Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Humble Beginnings: Khichdi

In a country as diverse as India, where language, religion, clothes, celebrations....anything you name,  changes within a few miles, the humble Khichdi holds fort as one unifying force. Gujrat may like its khichdi with Kadhi, and the Southern states may call it Pongal, it still remains a rice and lentil comfort food across India. In Eastern India, it represents traditional Pooja food. At many Kali Baris in Calcutta and at the Jagannath temple in Orissa, we've been handed this out as Prasad after a Pooja. Around the locations that I'm familiar with- Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi- it is a simple dish strictly meant for family times, never ever made for guests or visitors. According to Wikipedia, Khichdi, believed to have originated in South Asia, went global with the British who concoct their own version with fish and eggs and call it Kedegree! And recently, I came across the mention of an Arabic dish called Mujahadra that is nothing but ....our Khichdi

For me, Khichdi is reminiscent of two distinct memories:
1) My dad's absolute dislike for it; which unknowingly we kids emulated for a large part of our childhood. He usually threw a fit if my mom ever made him eat it. HIs tag for khichdi was Bimaron-ka-khana and the only way he ever ate it was with lots of red chilli tadka to go with it.

2) In contrast, the other memory is that of soothingly warm, hot-from-the-stove khichdi on a blustery, cold afternoon that my mom served with a generous amount of warm molten ghee and crispy papad. Since daddy was never home for lunch, this was my mom's favorite time to make khichdi. There were times we grudged the seeming simplicity of this after-school lunch, but there's no denying it's melt-in-your-mouth comfort.

(Rice and Lentil Pilaf)

Short-grain rice 1 measure
Green Mung beans, split kind 1 measure
Water 3 measures
Salt to taste
Hing/asafoetidia a pinch (optional)
Ghee 1 Tbsp
Jeera/Cumin seeds 1tsp

  1. Wash and soak the rice and mung beans together for 30 min. 
  2. In a pressure cooker, splutter the cumin seeds in ghee. Add the pinch of hing to hot oil. 
  3. Immediately add the rice and beans (without the water).
  4. Season with salt, add the turmeric. Quickly stir for a couple of minutes.
  5. Add 3 measures of water, and pressure cook for 2-3 whistles. Turn off the stove.
  6. Allow the pressure to release slowly on its own.
  7. Serve hot with a dollop of ghee on it!

My two cents:  In an old Indian movie,there is a reference to Khichdi. Translated, it roughly means that only commoners eat Khichdi; the royals dine on Dal-Pulao - and no one is any wiser.  Every family, state and region has made khichdi it's own in it's own distinctive way. But this version here is the one I grew up with. This is one more dish that can be dressed up as much as you like. Add cloves and bay leaf to the tempering, vegetables and garam masala, and you raise it to a whole another level. In its simplest avatar, the consistency of khichdi best resembles a creamy risotto. Typically, it is served with pickles, yogurt, a simple salad and papad on the side. Not to forget- that huge dollop of ghee on top. :-)

I like mine with a sweet and spicy lemon pickle, and papad crumbled on top for an extra crunch. Life couldn't get any more comforting than that.....especially on a lazy, cold winter afternoon.