for bathua and maybe try this delicious variation the next time you’re in the mood for raita.
BATHUA KA RAITA
SERVES 3-4 AS A SIDE DISH
1 bunch bathua, leaves picked from tough stems and well-washed
1.5 cups full-fat yoghurt
1/2 tsp cumin, toasted in a dry pan and finely ground in a mortar and pestle
2 small green chillies, finely chopped (or to taste)
Mustard oil for cooking and for dressing the finished raita
1/2 tsp kırmızı pul biber
Heat 1 tsp of the mustard oil in a large wok or kadhai over high heat till the oil just begins to smoke.
Add the bathua to the pan and quickly stir around to coat in the oil and to encourage it to wilt. When the greens have completely collapsed (the work of just a few minutes), add 1/2 tsp of salt and stir well to combine.
Tip the greens out onto a chopping board and, using a large chef’s knife, chop finely. Place the greens into a medium-sized serving bowl and combine with the chopped green chillies and yoghurt.
Stir well to combine. Taste for salt and adjust as needed.
Sprinkle the top of the raita with the freshly toasted and ground cumin, the pul biber and a generous drizzle of raw mustard oil.
Serve at cool room temperature.