One of the simplest Indian dishes — so simple that its main use in India is to soothe both infants and the sick — has spread worldwide under a host of different names.
We in the West tend to call it kechari or kachuri. In England, it inspired a rice and fish preparation called kedgeree. One of the romanized spellings of his Urdu name is khichri. An Indian cookbook in my library is called khichdi, and that’s what I call it here. (Whatever its spelling, the Hindi or Bengali term means “mixture,” usually of two grains.)
At its base, the khichdi recipe calls for a 50/50 mix of basmati rice and some type of legume (i.e. lentils, dried refried beans, chana, dried pigeon peas, or a combination). Combined with a little spice, that alone counts as khichdi, although many khichdi recipes offer a lot of Indian spice and, as our recipe here suggests, often include add-ins like vegetables.
But the basic simplicity of khichdi gives way to the natural systems of medicine practiced in India, especially those called Ayurvedic (from Sanskrit, “ayur”, “veda”, respectively “life” and “science” or “knowledge”).
As such, khichdi begins every Ayurvedic diet or cleanse and is a fitting start to the new year in our kitchens in the West.
It’s unfortunate to think of “cleansing” as literally, a kind of rotary root of the digestive system, from top to bottom. Not this Khishdi; It’s not food like scrubbing bubbles.
The idea, taken from the Ayurvedic system, is that the simplicity and straightforwardness of khichdi resets our gut and body after a period of giving up eating. Alkhishdi is a much more mono-nutrient, as concentrated as ever, and gives the digestive system a much-needed break after two months of holiday eating and drinking. As a food, it is easy to absorb (rice and cereals are cooked before mush). Although the spice is liberal by Western meat and potato standards, it stimulates and aids in the assimilation of khichdi in the stomach and lower digestive tract.
They’re also loaded with fiber, and are often enhanced, as in the recipe here, by extra bran from many vegetables.
To make the simplest chichidis, omit all flavors in the recipe except for turmeric, ginger, and salt. To make an occasional serving of khichdi called khichra, add to the khichdi recipe cooked or raw (and then cooked appropriately) minced or diced meat such as lamb or beef.
Then you can go back to eating. a happy New Year.
Adapted from recipes on feedmephoebe.com, veganricha.com, marthastewart.com and from Priya Krishna “Indian-ish” (2019). Serves 6-8 and can be easily doubled or reduced.
- 1 cup basmati rice
- 1 cup legumes (any lentils, dried mung beans, chana, dried pigeon peas, or a combination)
- 2 tablespoons ghee or neutral oil
- 1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 2 teaspoons coriander powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 2 small cinnamon sticks
- 5 green cardamom
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh peeled ginger
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 6 cups (or more) vegetable broth or water
- 4 cups assorted vegetables (green beans, sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli florets, bok choy, zucchini, or any combination, all cut into bite-size pieces)
- 3 cups of loose spinach leaves
- coriander for garnish
Combine rice, toss together and rinse in several changes of cold water, 5-6 times, stirring fingers and rubbing grains together, until water runs clear. Strain and set aside.
Add ghee or oil to a large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or saucepan, and over medium-high heat, stir in mustard and cumin seeds, stirring. When the mustard seeds begin to appear (about 20-30 seconds inside), add the coriander, cumin, and turmeric powders and stir for another 20 seconds. Add the cinnamon sticks, cardamom and ginger, stirring again. Don’t let spices or powders burn – just fry them just enough to make them aromatic – or else the khichdi will turn out to be bitter.
Add salt, rice, milk and liquid to the pot. Bring to a boil, stirring once or twice, then reduce to low and cook, with the lid of the pot barely open, for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the pulse is tender and the rice is tender. (If the khichdi begins to thicken too much or stick to the bottom of the pot, add small amounts of water or stock until it returns to the consistency of a risotto.)
As you specify, about 15 minutes before the khichdi is cooked, add the bite-sized vegetables, stirring. When done cooking, turn off the heat and add the spinach, stirring again, and let the khichdi sit, covered, for 5-10 minutes. Serve, garnished with whole or chopped coriander leaves.
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