Khichdi–A Comfort Food

Khichdi is India’s comfort food, made from rice and lentils. The word “khichdi” and its alternate spellings khichri, khicheri, cutcheree, kedgeree and kushari come from a Sanskrit word “khicca,” meaning rice and pulses based dish.

Authentic khichdi is considered a light, nutritious meal, devoid of strong spices. It is an easy alternative for infants, sick people, and those with more fragile constitutions. It is appreciated by many who follow the Saatvik diet (Ayurveda). The moist version, given to invalids, is called “gini-kitchri” and the dry version of “bhuni-kitchri” is for general consumption. It appears that khichdi is the traditional daily meal of the Kutch people (near Gujarat) and they make several varieties of it. French traveler, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, who came to India six times during 1640–1685, mentions that khichdi was prepared with green lentils, rice and butter and that it was a typical peasant evening meal. Even before that, Seleucus Nicator, a Greek ambassador (ca. 358 BC–281 BC), records the popularity of this rice and pulses meal in South Asia.

Mughal cooks certainly knew how to take a simple country food from the streets and enrich it in the palace kitchens for royals. They are the ones who gave this humble meal, a rich gourmet appeal. During the Mughal dynasty (1400—1700s), the traditional khichdi went through various adaptations. They made it rich by adding strong spices, dry fruits and nuts. In Ain-i-Akbari, a 16th century document about King Akbar, Abu’l Fazl mentions nearly seven variations of khichdi preparations A Russian adventurer, Afanasiy Nikitin, who traveled to India during the 16th century, declared that the Mughal Emperor Jahangir popularized this dish and it is believed that Emperor Aurangzeb was particularly fond of khichdi.

During the British colonial rule (1858— 1947), the khichdi recipe was modified to suit the  Anglo Indian palate, by adding fish and eggs to the ingredients. Kedgeree, as it was called, became popular during the British era as a staple breakfast food. It soon spread outside India to the UK during the reign of Queen Victoria.

According to one hypothesis, however, the dish originated in Scotland; it was taken to India by Scottish troops during the colonial period, where it was said to have become part of Indian cuisine. Later the dish found its way back to UK. This hypothesis is documented in The Scottish Kitchen, by Christopher Trotter, a National Trust for Scotland book. Trotter traced the origins of kedgeree to books dating back to the year 1790. Despite that, general opinion still considers khichdi a quintessential wholesome, mildly spiced Indian dish.

 


Gujarat Khichdi

Ingredients
1 cup long grain rice
½ cup split mung lentils (moong dal)
salt to taste
¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
3 green chilies, sliced
1 large onion, sliced
10 cashew nuts
15 raisins
1 bay leaf
3 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon ghee

Method

Heat ghee in a wide crock pot, fry cashew nuts and raisins till they turn to golden brown. Set them aside.

In the same oil, add bay leaf, cinnamon stick and cloves. Followed by green chillies and onions, fry till they turn golden brown.

Stir-in rice and lentils. Add salt, turmeric and three cups of water. Cover and cook over medium heat for 10-12 minutes. Once the rice and lentils are tender, remove from heat.

Garnish with fried cashew nuts and raisins.

Serve warm as a main course.

Tamil Nadu Khicheri

Ingredients
1 cup basmati rice
¼ cup split pigeon peas (thuvar dal)
3 dry red chilies
4 cloves garlic
1 large onion, chopped
salt to taste
¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
3 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
oil few teaspoons

Method

Heat oil in a wide crock pot. Add whole spices and let this sizzle for a minute.

Add chilies, garlic and onions and fry for two minutes.

Stir-in rice and lentils. Add three cups of water, salt and turmeric. Cover and cook over medium heat for 10-12 minutes. Once the rice and lentils are tender, remove from heat.

Serve warm as a main course.

Variations: While tempering and cooking methods remains the same, one could use wide range of lentils for variations. Like whole green gram, black lentils, chick peas, horse gram, etc.

Malar Gandhi is a freelance writer who specializes in Culinary Anthropology and Gourmet Indian Cooking. She also blogs about Indian food at www.kitchentantra.com

Categories   Lifestyle  / Recipes 
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