Our restaurant editor finds home and healing in a bowl of this beloved Indian dish.

By Khushbu Shah
August 27, 2020
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Credit: Photo by Greg DuPree / Prop Styling by Claire Spollen / Food Styling by Chelsea Zimmer

There are foods that remind you that you are alive—gloriously funky, 
unapologetically spicy, fiercely sour. And then there are the foods that bring you to equilibrium—gentle, calming, and 
restorative. As the restaurant editor at Food & Wine, I spend many months on the road (in non-pandemic times) in search of the former. But after a 
seemingly endless stream of flights, cab rides, hotel check-ins and check-outs, harried airport snacks, and hundreds of restaurant meals, my entire being craves simplicity in the form of one dish: yogurt rice. It’s a childhood favorite that has become an adulthood staple.

In India, yogurt rice goes by many names: thayir sadam, dahi bhat, dahi chawal, mosaranna, curd rice—the list goes on. In many ways, yogurt rice is a uniting force in a country with so many regions and distinct cooking styles. It’s beloved all over—and throughout the diaspora—though South Indians can rightly argue that they perfected it.

At its very core, yogurt rice is exactly what it sounds like— plain yogurt mixed with white rice and a pinch or two of salt. You want to use full-fat yogurt, ideally homemade, and not Greek, which is too thick for this. The rice should be plump and cooled to about room temperature. While basmati is beloved in Indian cuisine, yogurt rice is best made with medium-grain rice (such as Kokuho Rose from Koda Farms) that clings together a bit.

From there, it’s very customizable: Some choose to loosen the dish with a few splashes of milk for a more porridge-like texture, while others add a generous spoonful of their favorite Indian pickle for a pop of salt and spice. For a little more heft, you can stir in a heap of grated carrots or crown the bowl with ruby red pomegranate arils. My personal preference, on the rare occasion I’m not feeling incredibly lazy, is to make a tadka, where I pop mustard seeds, urad dal (for crunch), a long red dried chile, and a handful of fresh curry leaves in hot oil and drizzle the mixture over the bowl. Yogurt rice is about doing whatever brings you the most comfort and the most joy.

After multi-week, multi-city stretches away, there is nothing quite as satisfying as the ritual of throwing my suitcase in a corner, setting rice to cook in my Instant Pot, and running out to the corner store for a tub of yogurt. You lose your sense of home on the road, and with that, grains of who you are. But I always manage to find it again, one spoonful at a time. Though my travel plans are now on indefinite pause, I still find myself reaching for bowls of yogurt rice. The world feels like it makes no sense, but I am seeking equilibrium.

Get the Recipe: Yogurt Rice