Thayir sadam, or (yogurt) curd rice, is a delicious chilled rice dish common throughout southern India, and it is a great strategy for preserving leftover rice for the next meal. Thayir sadam can be made quite thick and chunky, as I have here, or mashed to the pudding stage, or thinned with milk through to a near-liquid stage resembling the yogurt drink, lassi. Moreover, thayir sadam can be flavoured any way you might like it, with whatever whole spices and powders are to hand. It is highly adaptable, a make-ahead dish that can last days in the fridge, and is easy to pull out as the starch of a main meal or as a snack. I’ve been enjoying it this week for breakfast, although I admit the heat of the chilies is not a great partner for coffee.
The success of thayir sadam owes a lot to the food chemistry involved. The first imperative is to work with hot rice (this is where the ‘keep warm’ function on your rice cooker earns its keep). The straight-chain starches of long-grain rice set very hard if they do not have sufficent water molecules among them as they cool; you’ve noticed this with leftovers, I know. Coating rice in a wet sauce (milk, then yogurt) before it cools will ensure that there is ample water present to run interference between the amylose starch molecules and keep the grains reasonably soft. This recipe is for long-grain rice, but shorter-grained rices (like sushi rice) respond even better to cooling or indeed even freezing. My second suggestion is to choose a fuller-fat yogurt, such as a “greek-style,” which is still mostly water but does come with some fat (typically about 10% by weight). The spices involved in this salad, especially the chilies, can curdle dairy product just like heat can, but incorporating fat in the mix will offer some protection, this time by interfering with proteins rather than starches. If all you have in your fridge is skinny yogurt, then I suggest mixing a little ghee or melted butter (maybe a tablespoon’s-worth) into the rice after adding the yogurt (not before, or you’ll coat the grains and prevent the water from softening the cooling rice). So much science in a little bowl of rice…
This salad is best a little warmer than refrigerator-temperature, but a little chiller than room-. In other words, pretend it’s a blush. Come to think of it, a rose d’anjou wouldn’t be a bad wine match. Serve as a starch with an Indian meal, where this cooler temperature will be a contrast and a surprise. Or have it for breakfast with orange juice, if you like a little spice in your morning.
Tamil Rice and Yogurt Salad (Thayir Sadam)
10 minutes from cooked rice; serves four
2 cups hot cooked long-grain white rice, such as basmati
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup fuller-fat yogurt (Greek-style)
1/2 tsp salt
2 fresh green chilies
1″ peeled fresh ginger
1 Tbsp sunflower or canola oil
1 tsp brown mustard seeds
1/4 tsp gluten-free asafoetida powder
small handful of dried curry leaves (about a dozen)
1. Mix the milk with the rice, then the yogurt, then the salt. Consider if you might like it wetter, with more milk, bearing in mind that it will set somewhat as it cools.
2. Mince the chilies with their seeds. Finely grate the ginger, keeping the juice. Mix all of this into the rice.
3. Heat the oil in a small heavy frying pan over medium flame. Add the mustard seeds and when they stat to pop add the asafoetida and the curry leaves. Off-heat roll them around for a few seconds more and stir them into the rice.
4. Refrigerate. To serve, let warm just a little and taste for salt.