When craving comfort food, it is most often khichdi that captivates my imagination. The vegetarian one-pot meal of lentils, rice and vegetables is transported to another dimension via multiple layers of spices – every bite is a new discovery of tastes and textures. For the first tempering, panch phoran – a spice blend of whole cumin, fennel, fenugreek, mustard seeds and nigella seeds – is gently fried in ghee with coriander and tomatoes. A second boost of spice is delivered with a ghee-bloomed blend of more cumin, some cayenne, and oniony asafetida.
It is such an incredible dish that there is even a legend behind it: in mid-14th century India, Birbal, a courtier in Akbar’s court, made a khichdi so enchanting that the emperor decided to make Birbal a king. At our house, we like to say that if it’s good enough for Akbar and Birbal, it’s good enough for you. This dish is so lovely that I often just serve it with nothing but some raita, achaar (if I am craving spice), and perhaps crispy papadum on the side. Make the recipe a few times and then begin playing with the flavours and simplify it as you like. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
- 6-8 cups peanut oil (or any neutral oil)
- 1/4 cup fresh coriander, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp lime juice
- 1/2 tsp garam masala
- 4 large red onions, halved and thinly sliced
- 1-2 green chillies, finely minced (remove the seeds for less heat)
- 1 2-inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced into very thin matchsticks
- 1 cup split and hulled mung dal
- 1 cup Basmati rice
- 10 cups water
- 285 gm bag frozen green peas
- 2 tbsp ghee
- 1 tsp panch phoran
- 3/4 tsp turmeric
- 1/8 tsp asafoetida
- 10 green cardamom pods
- 8 whole cloves
- 4 medium carrots, peeled and finely chopped
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 2-inch cinnamon stick
- 1 medium potato, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
- 1/2 medium cauliflower, divided into very small florets
For First Tempering
- 2 tbsp ghee
- 1 tbsp sea salt or to taste
- 2 tsp ground coriander seeds
- 1/2 tsp panch phoran
- 1/8 tsp chilli powder
- 3 large red onions, halved and thinly sliced
- 2 large tomatoes, finely diced
For Second Tempering
- 2 tbsp ghee
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1/4 tsp chilli powder
- 1 pinch asafoetida
- Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven (use enough oil to fill the saucepan to a 2-inch depth) over medium-high heat until it reaches 350°F/177°C on an instant-read thermometer.
- Add the onions and fry for about 2 minutes, turning them occasionally, until crisp and browned. Use a slotted spoon or frying spider to transfer the onions to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.
- In a small bowl, stir the coriander, ginger, chillies and lime juice together and set aside.
- Place the mung dal in a large skillet over medium heat and toast it for 3-5 minutes until it is fragrant and lightly golden. Transfer the dal to a large plate and set aside.
- Place the ghee, cardamom, cloves, bay leaves, cinnamon, panch phoran, turmeric and hing into the pan and roast it over medium heat for about 2 minutes until the spices are fragrant.
- Add the rice, toasted dal, cauliflower, potatoes and carrots and cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring often, until the rice becomes translucent and the cauliflower sweats.
- Pour in 7 cups of water, increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Toss in the peas, bring back to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.
- While the rice and dal mixture cooks, make the first tempering oil.
- Heat the ghee and panch phoran in a large skillet over medium heat until the cumin in the panch phoran begins to brown. This will take 2 to 3 minutes.
- Stir in the onions and salt and cook for about 10 minutes until the onions are browned around the edges and soft. If the onions begin to get too dark or stick to the pan bottom, splash the pan with a few tablespoons of water and scrape up the browned bits.
- Add the coriander and stir for around 2 minutes. Follow this up with the tomatoes and chilli powder, cooking until the tomatoes are jammy. This should take around 6 to 8 minutes – do keep stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and set aside.
- Once the rice and dal are cooked, remove the lid and use a potato masher to mash the mixture until only a few carrots and peas remain whole (remove the whole or large spices while mashing if you like).
- Stir in the first tempering along with the remaining 3 cups of water. Return to boil and cook for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat.
- Make the second tempering oil. For this, wipe out the pan from the first tempering oil and heat the ghee over medium heat along with the cumin, cayenne and hing. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring often, until the cumin begins to brown.
- Immediately stir it into the rice and dal mixture.
- Divide the khitcheree between 6-8 bowls and top with some of the ginger mixture, a pinch of garam masala, the fried onions, and serve.