The whole of India was in an uproar last year after the cabinet minister in charge of food processing suggested that khichdi be declared India’s national dish.
It happened during a charity event where celebrity chef and entrepreneur Sanjeev Kapoor cooked up 800 kilograms of khichdi to demonstrate India’s food processing prowess on the global stage.
To make matters more interesting, the feat resulted in a Guinness World Record for the largest khichdi, with it ultimately weighing in at 918 kilograms.
It took a 7-foot diameter wok-style pot to slow cook the soothing stew of basmati rice, mung beans, ghee, spices, and vegetables. Khichdi has been revered as a healing food since ancient times for its wonderful virtue of being extremely easy to digest.
The minister, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, started the brew haha after responding to a reporter’s simple question: Why khichdi?
Badal’s reply, “Khichdi is the wonder staple food of India, and is considered the healthiest prepared food in India, and it is being eaten across the length and breadth of India by rich and poor,” obviously led to robust debate in the world’s largest democracy as to why other popular foods weren’t picked instead.
In the end, India still doesn’t have a so-called national dish. Badal took to Twitter to set the matter to rest, for the time being at least.
What Exactly Is Khichdi?
Khichdi is one of India’s most ancient foods. It makes perfect sense that the ancients embraced this dish. It is a complete vegetarian protein in a single pot that would have been cooked over an open hearth fire.
But this one pot meal is also incredibly delicious and satisfying, and there are endless variations of the dish.
The basic recipe consists of one part grain, one part bean, your choice of spices, optional vegetables, and a good amount of ghee, India’s special clarified butter.
Ghee itself is another one of those ancient healing foods.
The golden butter is pure butterfat, with the milk proteins removed so it is practically lactose free. And it has a heavenly nutty flavor that comes from caramelization of the milk proteins in the process of making ghee.
For a khichdi recipe, spices are heated in the ghee, which releases their flavor and aroma. The flavored ghee is then added to the very well-cooked rice and beans.
Vegetables are sometimes added for extra nutrition and variation.
Khichdis can be made with ingredients that target particular health conditions, as in the lung khichdi and spleen-pancreas khichdi recipes included in “The Ayurvedic Cookbook,” by Amadea Morningstar with Urmila Desai.
After ghee, the most common bean used for khichdi is another incredible food. That is the mung bean. In India they are sometimes called moong.
You can find the tiny, moss-colored bean in most grocery stores, since it is widely used throughout Asian cooking.
It also comes in split and hulled forms, but since those are less readily available, we are using the whole bean. However, a single bean is tiny at only a quarter inch in diameter.
Ancient Vedic Indian texts have referred to the mung bean as the “king of dal,” and that is saying a lot in a country that regularly makes use of dozens of different types of lentils and beans.
(Dal is another word for bean. It can also refer to the “curried” soup or stew dishes that are so characteristic of Indian cuisine.)
You can get my all-time favorite Indian dal recipe here. It is a simple whole mung dal recipe that is every bit as good as khichdi, but without the rice, so it’s gluten-free.
One of the Easiest Foods to Digest
India’s national dish aside, khichdi’s true claim to fame is how many ways people have spelled its name. Just kidding! But other spellings include khichadi, khichri, khichdee, khichuri, khichari, kitchari, and kitcheree.
To pronounce the word, it sounds like kitcheree. My husband insists I have the genuine and true Hindi transliteration, so I am going with khichdi.
Kidding aside, khichdi is great because it is one of the easiest meals in the world to digest. And a bowl of khichdi is a complete healthy meal.
Khichdi is the core of Ayurvedic nutritional healing. It is the sole food prescribed to individuals undergoing Panchakarma, which is a detoxifying program used in India’s traditional system of medicine, known as Ayurveda.
Panchakarma can last anywhere from days to weeks, so people eat khichdi for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, for this long, and they don’t feel deprived. Ohhhh … I have yet to try this, but I will one day for sure.
For those of you who know about China’s famous health food, congee, Khichdi is the Indian equivalent. (If you would like to learn more about congee, here is a good article written by a friend of mine.)
Both khichdi and congee are favored foods for children, the sick, the weak, and the elderly. It is that nourishing comfort food that makes you feel all warm inside.
About This Khichdi Recipe
Personally, I love eating khichdi regularly because it tastes so yummy, especially this recipe, which comes from my mother-in-law.
It is one of the dozen or so staples that she wrote down for my husband when he moved to the U.S. (Did he cook them? Not really, but lucky me. I have all of those precious recipes now.)
The taste of this khichdi is simply golden, with a nutty underlying flavor from ghee (about ghee) accented by crunchy toasted cumin seeds and superfood turmeric.
I don’t know if you have experienced the taste of caramelized rice? It isn’t that, but it tastes like it is.
I don’t know why I love it sooo much, but I suspect it has something to do with its wonderful digestibility. If the body doesn’t need to work hard to digest its food, there is more energy left for other things. That is how I look at it at least.
Khichdi is basically a one pot wonder. It fully satisfies. And it doesn’t take much time to make, as long as you remember to soak the rice and beans at least 4 hours ahead.
A Vegetable Topping Adds Texture And Flavor
A major innovation in this recipe is the optional vegetable topping. It requires another piece of cookware, but it is a very quick, light braise, and it’s done.
The vegetable topping is worth including because of the texture it adds to the meal. Of course, there is also the advantage of additional vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Most recipes for khichdi that include vegetables involve cooking the vegetables together with the rice and beans. This means the vegetables become homogenous in the dish, and everything is soft.
Indians love their food in a homogenous state, but Westerners tend to prefer their food separately, and I am one of the latter. This is why I love my khichdi with the vegetable on top.
The topping adds tremendous flavor from the vegetables themselves, and the extra spices.
I have given it a light spicing of turmeric, red chili powder, and black pepper so it isn’t bland. The cauliflower and green pepper go really well with everything else in the dish.
By the way, cauliflower and peas are the most common vegetables added to khichdi.
I really hope you give this khichdi recipe a try. I would be so pleased for you experience the joys of khichdi. You just might find yourself craving it weekly, and thankful to have the recipe in your repertoire.
Then, in the future, if India ever decides to put its national dish nominees to a vote, you’ll be able to have your say on khichdi!
Recipe for Khichdi with Cauliflower and Green Pepper
For the khichdi
- 1/2 cup rice
- 1/2 cup moong dal
- 5 cups of water
- ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- 2 green chilis, cut once lengthwise
- 2 tablespoons ghee, or half butter, half olive oil. For vegan, try all olive oil (see notes)
- 3/4 teaspoon cumin seed
For the optional vegetable topping
- 1/2 tablespoon ghee, or butter or olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1/4 teaspoon red chili powder, optional
- 6 cups (a small cauliflower), separated into florets (about 3 cups)
- 1 cup green pepper, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- pinch of black pepper
- You can cook khichdi in a pressure cooker or saucepan. In India, where this dish originates, it is always a pressure cooker. If you have one, it will need to be at least 3 quarts in size.
- I have given the method for both the pressure cooker and saucepan. If you would like to learn more about cooking with a simple pressure cooker, see my Pressure Cooking Guide.
Make the khichdi
- Soak rice and mung beans for at least 4 hours, or overnight. Discard the soaking water and rinse another 1-2 times, until the water runs clear.
- For the pressure cooker method, place rice and mung beans in the pressure cooker with 5 cups of water, turmeric powder, salt, and green chilis. Bring up to high pressure and cook for 8 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the pressure to come down naturally.
- For the saucepan method, add rice and mung beans with 5 cups of water, turmeric powder, salt, and green chilis. Cook for 35 minutes, until the rice starts to break down. Very well cooked rice is a key feature of this dish.
- For the khichdi seasoning, heat ghee in a small skillet. Add cumin seeds and sauté until lightly browned. If you are making this khichdi without the vegetable topping, pour the hot spiced ghee onto the cooked rice and dal. Stir, adjust for salt, and this dish is done.
for the optional vegetable topping
- To add the suggested vegetable topping, heat ghee in a large skillet. Add turmeric and red chili powder, and sauté in ghee for a few seconds to release the aroma. Add cauliflower, green pepper, salt, and freshly ground pepper, and mix well. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are lightly browned (about 10 minutes).
- Place khichdi in individual serving bowls. Top with sautéed cauliflower and green pepper vegetable topping. Enjoy! This is a satisfying and complete meal.
I sincerely hope that you try my recipe, but if obtaining the ingredients is a challenge, I also recommend this kitchari kit from Pure Indian Foods in New Jersey.
It comes with 2 pounds of basmati rice and mung dal, a jar of ghee, and a kitchari spice mix. It is everything you need to make kitchari in about 25 minutes.
Going for this option can help get you started with this wonderful dish.
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