My family has dozens of variations on this dish, and they all signify love and care to me.

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A portrait of Padma Lakshmi with a designed treatment next to an image of yogurt rice
Credit: Jacob Fox, Getty Images / Jon Kopaloff

With so many cultural influences from around the globe, America just might be the most exciting, delicious place to eat. Our series, American Food Today, guest-edited by award-winning cookbook author and TV host Padma Lakshmi celebrates the rich diversity of American food.

A bowl of savory, cool yogurt rice, studded with black mustard seeds and fried curry leaves, is my ultimate comfort food. It is the dish that reminds me most of home. My granny's home, my mother's home and now my own home after a long trip away.  We all have these treasured dishes from childhood, served in bowls on laps, to be devoured on back porches and verandas or simply eaten leaning against the kitchen counter. Ask any South Indian person, no matter how far they've wandered from their original roots, and they will tell you that nothing is more transportive or rejuvenating. When my cousin-sister Rajni gave birth, the first thing I did was put a pot of rice to boil and make sure we had enough yogurt and spices so I could take it to her in the hospital that very day.

Yogurt rice, or "curd rice," as it's referred to on the Indian subcontinent, is nurturing food. It's a lunchbox staple carried to school by millions of kids, or to the office in silver tiffin boxes stacked three and four high. It can be offered when your tummy is upset or served as the last course in a traditional wedding spread.

Yogurt rice can be made for pennies—it's really just yogurt (usually homemade), rice and salt, all items that are always on hand in an Indian household. You can add a variety of ingredients to embellish it, from pomegranate seeds to diced and fried ginger to cucumber to dried hot chiles refried and added before serving. Some add fresh green chiles, but others swear only red will do. My mother makes dozens of variations, and my granny makes totally different ones. Every family has their preferences, and we all have our favorite achars or pickles to complement our beloved curds and rice.

When I was a little girl, I remember eating yogurt rice on the cool marble floor in the summer months at my granny's home. She would serve it out of a huge metal bowl, her right hand plopping little mouthfuls into smaller individual bowls that each of us clutched, sitting in a circle around her. Her left hand was clean, and she turned the bowl with it to keep mixing perfect bites with her right. It is always most delicious when the yogurt and rice are kneaded together by hand, preferably by a loving elder. Even today, when my daughter Krishna asks for it, it must always be mixed by hand. A bowl of yogurt rice, to me, will forever signify love, care and a cool salty respite from all the spiciness of my Indian diasporic life.

Make Padma's Yogurt Rice

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Yogurt Rice
Credit: Jacob Fox

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Portions of this article first appeared in EatingWell Magazine, October 2021.