If you’ve ever wondered what Top Chef judge Padma Lakshmi cooks at home, look no further. Padma paid a visit to Health to share her quick and easy recipe for Yogurt Rice, a simple-yet-satisfying savory dish that Padma says she and her daughter Krishna make together in their kitchen at home. In this video, Padma shows Food Director Beth Lipton each step of this recipe—and gets Beth into the act, having her mix the rice, yogurt, and pomegranate seeds with her hands, rather than a stirring spoon, for the best results. To complete the dish, Padma adds sautéed lentils, herbs, and spices from her childhood, which she writes about in her new book The Encyclopedia of Spices and Herbs (Amazon, $24). The result is a savory vegetarian dish that can be served as a side or a satisfying midday snack.
Aside from the dish’s yummy flavor, its simple ingredients offer a handful of health benefits. The combination of jasmine rice and lentils provide a complete protein, which can help fuel your workout and aid in recovery. The yogurt’s calcium promotes bone health, and the curry leaves and pomegranate seeds are full of inflammation-fighting antioxidants. Also, the traditional Indian spice asafoetida is known to ease digestion.
And finally, this dish is super versatile, and you can adjust it for seasonality. While pomegranate seeds are delightful and easily found in grocery stores in winter, during the warmer months, you can swap in cucumber, for a cooling, crunchy topping. Watch this video to see a step-by-step demonstration and make it yourself.
Don’t have time to watch? Read the full transcript:
Beth Lipton: We are so excited to have the Emmy award-winning host of Top Chef, cookbook author and culinary expert Padma Lakshmi as a guest today. Today we’re going to make yogurt rice, made with Basmati rice from her line of frozen food products called Padma’s Easy Exotic.
Padma Lakshmi: This is a savory rice dish, which may seem unusual, but it’ll be familiar to Indian or Greek people, who use yogurt in savory dishes all the time. It’s easy to make and it’s great for vegetarian guests.
- Use your hands to combine the rice, yogurt, salt, and pomegranates (or cucumbers during the summer months). This is a good job for kids.
- Rip the curry leaves with your hands, rather than cutting them with a knife.
- You can swap out the regular yogurt with almond yogurt, as long as it’s plain and unsweetened.
Recipe: Yogurt Rice
5 cups cooked Basmati rice
4 cups plain whole-milk yogurt
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups peeled and diced English cucumbers, or 2 cups fresh pomegranate seeds
1/4 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons white gram lentils (urad dal, found at Indian grocery stores)
2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon asafoetida powder (found at Indian grocery stores)
1 to 2 medium chilies with seeds, diced, or more to taste
1 dozen fresh medium curry leaves, torn into small pieces
1. In a large bowl, combine the rice, yogurt, and salt, kneading them together with your hands. Then stir in the cucumber (in spring or summer) or the pomegranate seeds (in fall or winter). Set aside.
2. In a small sauté pan, heat the canola oil over medium heat. After a few minutes, when the oil is hot and shimmering, add in the lentils. When they’re just beginning to turn golden (after about 3 minutes), add in the mustard seeds and asafoetida powder. Stir briefly. You will hear a popping sound when the mustard seeds begin to cook.
3. After just a minute, when the popping becomes more frequent, add in the chilies and curry leaves. Stir for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat.
4. Pour the lentil-mustard oil over the rice mixture and stir well with a spoon.
5. This dish should be served at room temperature, or cold, and it’s great for a summer lunch or dinner. If you’re making it ahead, just stir in a bit of water to loosen it up before serving; it should have a porridge or oatmeal-like consistency.