Cool, Creamy South Indian Yogurt Rice Is a Taste of Home and My Heritage

updated Apr 22, 2021
Kitchn Love Letters
Yogurt Rice

This classic South Indian dish, also known as curd rice, is cooling, comforting, and perfectly spiced.

Serves4 to 6

Prep10 minutes

Cook20 minutes to 23 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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garnished bowl of yogurt rice on a table
Credit: Brittany Conerly

Like many kids, I grew up with a strong distaste for spicy food. But seeing as I’m half South Indian, and chile peppers make a regular appearance in our cuisine, it wasn’t exactly easy to avoid. We’d often drive over to my extended family’s house on Saturday nights for dinner, and I have distinct memories of begging my parents to make me a grilled cheese before we went (or letting me order chicken nuggets from the Burger King drive-thru), despite the fact that my auntie had spent all day preparing an incredible vegetarian spread.

I rarely won these battles. But looking back, I’m grateful my parents never gave in because I eventually grew out of my aversion and came to love the deeply flavorful food of my heritage. My gateway? Yogurt rice.

Credit: Brittany Conerly

Yogurt Rice Is Cool, Creamy Comfort Food

Yogurt rice, also known as curd rice, is a South Indian staple. It’s as simple as it sounds — Basmati rice mixed with plain yogurt — but it’s the details that make it special. Sweet coconut, fragrant curry leaves, nutty dals, peppery mustard seeds, and buttery cashews lend flavor and texture. Chile peppers — both dried and fresh — are added too, although my auntie always left them out for me when she made yogurt rice. As a kid, I loved how the tender rice played off the creamy, tangy yogurt, and although I didn’t know it then, I had an innate taste for the citrusy, herbaceous curry leaves that pepper the dish.

Yogurt rice is typically served at the end of the meal, as it’s believed to help aid digestion and soothe the stomach after eating spicy food. I’d often pick at the other dishes at family dinners, knowing my hunger would be satisfied once the yogurt rice was brought out. Nowadays I eat the full spread ravenously, but yogurt rice remains the dish that provides me the greatest comfort, and I credit it for helping me develop a taste and appreciation for my culture.

The yogurt rice recipe I’m sharing here comes straight from my auntie Prabha. She learned how to make it from my late auntie Revathy, who was the one who made it with such care so many years ago. Today, I make yogurt rice when I’m craving a taste of home and my heritage, which means I’ve made it frequently in the past year. It’s light yet satisfying enough to be the main event, whether for breakfast, lunch, or dinner — the latter especially so as the weather continues to warm up. Or it can be served at the end of a South Indian meal, as is traditional. However you enjoy it, I hope it brings you as much comfort as it does to me.

Yogurt Rice

This classic South Indian dish, also known as curd rice, is cooling, comforting, and perfectly spiced.

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 20 minutes to 23 minutes

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups

    water

  • 1 cup

    white basmati rice

  • 1/4 cup

    fresh, frozen, or dried unsweetened grated or shredded coconut

  • 1

    (1/2-inch) piece fresh ginger

  • 1

    fresh green Indian or serrano pepper

  • 1/4 cup

    lightly packed fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems

  • 1 cup

    whole or reduced fat milk

  • 2 cups

    plain whole-milk yogurt (not Greek)

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 2 tablespoons

    vegetable oil

  • 1

    dried red chile, such as Guntur Sannam, cayenne, or arbol

  • 2 teaspoons

    black or brown mustard seeds

  • 2 teaspoons

    chana dal (dried split chickpeas)

  • 2 teaspoons

    skinned urad dal (dried split matpe beans)

  • 15

    fresh curry leaves

  • 2 tablespoons

    roasted cashew halves and pieces, preferably unsalted

  • Pinch asafoetida (hing) powder

Instructions

  1. Bring 1 1/2 cups water to a boil in a covered small saucepan over high heat. Meanwhile, place 1 cup basmati rice in a fine-mesh strainer. Rinse under cool running water until the water runs clear. Drain well.

  2. Stir the rice into the boiling water. Bring back to a gentle simmer. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook until the water is absorbed, 18 to 20 minutes. Meanwhile, thaw 1/4 cup grated frozen coconut, or add a little hot water to 1/4 cup dried coconut to plump up and rehydrate. Peel and finely grate 1/2-inch piece fresh ginger (about 1 teaspoon). Trim and thinly slice 1 Indian green or serrano pepper crosswise into rounds (remove the seeds if you prefer milder heat).

  3. Remove the saucepan of rice from the heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Uncover, fluff with a fork, transfer to a large bowl. Pour 1 cup whole or reduced fat milk over the rice. Let stand, stirring occasionally, until the rice is cooled to room temperature and almost all the milk is absorbed, about 10 minutes.

  4. Stir in the coconut, 2 cups plain yogurt, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt.

  5. Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a small saucepan or skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Break 1 dried red chile into small pieces with your hands and add it to the pan. Add the sliced pepper, 2 teaspoons mustard seeds, 2 teaspoons chana dal, and 2 teaspoons skinned urad dal. Stir to coat with the oil and reduce the heat to medium-low.

  6. Cook, stirring often so they evenly toast, until the dals turn golden brown and the mixture smells nutty, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the ginger, 15 fresh curry leaves, 2 tablespoons cashews, and a pinch of asafoetida, and stir to combine. Remove from the heat.

  7. Scrape the spiced oil into the yogurt rice and stir to combine. Transfer to individual serving bowls or one large serving bowl, and garnish with the chopped cilantro before serving.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The yogurt rice, with the spiced oil but without the cilantro, can be made a day ahead. Refrigerate in an airtight container and let come to room temperature before garnishing and serving.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.