ANY moment now, a delicious aroma will waft out from my tiny neck of the woods. It’s Ashtami, and cooks, homemakers and others are going to gather at our Durga Puja pandal, mixing and stirring rice and lentils in large cauldrons. This bhog — ritual offerings — came rather late into my life. But now that I know the magic that a simple bhog of khichdi can wield, I can’t wait to get to it.
I grew up in a part of the country where khichdis were eaten mostly when someone fell ill. The dish was simply cooked with urad dal and rice. It was years later that I realised khichdi could be of many types, and delicious to boot. The bhog, which is offered to devotees, atheists and foodies alike, is one of the special dishes that I have been seasonally digging into in recent times.
The word khichdi is believed to have come from the Sanskrit khiccha. Our history is full of references to this dish. According to the strategist Chanakya, khichdi cooked with one prastha (about 768 gm) of rice, 1/4th prastha of lentils, 1/62 prastha of salt, and 1/16 prastha of ghee constituted a well-balanced meal for a single person. ‘Ain-i-Akbari’ mentions seven variations of khichdi. It is said that Akbar enjoyed the dish, and Jehangir loved a rich variety called ‘lazizan’, prepared with rice, pulses, ghee, spices and nuts.
Khichdis, clearly, are not just rice-and-dal dishes. Himachal’s balaee khichdi is prepared with rice, kala chana and buttermilk. Rajasthan and Gujarat are proud of their khichdis, prepared with different kinds of dals. The Kathiyawadi khichdi is cooked with garlic, green onion, beans, peas, brinjal and tomatoes, while the Jodhpuri khichdi has a vast amount of vegetables. The Kartik Purnima-special Odisha khichdi is a mix of rice and yellow moong dal, with vegetables such as sweet potatoes and green bananas. You can add all kinds of vegetables to spice up your khichdi. Spinach and fenugreek leaves, in particular, give the dish an invigorating kick.
The South has a trove of khichdis, too. Karnataka’s bisi bela bhaat is prepared with dal, rice and vegetables, while Tamil Nadu’s ven Pongal is especially prepared for the Pongal festival with freshly harvested rice and moong dal. The sweet Konkani khichdi is cooked with chana dal, wheat, jaggery, coconut and raisins and flavoured with cardamom powder.
Khichdis cooked with grains are a healthy option for those who don’t eat cereals during this period.
Punjab’s bajra khichdi is prepared with pearl millet and pulses, a Gujarati version is cooked with millet and green beans, while sabudana khichdi — popular everywhere — is a mix of sago and lentils. Then there is makkey ki khichdi, cooked with maize.
I love non-vegetarian khichdis. Khichda is an extraordinary concoction of rice, lentils and meat. Hyderabad is known for its keemey ki khichdi — a dish of rice, minced meat and a host of other ingredients but no lentils. The Bohri Sola khichdi is prepared with rice, boneless mutton, arhar dal, ghee and other such ingredients.
When I think of khichdis, I am reminded of Akbar’s clever aide Birbal, who once used the khichdi to win an argument with the emperor. The two were walking by a lake when Birbal remarked that people would do anything for money. Akbar demurred. Nobody would stand in the cold water of this lake all night for money, he argued. So, Birbal found a poor man who was willing to do so. But though he spent all night in the water, Akbar refused to reward him. He had gained warmth from a street lamp at a distance, the king said.
The next day, Birbal was late for court, and sent a message that he would come once he had finished cooking his khichdi. When there was no sign of him, Akbar’s men went to Birbal’s house, and found a cauldron with all the ingredients hanging at a great distance from the fire. Akbar laughed. How can you cook khichdi without heat? Oh, replied Birbal, if a poor man can get warmth from a distant lamp, surely my khichdi will get heat from a distant fire, too.
This story warms the cockles of my heart, and makes me want a hot bowl of khichdi. But then, with Dasehra round the corner, perhaps it’s time for some serious snacking. The season, after all, is the battle of food over evil.
Rice 300 g
Chane ki dal 150 g
Cumin seeds 1 tsp
Peppercorn 1 tbsp
Oil As needed
Ghee 1 tsp
Spinach leaves 2 cups
Salt To taste
Wash and soak the rice. Wash, chop and drain spinach leaves. Parboil the dal and keep aside. In a kadahi, heat oil, add cumin seeds and peppercorn. Add rice and fry for a few minutes. Now add dal and cover with water. When it is almost done, add spinach leaves. Once the khichdi is cooked, add ghee. Serve with pickle, papad and curd. Enjoy the meal.
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