Friday, May 26, 2017

Curd Rice: A Short Primer

Something written for someplace that didn't quite work out.


This must have been a good five years before I started drinking and waking up the next morning searching, even mildly hoping for a hangover, if only to truly sympathize with the rest of the gang. They had all started drinking a decade before I, and their livers were less forgiving than mine.

I am most certain I would have woken up in that distant past in a small lightless house in a city in southern India and realized that I did not, at that point, care much for cooking. (It would change of course, everything would change.) I had just started living by myself and needed, however, to feed myself. The easiest thing to make, that morning, like countless other mornings in those early years of heady independence that adulthood brought, would have been curd rice.

There is a technical difference between curd and yoghurt, the latter a late discovery in the western world as a favoured semi-dessert of sorts. But the difference is not important. You may be forgiven if you use the words interchangeably.

At its simplest, curd rice is just curd mixed in with cooked rice. Add salt to taste. Eat with pickle or papad. This incredibly humble dish is deceptive in the cult fandom it inspires, especially in southern parts of India. In these constantly tropical climes, in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, if you should ask for more specifics, we treat curd as a final padlock to the digestive system. It is the last thing we eat at a meal, even after a dessert sometimes. We know that it cools down the tongue after the dance of spices from other dishes, and aids in digestion. Elsewhere in the country, curd is a drink, a dessert or a minor ingredient among an array of things to throw into the production of a recipe.

It is soul food.

Over the years, starting at lazy mornings when proper breakfasts were not an option to later, on mornings after nights of debauchery, I discovered that curd rice could work very well to soothe down hangovers and give that boost of brief life needed to get us back home in last night’s clothes, into our own beds. Over the years we learned to jazz it up a bit. Curd rice was now,

- with sesame seeds spluttered and chopped onions fried till translucent in coconut oil, with chopped tomatoes for the colour, and topped with fresh coriander leaves,

- with halved seedless green/black grapes and/or jewel-like pomegranate seeds and/or raisins and cashew nuts lightly toasted in ghee,

- with grated carrots and bits of this or that vegetables,

- combinations and permutations of the above.

Purists, like mother, would scoff at curd rice being breakfast. It ended a meal, she would say, it was not the meal itself. But then she didn’t drink, or have hangovers, or ever have the option in the joint family she married into to have lazy mornings when dinner could be passed off as breakfast.

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