Rice doesn’t get much respect. In these low-carb days of penny-pinching austerity, it’s one of the few foods restaurants will still provide for no additional charge. It’s more condiment than main dish, i.e. unless someone’s throwing it at you after your wedding, it kind of blends into the landscape. At least that’s what I thought until I fell in love. The object of my affection is an Indian dish called “tayyar shaadum” which apparently translates to “rice with yogurt and mustard seeds,” according to Raghavan Iyer, who included the recipe in his outstanding book “660 Curries.” Two ingredients make this dish unique. First is the yogurt, which creates a creamy consistency, no risotto-style, stove-side stirring required. The second is the Indian cooking method of quickly stir frying uncooked lentils, infusing them with a nutty, smoky flavor that combines nicely with the tartness of the yogurt. The fried lentils add such a wonderful flavor and texture that I have quadrupled the amount recommended by Iyer. I always eat the rice with an Indian lentil dish but it would make a delicious accompaniment to almost any meat or vegetable dish that is generally served with or alongside rice.
Iyer describes the dish as “soul-satisfying..comfort food.” I find it a bit more exotic than that. But the novelty may soon wear off. I have been craving and cooking this dish at least once a week for the past two months.
Rice with yogurt and mustard seeds
Adapted from 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer
1 cup rice (I have successfully used white and brown rice. Iyer recommends Basmati rice.)
2 cups yogurt (For best results, use thick Greek yogurt)
1 and 1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt or to taste
2 tablespoons oil (Iyer recommends canola.)
1 tsp black or yellow mustard seeds
4 tablespoons dried lentils (Iyer recommends urad dal –skinned, split black lentils but I suspect many different types of lentils would work including the ordinary greenish brownish kind you find in your local grocery. )
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro leaves and stems (Parsley also works.)
12-15 fresh curry leaves, finely chopped (optional)
3-5 fresh green Thai or serrano chilies, finely chopped (Add fewer chillies if you dislike spicy food.)
Iyer offers elaborate instructions for cooking the rice. I have had good luck simply cooking my rice according to package instructions, using the amount of water he recommends (1 and 1/2 cups.) I have also used left-over Chinese take-out rice with decent results. Brown or white basmati rice are ideal.
While the rice cooks, whisk salt into yogurt. A large measuring cup is ideal for this task because it can later double as a (admittedly inelegant) serving vessel for the completed dish. Chop cilantro, chillies and optional curry leaves by hand or, if available, in a mini-food processor.
Heat oil in small skillet over medium-high heat. Add mustard seeds. Cover skillet. Seeds will begin to make a popcorn-like noise. When the noise stops, uncover the skillets and add the lentils. Stir fry 15-20 seconds, until lentils turn golden brown. Remove skillet from heat and add cilantro, chillies and curry leaves, standing back because oil will spatter. Scrape this into the salted yogurt.
Add rice to yogurt. Mix well