Posted by fourclankitchen on January 4, 2010
When I was little, there was a temple opposite my parent’s house in Calcutta (now Kolkata). For a month during winter, people, mostly men, gathered in front of the temple early in the morning, walked around the neighborhood, singing prayers while playing castanets to the rhythms of their chants. This is called Prabhat Pheri (morning rounds) in India and is sort of like caroling around Christmas time in the West. When the singers returned to the temple, they would be served Khichri, a delicious savory porridge made up of rice and lentils, on strips of banana leaves. Anyone could go in and get a small dollop and my mother never missed her share. She claimed that its’ awesome flavor was due to the fact that it was first offered up to the Gods, before us mortals got a taste.
Years later, I replicated it (without help from God). It’s really quite lovely.
There are many regional versions of Khichri in India, one more delicious and comforting than the other. This one gets me the most nostalgic, so I am blogging about this first. I will post a separate blog at some point on the art of tempering a dish with spices. This technique, variously called tadka, chonk or baghar in India, is basically a method of extracting flavors from spices in hot oil and then pouring/mixing the tempered oil and spices on or into a cooked dish. The ingredients vary widely from region to region and contribute in part to the unique regional flavors of Indian cooking. The one I am posting is from the southern part of India.
For the Khichri:
1 cup lentils ( I use whole mung beans or whole green lentils, but any lentil can be used).
1 cup rice (basmati preferably).
6 cups of water (more or less, depending on how runny you like it)
1 tsp salt or to taste.
½ tsp turmeric
3 tbs. oil.
½-1″ piece of ginger, coarsely minced (less, if you don’t like its pungency)
5-10 curry leaves (available at Indian stores, this has a lovely flavor, so do try to find them, freeze what you do not use, they hold flavor)
2-3 tbs. cashew nuts (optional)
5-6 whole pepper corns
1 tsp black mustard seeds.
1-2 dry red peppers (available at Indian and Chinese stores).
1 tsp red paprika (this is not hot).
Cilantro for garnish (optional).
Boil the first 5 ingredients till the rice and lentils are soft and somewhat mushy (about 30- 40 min). If you have a pressure cooker, allow the cooker to go to the first whistle, turn down the heat, cook for another 5-10 min on low heat, depending upon your pressure cooker and the kind of lentils you are using. Check the consistency, adding water if you want a thinner khichri. Set aside.
For tempering: In a small pan, heat the oil, add the whole spices, the curry leaves, ginger and the cashew nuts. Stir for a minute or two till a delicious aroma hits your nose. The oil is now infused with the flavors of your spices. Now add paprika, stir for a few seconds and remove from the flame. Put the khichri back on a medium flame, add the spice mix to the khichri, and allow the spice mix to permeate the khichri- 2-3 min. Adjust the salt. Garnish with cilantro (coriander leaves) if desired.
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