April 21, 2004
Anurima says kichidi, also spelled khichdi, kichari, khichudi, kanji, and many other ways (and also known as pongal), is monsoon food--a soft, warm, soothing way to start a cold wet day. A hearty nourishing one-dish meal for large gatherings, it is also festival and temple food. Rice and dal are cooked together with spices until thick and served with chopped raw onion and fresh coriander, a wedge of lemon, ghee, and lime pickle. Mix it all together on your plate with your fingers. Accompany with potatoes or eggplant rubbed with turmeric and fried in mustard oil.
Anurima says our place smells like her grandmother's house in Calcutta. This winter, we bundled up in shawls and sat with hot water bottles on our laps to fend off the damp chill in our Bowery loft during a particularly severe Manhattan winter. It was in its way New York's monsoon season and a call for kicheri. My first effort, a combination of brown rice and red lentils in my favorite cast-iron pot, was too loose. Anurima made a second batch, using red lentils and Basmati rice, which was perfect.
Then, the rice cooker arrived. The first thing I made in the rice cooker was kichidi, this time with brown rice and split peeled mung dal. The technique? Place all the ingredients in the cooker about 5 hours before you want the cooking to start, set the machine for brown rice and the timer to complete the cooking at the desired hour. Six hours later "neuro fuzzy," as the machine is affectionately known in our kitchen, sang its innocent robotic tune and turned itself to warm. We ate from what seemed like a bottomless mass of primal substance for days. With the press of the reheat button, the kicheri's soothing warmth returned. Chopped fresh dill, mint, and coriander, chopped onion, and a good squeeze of lemon gave the by now familiar mass a piquant freshness.
Khichadi can be simple or elaborate. You can include some or all the spices at the outset or temper some of the spices and add them just before serving. You can fry the spices in the bottom of the rice cooker and then add the other ingredients, as long as you reset the rice cooker to start all over again. If the recipe calls for spinach or peas or other green vegetables that cook quickly, I would fold them into the hot rice near the very end, so that they do not overcook, particularly with brown rice. You can make khichdi in a pressure cooker, but you cannot time it and keep it warm that way or add things at intervals, though the pressure cooker is fast, "traditional," and cooks the kicheri to a nice texture.
Posted by BKG at April 21, 2004 02:08 PM
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