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Lovely raita is palate-cooling relish


Q: What is raita?

A: Raita is a palate "cooling" type of relish usually accompanying Middle Eastern dishes. Raitas use plain yogurt as a base and may contain vegetables such as cucumbers and tomatoes. Often, mint is the herb used to flavor this side dish.

Q: Is it possible to make sun-dried tomatoes at home without relying on the sun?

A: Yes, sun-dried tomatoes can be made at home without sun and without too much trouble. Roma or plum tomatoes are recommended because they dry faster and have more meat. Slice tomatoes in half lengthwise and place on a rack to dry in a low-temperature oven (about 200 degrees) for seven hours or until leathery but still soft. Cool completely and store in a tightly sealed container in a cool dry place or place them in olive oil to cover.

Q: Fresh spinach leaves seem to vary in the supermarkets from small and smooth to large and rippled. What is the difference?

A: Most of the variations you're noticing are differences in the age of the spinach plant when it was picked. Young spinach leaves are tiny and delicate, while the large rippled leaves are more mature and have a slightly bitter taste and woodier leaf.

Occasionally, however, you might see a variety of spinach called New Zealand spinach, which has a small flat ivy-shaped leaf and grows well in hot or cool climates.

Q: I am so confused about how to deal with pasta just after cooking. The experts all give different directions on whether or not it's necessary to rinse.

A: It is true that opinions vary in the draining and rinsing of pasta. Local cookbook author Marlene Sorosky has found a very workable solution. She likes to rinse the pasta to get rid of the starch so the pasta doesn't clump together. In order to keep the pasta hot, she always rinses with warm water. (She also makes a point of heating the pasta serving platter.)

We'd like to hear from you. Send your questions to: What's Cooking, c/o Food & Home, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278. Or call Sundial, the Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800 (268-7736 in Anne Arundel County, 836-5028 in Harford County, 848-0338 in Carroll County). Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6180 after you hear the greeting and record your question.

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