This very simple dish has been one of my favorite ways to eat rice since my childhood days when I first fell in love with Tamilian cuisine in – of all places – Bokaro, the town in eastern India where I was born and lived until I was 16. Some of my earliest memories are of eating steaming hot sambaar, idlis, and sometimes thayir sadam, in the home of our neighbors the Ramachandrans, whose daughter Aparna was my dearest friend when we were both 4 or 5, and in whose home I therefore often ended up eating my meals after she and I had played together.
So it was disappointing when Indira and Noor did not like it much at all when I made this dish some years ago when they were much younger. But that was then, I thought to myself, as I decided to give it another try last week. Surely their love of both the main components-rice and yogurt- would make it acceptable in their lunch boxes?And I would not go by the recipe in a book this time, I figured, but get it instead from someone who I could go back to till I got it right! So I asked my Tamilian colleague Radha one lunch hour last week to give me a step-by-step download on how she and her mother make the dish in their kitchen.
A good decision,as it turned out, because Radha gave me some useful tips as well and the result was two very satisfied girls, and some more children who liked it too (“Ameya and Vrushi loved it !”, said Noor, and “Yes, Zara and Munira loved it too!”, said Indira).
I did make one significant change to Radha’s recipe – she suggested adding some pomegranate seeds (a tablespoon or 2) at the end but since Indira doesn’t like this fruit at all, I substituted it for lentils since I seem to remember having come across this version of the dish over the years.
Tamilians usually eat this dish at the end of a meal – they say it helps with digestion and cools the stomach after all the spicy food that comes before – but I can eat this any time!
Thayir Sadam/Yogurt Rice
Cooked Rice – 1 cup
Yogurt (not too sour, especially if you’re going to make and keep the dish for an hour or more before serving it) – 1/2 cup
Milk (for a creamier taste, use 100% rather than low-fat) – 1/2 a cup
7-8 curry leaves
1 green chilli, finely chopped OR 1 dried red chilli, broken in half (optional)
1 or 1 and a 1/2 tablespoons of chana daal (split black chickpea lentils), soaked for at least a couple of hours OR urad daal (skin less black gram lentils)
1/a teaspoon of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 a teaspoon of mustard seeds
1/2 a tablespoon of sunflower oil or ghee
1/2 a tablespoon of finely chopped fresh coriander leaves
Salt to taste
Drain the lentils and keep aside. Whisk the yogurt a little, to dissolve any lumps, then add the milk and blend the two well. Put the rice in to a mixing bowl, and mash a little (if you don’t mind doing this with your hand, you’ll be rewarded with a really soft, creamy thayir sadam). Now add the yogurt and milk mixture along with the salt, and stir it all together thoroughly.
To finish – in a small tempering pan, heat the oil/ghee, add the mustard seeds and wait till they splutter. Now add the curry leaves, and after a few seconds the lentils, and fry everything over low heat till the lentils are really quite soft to bite in to. Half-way through, add the ginger so that it’s fried a little by the time the lentils are done. Now add the green chilli, the asafoetida, fry for just a few seconds and then pour the whole mixture over the rice. Add the coriander also, now, and then mix everything in well.
Radha and another Tamilian colleague – our accounts manager Venu who, like many Tamilian men, is a great cook ! – tell me this dish is best eaten cold, so they each suggested leaving it in the refrigerator for some time before serving. Personally though, I prefer eating it at room temperature.
With a quick-to-make dry vegetable dish such as beans poriyal or cabbage poriyal on the side, this makes for a soothing, simple and delicious meal, full of gentle but distinctive flavor.
A tip about the rice – long-grained rice will not do justice to this dish. Use a short-grain variety such as the ambe mor of Maharashtra,called mango blossom in English. Another thing, about the yogurt-milk mixture – if the dish is going to be kept for several hours before eating, as is the case when it’s prepared to carry as “tiffin” for a long-ish train journey or for a picnic, then use less than a quarter cup of yogurt, and make up the rest of the cup with milk. This is done because in warmer places, the milk will curdle and form yogurt by the time the dish is eaten, thus avoiding a too-sour taste that would result from more yogurt than just a few spoons at the start.
Some interesting trivia (source-wikipedia) about this dish – “In the state of Tamil Nadu it is so popular that this food is one of the chief offerings to the God in many Shiva and Vaishnavite Temples which is later distributed as ‘prasadam’ (blessed food) to devotees. Here this is called by a different name ‘dadhiannam’/ “dadyodanam” (Tamil script:ததியன்னம்/ தத்தியோதனம்) Sanskrit दधि dadhi=curd + अन्नं annam = cooked rice.”