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If you could add any 2 things to this plate of rice, what would they be?

Padma Lakshmi posed a simple question on social media and it garnered a myriad different responses.
A bowl of rice is a blank canvas.
A bowl of rice is a blank canvas.TODAY Illustration / Getty Images

My husband’s family and mine couldn’t be more different. He’s from South Louisiana, comes from a family of hunters and gun collectors, while my parents are Indian immigrant vegetarian pacifiers who live in Minnesota. As one can imagine, their political leanings are quite opposite.

Besides their love for us, there’s one commonality that brings them together: rice.

This humble grain crosses all racial, cultural, political and socio-economic boundaries — and I know that from first-hand experience. Jambalaya, biryani, lightly salted, fluffy basmati rice that serves as a vessel for saag paneer and dal makhani, as well as étouffée, gumbo and slow-cooked red beans — the fragrant mélange of rice dishes always feels familiar to both our families, even when they’re trying something new.

Rice is a staple for billions of people, the perfect canvas for each of us to customize, adding our own flavor, color, heat and texture. The universal rice love was on display recently when "Top Chef" and "Taste the Nation" host Padma Laksmi posed a question on Instagram and Twitter: If you could only pick two ingredients to add to a plate of plain white rice, what would they be?

For such a simple question, it's a deceptively tough choice, particularly for those of us who love to dress up our everyday rice like she’s going to the Met Gala. Only two ingredients? This takes serious strategy.

Lakshmi chose ghee and chilies, and nearly 6,500 commenters — including chefs, celebrities and the rest of us plebiscites — shared their own creative takes. Black beans, hot sauce, kimchi, eggs and butter or ghee were among the most popular choices, and some took the liberty of adding whole cooked dishes to their rice, like adobo chicken thighs or Goan fish curry. One commenter got super creative with Lao Gan Ma and cut-up Popeyes chicken tenders (kudos for the outside-the-box thinking there).

Mindy Kaling chimed in with toasted sesame oil and fried shrimp, while Vallery Lomas, winner of "Life Is What You Bake It," went sweet and simple with butter and sugar. Bryan Ford, author of "New World Sourdough,” earned my husband’s approval with his choice of red beans and andouille sausage. Samah Dada, host of #Cooking on TODAY All Day, went with a double dose of the same thing: dal. Our own TODAY Senior Food Editor Emi Boscamp responded with soy sauce and an egg.

The Best Dal Ever

This isn’t the first time this question has lit up social; in August 2020, a Twitter user from Pakistan named Ali Qasim posed the same question, garnering more than 92,000 quote tweets.

One commenter on Lakshmi’s post summed up why it hit just right, saying, "The best thing about this post is the sheer diversity. A bowl of rice is such a quintessential part of almost all cultures," adding, "it is an irreplaceable part of our diet, culture, and identity."

Maybe bonding over rice should be added on the diplomatic agenda, ushering in a new era of world peace where we both express ourselves and appreciate each other’s differences. But one thing that’s not up for discussion? Rinsing the rice. Just do it, OK?