Eat To Live

Give creamy dressings a fresh twist

Yogurt gives a clean palate for other flavours, is nutritious and has a host of health benefits

I took a tip from the Indians with this recipe: They always have a creamy cucumber salad to go with their meals. Called raita, it is merely shredded cucumber dressed with yogurt, seasoned with garlic, salt, pepper and, perhaps, paprika.

It is refreshing, cooling - wonderfully alleviating the heat of spicy food - and yes, healthy, using probiotic-rich yogurt.

Probiotics, which are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your health, help hugely with digestion.

This is aside from the other nutrients found in yogurt.

I went a step further and used low-fat yogurt, simply because I do not like the richness of a creamy dressing, aside from the calories.


Lettuce Wedges with Raita Dressing. PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

It was hugely successful and is excellent especially with dishes that are heavily spiced for it provides a clean yet delicious palate for all the other flavours found in the meal.

I pondered later if I could use yogurt as a base for all the other "creamy" dressings you find in salads, the most popular of which must be the caesar and potato salads.

Of course, you could always dress a potato salad with just oil and vinegar, the classic vinaigrette, which I love. I don't think that there's anything better than boiled potatoes dressed with an aromatic oil, lemon juice, salt, lots of pepper and perhaps a seeded mustard for bite.

And if there are walnuts or macadamias in the salad, it is divine matched with an oil, made from the same nuts.

I opted for yogurt because it is nutritionally as rich as the milk used to make it but has benefits beyond milk, due to its probiotics.

Lactose-intolerant individuals may tolerate yogurt better than other dairy products, for example.

But sometimes, for a change, I yearn for a creamy, velvety dressing, sharp with mustard, to dress these potatoes, lavished perhaps with smoked salmon and enlivened by salty capers.

While creaminess in a dressing could come from mayonnaise, sour cream, buttermilk, cheese or egg, you could use instead a host of other more innocuous and healthy ingredients.

Gado-gado, which is an Indonesian salad of boiled vegetables, egg and soya bean products, for example, has a dressing enriched by nothing more than ground peanuts.

The Japanese use soft white tofu to make a creamy dressing for their (usually cooked) vegetables and you could, of course, fall back on avocado, soya and nut milks or... yogurt to add creaminess to a dressing.

  • LETTUCE WEDGES WITH RAITA DRESSING

  • INGREDIENTS

    • 2 heads of iceberg lettuce, each cut into 4 wedges, cores retained

    • 4 stalks of spring onion, chopped

    RAITA DRESSING

    • 1/2 cup of low-fat yogurt

    • 1/2 cup of olive oil

    1 tsp chopped garlic

    • 1 tsp salt

    • 1 tsp honey

    • Pepper to taste

    • Paprika to dust

    METHOD

    Choose tight and unblemished heads of lettuce. Wash and drain them whole.

    • Cut the heads into wedges without removing the core, which holds the leaves together.

    • Put together the dressing: Place yogurt, oil, garlic, salt, honey and pepper in a bowl and whisk well to combine. Taste to adjust seasoning to your liking.

    • Place lettuce wedges on a plate and pour the dressing on top.

    • Scatter spring onion and, if you like, a dusting of paprika for colour. Perfect accompaniment for spicy Asian dishes.

    SERVES SIX TO EIGHT

I opted for yogurt because it is nutritionally as rich as the milk used to make it but has benefits beyond milk, due to its probiotics.

Lactose-intolerant individuals may tolerate yogurt better than other dairy products, for example.

And the good news is that the low-fat version is as nutritious.

But do remember when employing yogurt in a dressing that you need some sweetness to counter its inherent sharpness.

Here, I use a bit of honey, but you could use sugar, always keeping to the ingredients found in a traditional raita, that is, yogurt, mixed with some oil, chopped garlic, salt and pepper. I pour this dressing, thinned down with oil, over iceberg lettuce, often dismissed for its lack of taste, but I like it for its crunch and juiciness, perfect for hot weather eating.

You could use other salad leaves, if you so prefer, but I'm always looking for a new way to dress my iceberg lettuce. And this raita dressing adds lots of creamy flavour while a scattering of chopped spring onion gives a gentle bite of onion.

•Sylvia Tan is a freelance writer and cookbook author. Her previous Eat To Live recipes can be found in two cookbooks, Eat To Live and Taste.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2016, with the headline 'Give creamy dressings a fresh twist'. Print Edition | Subscribe