When it starts to get chilly, it’s nice to have a hot and mushy meal to cozy up with. You curl into a blanket clutching your bowl, dip your spoon in and stare out the window at the gloomy weather. Or you curl into a blanket, put on Netflix and watch Breaking Bad episodes back to back, because nothing says ‘cozy’ like watching two drug manufacturers dodge death and the DEA. Such a good show. But enough about drug addiction and great television. I’m talking about khichri - Pakistani comfort food that is so good it’s habit-forming.
Khichri (pronounced kitch-er-ee) is a mixture of rice and dahl (lentils) simmered with cinnamon, cardamon and cloves. It’s also easy to digest, so it’s great for settling an upset stomach.
The following recipe was hard-won. After harassing my poor mom at inopportune times for two weeks straight like a junkie needing a fix, I finally coerced her into dictating her recipe over the phone, which I hastily scribbled on the back of a CD sleeve.
Since she’s a talented cook, she doesn’t rely on exact measurements. Since I’m a novice, I have no idea what a “palmful” is or what “some” amounts to. So I cooked, adjusted amounts and dutifully recorded what I did in a way that made it repeatable, like a scientist attempting to quantify poetry. Here are my findings:
You will need:
- 2 cups basmati rice
- 1 cup masoor dahl (pink/orange lentils)
- 2 ½ tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 cardamon pods
- 6 whole black peppercorns
- 1 inch cinnamon stick
- 6 cloves
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ onion, sliced thinly
- 1 tsp ginger-garlic paste
- 1 tsp vinegar
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 green chili (optional)
- 4 ½ cups water
Wash and drain the rice and lentils. Heat the oil in a pot over medium heat and add the peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves and bay leaf. Carefully bite the cardamon pods so they open slightly and drop them into the pot. That’s right, put it between your front teeth and bite. (You can also hygienically open the pods using the back of a spoon.) Stir until, in my mom’s words, “it goes put-put. Do you know what put-put is?” Me: “No.” Mom: “Just stir until you smell the aroma.” Me: “Okay."
Add the sliced onions and ginger-garlic paste. Cook until the onions begin to lightly brown, stirring frequently. Then add the rice, lentils, vinegar, salt, whole green chili and water. (The vinegar will help keep the rice from sticking together.) Bring to a rolling boil, then cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for half an hour.
This is perfection when served with a dollop of yogurt and a side of mango pickle. In fact, this isn’t a serving suggestion - it’s a must. The mango pickle gives it a bite and some extra heat, and the yogurt serves as a mellow counter-argument.
*BONUS!* If you have leftover khichri that’s a day old, it’s really good fried in a pan with butter and sliced green chilies. This works best if the khichri isn’t fresh, since it will be a little more dry (sort of like how day-old rice works best for fried rice).