Yogurt Rice: Thayir Choru

Milky white yogurt spooned on top of the last course of white rice, served on green plantain leaves, to be enjoyed with some seasonal pickle—for the South Indian born, it is the taste of heaven. We are perfectly satisfied with an entire meal of yogurt rice and pickles. The preparation of yogurt rice is simple, but it is also a complex affair, with as many variations of the process as there are consumers. For starters, the balance of rice and yogurt differs with each hand that blends it. Some like a cake-like firmness, while others want it to dribble sensuously from the serving spoon. Some add milk to make it less sour, while others insist that the yogurt should be set to reach the right sour-sweet balance.

Thayir choru is also an easy way to use leftover plain rice. Freshly grated ginger and green chilies complement the tanginess of the yogurt. This dish is always served cold or at room temperature.

4 cups cooked rice, at room temperature
Salt to taste
1½ cups thick plain yogurt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1½ teaspoons each cleaned urad dal and chana dal
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cashew nuts
3 fresh green chilies (serrano or Thai), thinly sliced (less for a milder taste)
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
15 to 20 fresh curry leaves

In a large bowl, combine rice, salt, and yogurt and stir well. Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat and add the mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds start sputtering, add urad dal, chana dal, and cashew nuts. When the dal and cashews start turning golden brown (in about thirty seconds), add green chilies, grated ginger, and curry leaves and keep stirring for a minute or two. Remove the skillet and pour this spice blend over the rice and yogurt. Stir and mix well. Serve with pappadams and pickles.

This old recipe has evolved over the years to include various ingredients for added crunch. Finely diced raw mango, carrot, cucumber, grape, pineapple, and pomegranate have all become favorite additions to embellish this simple dish.
Makes 4½ to 5 cups.

AMMINI RAMACHANDRAN