Spice-Crusted Chicken Breasts With Raita

6 servings

This spice rub has a gentle heat that slowly warms the palate. The effect is countered by a cool, creamy yogurt accompaniment called a raita (RI-tah). Consider it the yin and yang of summer cooking.

Adapted from "Weir Cooking in the City," by Joanne Weir (Simon & Schuster, 2004):

For the chicken:

2 cardamom pods

3 tablespoons coriander seeds

3 tablespoons cumin seeds

3 tablespoons fennel seeds

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

6 boneless, skinless or skin-on chicken breast halves

About 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

For the raita:

1/2 English (seedless) cucumber, unpeeled, grated

11/4 cups plain, preferably whole-milk, yogurt

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

1 clove garlic, minced

Lemon wedges

For the chicken: Using an electric spice or coffee grinder, a mortar and pestle or the bottom of a skillet, grind or crush the cardamom pods, coriander, cumin and fennel seeds, salt and pepper until finely ground. Transfer up to 1 teaspoon of the spice mixture to a small dish; set aside. Place the remaining spice mixture on a plate.

Brush each chicken breast generously with oil, using a total of about 1 tablespoon, and then press each breast into the spice mixture, turning to coat each side evenly. Set aside.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the chicken breasts, skin side down if applicable, and cook until the skin is golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low, turn the chicken breasts and heat until cooked through, 4 to 5 more minutes.

For the raita: While the chicken is cooking, place the grated cucumber on several layers of paper towels and top with more paper towels. Press and pat well to remove any excess water. In a bowl, combine the cucumber, yogurt, lemon zest, garlic and reserved spice mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Transfer the chicken to individual plates. Pass the raita and lemon wedges on the side.

Per serving (without skin): 197 calories, 28 gm protein, 3 gm carbohydrates, 8 gm fat, 71 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 166 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

-- Renee Schettler

Q. What's the surest way to get a beer up two flights of stairs without spilling a drop?

A. The dumbwaiter at Matchbox Restaurant in Chinatown.

The sturdy wood-and-rope contraption, which survived renovations to the building, just happens to be situated behind the bar. Rather than send waiters up the steep, narrow staircase with a teetering tray full of microbrews, management decided to put the dumbwaiter to use for the drinks. The dumbwaiter makes for a surprisingly steady ride -- and much less chance of a beer foul -- for that draft Rogue Dead Guy Ale or Abita Turbodog.

Matchbox Restaurant is at 713 H St. NW (near Seventh Street); 202-289-4441.

Personal Watermelon

Miniature seedless watermelons have hit East Coast grocery stores this year, and for this we are grateful. They provide an efficient way to buy the juicy fruit -- beyond whole, seedless icebox varieties, which weigh 10 to 25 pounds, and pale pre-cut pieces that come shrink-wrapped or in plastic tubs.

The new smaller versions, billed as "personal watermelons," range from two to five pounds, with a thinner rind and firm flesh that registers a higher brix, or sweetness level, than regular watermelon.

Samples of the Calfornia-based Dulcinea Farms Pureheart watermelons were being handed out to enthusiastic taste testers at the Safeway in Darnestown, Md., on a recent weekend. Such are the small strides in the advance of Western civilization.

Miniature seedless watermelons are available at Safeway, $3.99 to $4.99. For more information, go to www.dulcinea.com.

Abalone et al, au Courant

It makes our heads swim to keep up with the fluctuating status of various seafood and the issues that surround them. Which ones are contaminated with PCBs or mercury? Which are farmed according to healthy practices? Which are overfished?

A short answer is to consult the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch. Updated twice annually, the handy guide ranks seafood choices according to sustainability and pollutant concerns from the perspective of ocean conservationists. You can download the succinct pocket guide, bookmark the home page for future reference or click on the All-Fish List, a searchable database that offers a thorough rundown of issues pertaining to 41 particular fish. Go to www.montereybayaquarium.org.

Yes, a Garlic Press

You hardly ever see professional chefs use a garlic press. Mincing is the only way for them. But if you want to go through a lot of cloves for scampi or aioli, why not take advantage of some of the improved versions? They're comfortable, durable and easy to use. Look for presses that have a mincing plate that swings out for easy cleaning. We like this stainless steel model from Kuhn Rikon, about $30 at kitchen stores.

Today's Tip

If the chicken cutlets you've been searing in a skillet refuse to come free, dip a flexible metal spatula into cold water and then slide the inverted spatula blade beneath the cutlet. The cool, wet spatula breaks the seal between the skillet and the meat. -- From the May-June issue of Cook's Illustrated

To Do

FRIDAY-SUNDAY: Greek festival at St. Katherine's Greek Orthodox Church. Free. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday, noon-9 p.m. 3149 Glen Carlyn Rd., Falls Church. Call 703-671-1515 or see www.saint-katherines.org.

FRIDAY-SUNDAY: Annapolis Greek Festival at SS. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church. Free. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday, 1-7 p.m. 2747 Riva Rd., Annapolis. Call 301-261-8218 or see www.schgochurch.org.

SATURDAY: Cooking From the Garden -- cooking demonstration, food and herb tasting and wine pairing seminar at Lansdowne Resort. Third in a seven-part series. $65. 10 a.m. 44050 Woodridge Pkwy., Lansdowne. Call 703-858-2107.

SATURDAY-SUNDAY: Vintage Virginia -- wine festival and food tasting featuring 45 local wineries and 30 local restaurants. Sponsored by the Virginia Wineries Association. $18 in advance for adults. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Long Branch Farm, Millwood, Va. Call 800-277-2675 or see www.vintagevirginia.com.

SATURDAY: Saturday Chef Series -- cooking demonstration with food and wine pairing featuring Taberna del Alabardero chef Santi Zabaleta at Best Cellars. Free. 2-4 p.m. 1643 Connecticut Ave. NW. Call 202-387-3146.

SUNDAY: Rammy Awards gala and dinner prepared by chef of the year nominees. Sponsored by the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington. $200 for nonmembers. 5 p.m. Hilton Washington, 1919 Connecticut Ave. NW. Call 202-331-5990 or see www.ramw.org.

PLEASE NOTE: Space limitations sometimes prevent Food from publishing all submissions. For possible inclusion, send notices to: To Do, Food, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington D.C. 20071 or food@washpost.com. Submissions must be received at least 14 days prior to publication date.