Vegetable Masala Khichdi: Rice and Moong Dal cooked with Vegetables and seasoned with Spices
A mushy concoction of grains and lentils or millets at its heart, a khichdi is the ultimate one-pot meal of India, one dish that has myriad forms, ranging from traditional to contemporary. It's so wholesome in nutrition and so easy to make that even Britishers anglicized it to kedgeree in the colonial times and relished it for breakfast everyday.
It's the most ubiquitous food in Indian cuisine, and also the oldest in the subcontinent, or at least amongst the oldest of foods people in that part of the world have eaten. Fed as the first solid food to a child and opted as light food for ailing adults, customized for celebratory nosh-ups and somber meals alike, khichdis have multiple faces throughout the length and breadth of India. Originating from the Sanskrit word khiccā, khichdi is also mentioned in the accounts of Ibn Batuta, the famous Moroccan traveler who visited India in the 14th century.
Read this article to better acquaint yourself how ancient khichdi is and the varieties of khichdis Indians make.
My encounter with khichdi is old, just like any other Indian. Not restrained by any specific recipe, khichdi is versatile and forgiving, a class of food and not one particular dish. Today, I'm talking about one such khichdi, which is made in many homes in India, and with alterations in the tempering or chaunk as it's called in Hindi, renders variation in taste and consistency. This khichdi is a mix of rice and split mung beans, and loaded with fresh winter vegetables.
Have I told you that I am never excited about rains? Being a Bombaywali, I had no doubt accepted the quintessential monsoons that all locals are acquainted with. But there were days when the umbrella betrayed me, and I returned home with muddy water filled in my shoes, hair soggy in the mist after the rain. I issued oaths about trains running late due to waterlogged tracks or for the sheer irony that the taps at home were dry while it poured hard outside. I’d scrub and clean dirt off my feet and sweat off my face, taking mugs of water from the bucket Auntie A, my then landlady, kept aside. And then, I’d ease a little, settling down on the divan, grabbing the bowl of piping hot khichdi and a cup of ginger chai kept on a folded Midday paper on the side table.
"Ugh! I can't do this anymore..." I'd announce putting a morsel in my mouth, "...this struggle of commuting amidst the madness of rains." "Barsaat ne har saal aana hai puttar, tu kyun inni importance deti hai? Yahan paida nahi hui toh kya, hai toh tu Bambai ki na? Subah tak bhool jayegi aaj ki barsat." "Rains are to come every year dear, why do you give it so much importance? So what you're not born here, you're from here after all. You'll forget this ordeal in the morning." And just like that she could talk me out of it, comforting me with her khichdi and her words, like the nonchalant fisherwomen in Mario Miranda's caricatures, who walked no matter how hard it rained and how wet their fish got in the baskets over their head, speeding past other Bombaywallas.
Rice and moong dal boiled into a mushy blend, tempered with ghee and cumin roasted an earthy brown, a chili or two for the much-needed sensation of hot on the tongue, some asafoetida enduring the rest of it, and a generous sprinkle of green coriander leaves. That’s about it. There was nothing more in that khichdi, that staple dinner on most rainy days with Auntie A in Bombay. When the somewhat existent winter arrived, rains wouldn’t cease suddenly. It’d be a slow deluding process and Auntie's typical khichdi would find some seasonal accompaniments. Carrots, spinach and peas would be cooked with dal and rice, some onions or tomatoes for change. Simple khichdi would turn into vegetable masala khichdi, smelling delicious as usual.
Meal after meal, day after day, Auntie dished out food from her relatively small kitchen in a moderately sized house over years. When I turn the pages of time, I still find her there, sitting on a stack of pillows lined up on that stool, a window overlooking the gas stove on which she cooked, the walls a tone of sepia, her demeanor diluting in that moment. Auntie passed away from this mortal world, leaving behind a legacy for me, one that lets me render khichdis of all kinds bearing her semblance, humble on the outside, a certain depth on the inside.
I have lived elsewhere in India but I love Bombay. There’s no part of me that doesn’t. Despite its exasperating throngs and pricey cubbyholes, the many heartbreaks and an excessively damp quarter of the year, I love that city which was home for a decade of my life. How can I not, for it gave me Auntie A and the gift of her food, her steady old wrinkled hands that taught me how to cook and nuskhas (tips/formulas) that are lifesavers in my kitchen till date.
Auntie A's tip for khichdi was standard, "paani se na dar aur chaunk ache se laga." "Don't be scared of how much water to add and temper it very well."
I've often been asked what's the ratio of water and grains plus lentils while making a khichdi. It depends on the type of lentil you're using. Here are some pointers:
Dals usually swell up after getting cooked, so their quantity tends to increase while rice stays as is.
Lighter dals like yellow moong dal, red masoor dal and tur dal cook faster, and tend to use less water. Whole green moong dal and chana dal are heavier and require more water as well as produce khichdis that are not easy on the stomach.
I prefer using both rice and dal in equal parts because I like dal to dominate more than rice. You can also use 1 and 1/2 parts rice and 1 part lentils as well.
So, is there a golden ratio? While the ratio could vary slightly depending on the dal you use, the standard that will not fail is: for 1/3 cup of rice and 1/3 cup of dal, use 3 cups of water for a thicker consistency khichdi, and 3 and 1/2 cups of water for runnier consistency.
If you're using a heavier dal, using more water is advisable. For lighter dals, less water wouldn't harm.
Always keep a pot of boiling water ready to adjust the consistency after cooking!
Tempering is key to the taste of any khichdi. Cumin, asafoetida, chilies, ginger are few things which always work great for tempering no matter what kind of khichdi you're making. Heat oil to its optimum temperature to let the spices lend their taste and health benefits to the fat.
Note: You can convert this khichdi into plain dal khichdi by not using any vegetables. You can skip the onions and tomatoes too.
1/3 cup rice (preferably medium long)
1/3 cup split green moong dal (or split yellow moong dal or tur dal)
1/3 cup sliced carrots
1/3 cup green peas (fresh or frozen)
1/3 cup spinach washed and chopped
1 small onion sliced (if it's a large onion, use a quarter of it)
1 small tomato chopped (if it's a large tomato, use a quarter of it)
2 tsp ghee or oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp asafoetida
1-2 red or green chilies chopped
1/2 inch ginger pounded
1 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp red chili powder (optional)
fresh coriander for garnish
1 tsp salt, or to taste
Note: If you're making it without vegetables, you can do the tempering in the pressure cooker first. Then, add the dal and sauté for a few seconds, then add rice and water.
Wash the dal and rice separately, and keep them ready in two bowls. Keep 3 cups of water on the side as well. For a slightly runny consistency, you can use 3.5 cups of water.
Heat 1/2 tsp ghee or oil in a pressure cooker or instant pot, and add the washed dal in it. Sauté for a couple of seconds and then quickly add rice, carrots, peas and tomatoes. Stir to mix. Add water, salt, 1/2 tsp turmeric and stir again. Note: If you're using frozen peas, don't add them now. Add them when you make the tadka later.
Close the pressure cooker or instant pot and let the ingredients cook. For pressure cooker, cook on high heat for 1 whistle and 2 whistles on medium to low heat. For instant pot, cook on high pressure for 7-8 minutes. Once done, take the pressure cooker off the heat. For instant pot, it'll automatically switch off. Let the steam release naturally after that.
Do the tempering:
Heat a pan or wok, and add the remaining ghee or oil. Once hot, add the cumin seeds and let them sizzle. Add asafoetida, red chilies and onions and sauté for a couple of seconds. Turn the heat down a bit and add ginger. Sauté and then add remaining turmeric and red chili powder (if using). Stir to combine.
Keep boiling hot water ready on the side, and open the pot or cooker in which you boiled the khichdi, and see if you are happy with the consistency. If you want it more runny, add hot water and more salt to adjust taste and consistency.
Once the onions seem cooked through, a slight red-brown colour, add spinach and (frozen peas if using frozen ones) cook till the leaves wilt. Pour this tempering over the khichdi or vice versa. Mix everything well. Garnish with coriander and serve hot with yogurt and pickles!