Why It Works
- Infusing the yogurt with fried garlic enhances the flavor.
- Adding cooked rice to the yogurt instead of cooking it in the yogurt from the beginning allows you to control the consistency.
Labaniyeh bil ruz is a tangy, garlicky porridge of yogurt and rice that falls somewhere between risotto and congee. It’s lighter on the stomach and easier to prepare than risotto, and you don’t have to worry about maintaining that distinctive al dente bite. Compared to congee, the rice grains in labaniyeh bil ruz retain some of their texture, and the dish has a sharper, more pronounced flavor profile.
Traditionally, Arab yogurts were made in springtime from sheep’s milk and preserved through salting or drying, resulting in either jameed (blocks of dried salted yogurt) or kishek (a powder made of yogurt mixed with bulgur, left out to dry then ground). This process made yogurt a very sour and salty ingredient with a distinct fermented flavor. While both those ingredients are still used today to make traditional dishes like mansaf, the ready availability of fresh yogurt year round, and its more mild flavor, mean people will more often than not opt for the easier-to-use fresh variety for day-to-day meals like this one.
When fresh yogurt is cooked and the whey evaporates, its acidity becomes more pronounced. This plays nicely with fried garlic, which is added off-heat for a sauce that's extremely pungent and creamy. It's a combination is reminiscent of those traditional fermented flavors, but definitely more palatable for the uninitiated.
Although this dish is most often made with leftover rice or leftover cooked yogurt sauce, it’s so simple that I’ve made it countless times from scratch. The rice most often used in Arab countries is Egyptian, which is a medium grain rice closest to Calrose here in the US. However, it would be perfectly acceptable to make it with any other medium (such as jasmine) or short grain rice. The resulting flavor would be almost identical, but you might need to adjust water content slightly to get the right consistency. Basmati rice is not ideal for this dish, though, as its grain is quite thin compared to other varieties and it would therefore not absorb as much flavor.
Given its light color and creamy texture, you might expect something heavy or greasy to hit your palate. But because it's made with yogurt, not cream, it's light on the stomach. I like to to finish it with crushed dried mint and a sprinkle of nuts for some contrasting crunch. I most often use fried pine nuts, but slivered almonds would work just as well. In the summer, I like to serve it with a Gazan relish known as dagga, which is essentially a salsa of very finely chopped tomatoes and green chilies dressed with lemon, olive oil, salt, and crushed dill seeds.
- 1 pound (450g) full-fat plain or Greek yogurt
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- Kosher or sea salt
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon (5ml) fresh lemon juice (optional)
- 2 cups (about 11 ounces; 310g) cooked plain medium- or short-grain white rice,
- 1/4 cup (1 ounce; 25g) toasted or fried pine nuts or slivered almonds, for garnish (optional)
- Crushed dried mint, for garnish (optional)
In a 3- to 4-quart stainless-steel saucepan or enameled Dutch oven, combine yogurt, 2 cups (475ml) water, and cornstarch and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly to prevent curdling (you do not want the yogurt to break into curds, so constant whisking until it boils is absolutely essential). Reduce heat to a bare simmer, whisking occasionally to prevent scorching. Season with salt.
While the yogurt simmers, combine olive oil and garlic in a small skillet and set over medium heat. Cook, stirring and swirling the skillet often, until garlic is fragrant but not browned, 1 to 2 minutes.
Pour the garlic and its oil into the yogurt and stir. The sauce should be quite sour, but will vary based on the yogurt used; add optional lemon juice, if needed.
Stir rice into the yogurt until well combined; season with salt, if needed. Increase heat slightly and bring to a simmer, then cook, stirring often, until you reach a porridge-like consistency similar to a thin risotto or rice pudding, about 15 minutes; you may need to add more water depending on the rice you are using, but keep in mind that the consistency will also thicken as it cools.
To serve, ladle the rice into shallow bowls and, if using, top with the toasted nuts and/or dried mint.
To reheat any leftovers, add water and reheat slowly on the stove, adjusting seasoning if needed.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Labaniyeh bil ruz can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Reheat slowly on the stovetop, thinning with water and adjusting seasoning as needed.