A precept that is big in the software engineering world (my other life) is that development should happen in phases, but each phase should be releasable as a full-fledged product.
This precept was very much on my mind as I made yogurt rice for dinner the other evening. I’ll tell you why.
Now yogurt rice (otherwise known as curd rice; mossaru anna in Kannada, daddojanam in Telugu, bagala bath in Tamil) is a South Indian recipe that I hadn’t even heard of till adulthood. But had I ever eaten yogurt rice? Of course! Every single day of my tender young life I had yogurt rice for lunch. Yogurt rice with cauliflower, yogurt rice with ketchup (don’t ask), yogurt rice with papad, yogurt rice with sookha aalu, yogurt rice with pickles. If you pierced my veins you would probably have had thick and pulpy yogurt rice squirt out.
Sorry about that image. Here’s the point I’m trying to make. Short of the fancy ‘yogurt rice’ recipe with every bell and whistle, simply mixing yogurt with rice achieves a serviceable product. While being quite ricey and quite yogurty and cooling, it is its own thing with a very distinctive fragrance. That is your first iterative product — simply mix yogurt with rice. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
Iteration 1: Mix it up
Cook about a cup of long-grained rice with some salt. Let it cool a bit, break lumps with your fingers, then mix in about a cup of plain yogurt nicely. You are done with your first product. This is a great accompaniment to any spicy vegetable dish or pickle. Or heck, dot it with ketchup, scoop up a dot in each bite, but don’t tell people this idea came from me.
Iteration 2: Salad it up
Now for the second iteration we throw in some crunchy salady ingredients to brighten the flavors. Imagine luscious smooth cooling yogurt rice with the occasional crunchy freshness, perhaps a couple in each bite. Chop up 2-3 scallions, greens and all; and perhaps a quarter of a deseeded cucumber into tiny cubes, and mix it into the yogurt rice.
Iteration 3: Spice it up
Yogurt rice is soothing and cooling. Perhaps too cooling and too soothing? We need to add some sweet, sweet pain. This calls for heat from two sources: green chilies, and ginger. Thinly slice one serrano chili, or a few smaller bird’s eye chilies, or one jalapeno. Also slice half an inch piece of ginger into strips. Mix those into the rice. Still in keeping with the salad theme, we do not cook these last ingredients but keep them fresh.
Iteration 4: Season it up
Now lets add a tadka. For the non-Indians, ‘tadka’, ‘vaghaar’ or ‘baghaar’ is a very standard method of finishing up many, many recipes: heat a bit of oil or ghee, throw in some whole or ground spices and / or aromatics, let them cook, and throw that seasoned fat into the dish and mix it in. So let us tadka the yogurt rice. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a little pan; when it shimmers, put in the following: a few sprinkles of asafetida; when it foams, put in a teaspoon of deskinned udid dal; when they start to turn reddish, put in a teaspoon of mustard seeds; when they pop, put in about 6 curry leaves. When they shrivel, it is time to turn off the heat and mix it into the rice.
Iteration 5: Fancy it up
What is expensive, nutritious and will allow you to charge 50 cents more for this dish? Cashews! In the same pan as the seasonings, put in a drop more oil, and put in a quarter cup whole cashews to roast. Once they darken in various places, turn off the heat, and mix it into the rice.
Iteration 6: Sweet touch it up
Now for the kicker — the last step that I didn’t even know about when I made this dish, but was told to me by my friend Rashmi after: put in about a quarter cup of pomegranate kernels and mix it in to distribute evenly throughout the rice. Can’t wait to try the 6th iteration of this dish the next time I make it!