Some of you might wonder why curd-rice should merit a post of its own, but to understand that, to misquote Atticus Finch, you’d have to wear a South Indian’s shoes and walk around in them.
Curd, or yogurt, and more specifically curd-rice, is mighty important stuff to a South Indian. When my in-laws visit, they are happy enough to drink their coffee with soymilk and they love the vegan sweets I make, including dairy-free Indian sweets. But when it comes to curd-rice, they just have to have the real thing — at every meal. I remember a Tamil friend’s father who, no matter which part of the country he was traveling in and how hungry he was, would refuse to eat at a restaurant unless he could order curd-rice.
Not surprisingly then curd-rice is often the last barrier that stands between a South Indian vegetarian and a vegan life — just like cheese is what keeps many people here in the United States from taking the plunge. One of the most frequent queries in my mailbox, perhaps THE most frequent, is for a vegan substitute for curd-rice.
When the reader is in the United States, it’s usually an easy answer: soy yogurt, which is quite easily found in grocery stores here and which I use when I want to make curd-rice. But soy yogurt is not available in India and, honestly, not everyone has it on hand at all times.
I’d been wanting to test a curd-rice recipe with tofu — which is more readily found almost anywhere in the world now– but I was only really motivated last week when I got a query from a mom who said her daughter can’t eat yogurt because of food allergies. “Recently she has started noticing that mommy and daddy eat rice with curd, so why cant I? It’s hard to explain to a 2 yr old!” she wrote.
I typed off an email to her suggesting tofu, but then I realized I had taken the easy way out: after all, I couldn’t really vouch for a recipe with tofu as a substitute for yogurt unless I had actually tried it, could I?
So I did, and it turned out so good that my Tamil hubby, Desi, who is not a vegan and does love his curd-rice, said he couldn’t tell the difference. In fact, he said it was better than any curd-rice he’d ever tasted. This is the more elaborate version of curd-rice: it takes just a few seconds longer to make because you need to add to it a handful of tempered spices and nuts which make it absolutely ethereal.
My vegan version of curd-rice is also healthier because tofu has none of the cholesterol that curd does, and it is also chock-full of protein.
Here’s the recipe then, for all curd-rice lovers out there who want to be compassionate without depriving themselves. Curd-rice goes particularly well with eggplant. Try this with a dry, roasted eggplant curry or with an eggplant-green-pepper gotsu, like the one I made.
1 cup rice, cooked
For the tofu yogurt:
1 12-oz package of silken firm tofu (if you can’t find silken tofu, just use drained, soft tofu)
3/4 cup soymilk
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
Place all the ingredients in a blender and blitz until you have a very smooth paste. Set aside. (If you like your yogurt too sour or too sweet, you will want to adjust the amount of lemon juice. My measurement is for the “just right” version.)
For the tempering:
1 tsp canola or sesame oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 sprig curry leaves
1 tbsp grated ginger
1/4 cup peanuts
1 tbsp udad dal (black gram dal)
2 dry red chillies
A generous pinch of asafetida
Heat the oil in a small skillet. Add the mustard seeds and when they crackle, add the asafetida and the red chillies.
Immediately add the udad dal and the peanuts. Toast on a low flame until the dal and peanuts start to turn lightly golden-brown.
Add the curry leaves and ginger to the skillet, mix, and immediately turn off the heat.
Place the rice and tofu yogurt in a large bowl and pour the tempering over the top. Mix well.
Add more salt, if needed.