Living the Good Life…

My food blog & cookbook in progress

Khichidi

I think that khichidi is the original meal-in-one dish. At least in our part of the world (India) where like the Indian gods, it has many regional avataars, and from where it has travelled to at least two countries that I know about for sure. It came to England, where it became the unspeakable breakfast food they call kedgeree (Clarence Threepwood, Earl of Emsworth, may have loved it but not even his creator credited him with great intelligence or taste, merely amiability and absent-mindedness) and to Egypt, where it took on a less water-logged (appropriately enough considering its environs) appearance and became transformed into the local favorite, koshari, which I must confess I love too. (More on that staple in my other blog)

But to return to the roots, khichidi. I’m transliterating it the way the Punjabis say the word – folks more genteel than I might prefer to call it khichiree. Incidentally the word is also used colloquially in Northern India to denote a mixture or confusion of things in many non-culinary situations. It is a mixture of rice and one (sometimes more) of several daals cooked together, usually with a generous dollop of butter, till it resembles the consistency of mashed potatoes or risotto maybe, but without the al dente nuttiness of the latter. The daal of choice is usually moong* though a slightly drier khitchidi may be made with chana daal.

Basic recipe:

Mix together 1 cup rice and 1/3 to 1/2 cup moong* daal**, wash drain and add to a pot with a little more than twice the volume of water. Add salt to taste, a pat of butter and a pinch of turmeric (optional). Bring mixture to a boil and then turn heat to lowest setting, and let cook covered until most of the rice is absorbed. Stir and add more water if it gets too dry. If serving immediately, spoon some melted butter over the top. You may flavor the cooking water with some powdered cumin or ginger if you wish. It enhances the flavor. Some people like to add a pinch of asafoetida to the cooking liquid as well, especially when using the whole daals.

* Any type of moong may be used for khichidi. The split daals cook faster than the whole so may be added along with the rice. If using whole moong, I recommend soaking the daal for at least a couple of hours ahead of time, and also to cook the daal partially first, before adding additional water and the rice.

** The pink split masoor daal also works well and in exactly the same way as moong.

**(2) If using channa daal, be sure to begin cooking the daal in water for at least 15 minutes (even half an hour) before adding rice. If possible Soak this daal in advance.

Serving suggestions for khichidi

1. As is with yogurt and hot pickles/chutney on the side.

2. Guju style with a tangy buttermilk broth called kadi.

3. Hyderabadi style with a minced meat keema.

Pongal

Pongal is the South Indian khichidi, made of the same basic ingredients – rice, daal and butter (ghee actually), but it’s dressed up differently and ironically, for what I consider a comfort food, holds center stage during the harvest festival in South India, which goes by the same name. Actually it’s not surprising that a harvest festival should celebrate the main bounty from the Earth, namely grain. Both at the festival and at other times, Pongal is a breakfast food, and you’ll often likely to find vendors (especially at train stations) hawking them along with vadais (crispy lentil fritters shaped like doughnuts) with a generous dollop of coconut chutney as a condiment.

The key difference between Pongal and khichidee are the seasonings – while khichidee is fairly simple, Pongal, as befits its festive purpose is garnished richly with cashews fried in butter, and flavored with fresh ginger and cumin. First heat some ghee in a pan along with some cumin seed. When the seeds begin to crackly add a few whole black peppercorns and fresh ginger cut up into a small dice. Stir for a few seconds and then add about 2 1/2 times the water as the amount of rice+daal you intend to cook. When the water comes to a boil, add a pinch of salt and the grains: using a quarter to a third of a cup of moong daal (sometimes toor may be used) to one  cup of rice. When the mixture comes to a boil once more, turn the heat to low, and cook partially covered until well done, but still somewhat liquid. If you like add a little bit more water and stir. For the seasoning, melt some more ghee in a small pan with a pinch of cumin seeds and fry some coarsely chopped cashews until golden brownand pour over the warm pongal and mix well just before serving.

Serving suggestions:

1. Like khichidee, as is, unembellished.

2. Pongal is often served, as I mentioned earlier as a breakfast dish, with coconut chutney (soon to appear in the chutney chapter) as an accompaniment.

3. My Mom often serves pongal with Katrikai Gotsu, a concoction of smoked, mashed eggplant with a tamarind sauce and spices, which is very good.

4. Pongal also goes real well with Avial, a tangy-ish mixed vegetable dish (mostly credited to Kerala) seasoned with ground coconut.

5. When with chutney, vadais (crisp lentil fitters) are lovely alongside Pongal. Here in Egypt I’ve substituted vadais with fresh tamaiyas (falafels) from the little shop on Qasr-el-Aini. It works great.

Note: Recipes for the various sides will appear in these pages in the fullness of time.

The term khichidi is also used in northern and western India for a few other preparations. One of my favorites is a Maharashtrian dish made with pearl tapioca and peanuts called saboodana khichidi. Gujerati’s make khichidis with wheat grains or berries as well. And recently inspired by a present to my kitchen I tried to make one with quinoa and served it with kadi. The experiment was a success. Try the recipe out yourselves.

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