Monday, April 9, 2012

Fada ni Khichdi

Documentary evidence has it that when the Emperor Shah Jahan (of Taj Mahal fame) finally conquered what is modern-day Gujarat, he was so enamored of the extraordinarily humble khichdi (a traditional rice and lentils dish) that he insisted that the royal chef make it regularly!

The chef, used to making much fanciful stuff, was more than a little peeved at making something so pedestrian. The royal chef fancified it a bit (but not too much) and a compromise was reached of making it at most "once in a while" which translated to "weekly" since Emperors can insist on pretty much get away with anything that they desire!

That this is not just some legend comes down to us in the form of the royal chef's cookbook/notes which have survived intact.

What this tells you is that even Emperors get tired of the same ol', same ol' no matter how fancy it is. Novelty is the name of the game, and even a peasant dish from a newly conquered territory can fascinate the Emperor and from there on, be elevated to finer culinary standards.

It should be noted that this is a trend among most high-end restaurants today which are busy trampling all over themselves to turn offal and lentils into new dishes, both substances being the cheapest of the cheap, and thus the provenance of the peasant not the gourmand.

The dish below is a traditional variation on the Gujarati khichdi that uses cracked wheat instead of rice (again variation and novelty, and it's even "traditional".)

The idea works on the same principle as a risotto but the mixture tends towards the soft and chewy but not mushy. The vegetables add color, nutrition and texture.


1 cup yellow moong daal (split yellow daal)
3/4 cup bulgur wheat #3 (coarsest grind)

1 cup potatoes (diced into cubes)
1 cup green peas
1 cup green beans (diced)
1 cup cauliflower florets
1 cup carrots (diced into cubes)

1 cup onions (diced fine)
2 tbsp ginger + green-chilli paste

1/2 tsp turmeric
sea salt (to taste)

1 stick cinnamon
3 cloves
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp black peppercorns

3 tbsp ghee


Soak the moong daal and the cracked wheat in ice cold water separately for at least 30 minutes.

Remove, and dry thoroughly.

(To be blunt, this last part is painful because it's hard to get enough surface area to get the stuff to dry thoroughly. Do the best you can but remember, the drier it gets after soaking, the greater your chances of making the dish "memorable".)

In a seperate vessel, bring roughly 4 cups of water to a simmer. Keep warm.

Bring the ghee to a simmer. Toss in the cinnamon and fry for a bit. When fragrant, toss in the cumin, cloves, black peppercorns and asafoetida. Fry for a bit. Add the onions and fry languidly for 3-4 minutes until limp but not colored. Add the turmeric and ginger-green chilly paste and fry for a while.

Fry the potatoes for a bit.

Then fry the daal and the cracked wheat for a bit. Add 3 cups of water, and let cook at a low simmer for about 8 minutes. Add more hot water if it gets dry.

Towards the end, add the rest of the vegetables and let cook together. (Yes, this is a little tricky since you need to time everything exactly.)

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