In Pushpesh Pant's Latest Book, A Chronicle Of Indian Flavours
Image Credit: Pushpesh Pant (right) and the cover of his book 'Lazzatnama: Recipes of India' (left). Images via Rupa Publications.

THE famous Arab traveller al-Biruni had recorded in his travelogue that common Indians sustain themselves on a porridge-like dish made with rice and lentils which they call khichdi. Al-Biruni came to India more than a thousand years ago. However, the earliest mention of khichdi can be traced back a thousand years before the birth of Christ. The Sanskrit word for this staple food is 'kshirika'. 

Across millennia, the khichdi has evolved to take many forms from a simple concoction of boiled rice and lentils to a rich delicacy cooked in ghee with assorted vegetables, dried fruits and nuts. This is one of the traditional delicacies cooked during festivals like Durga Puja, Makar Sankranti and Pongal. The khichdi was so prevalent across India that the anglicized version of its name—kedgeree—refers to a popular British breakfast food consisting of a mixture of leftover fish from the previous night along with a good measure of curry powder, hard-boiled eggs and other condiments. 

Perhaps the most elaborate and refined form of khichdi is the one that was cooked and served to celebrate Prince Salim's victory over the Sultan of Gujarat. Bajra khichdi was the 'state dish' of Gujarat and, in a manner of speaking, its choice for the royal banquet was to announce the digestion of the troublesome state by the imperial centre. Legend has it that Birbal, one of the navratna (nine gems) of Akbar's court, was put in charge of this banquet. The special khichdi took a long time to prepare and, since then, the phrase 'Birbal ki Khichdi' has become synonymous with a task that seems never-ending. Food historian Salma Hussain has included a modified recipe for this extraordinary khichdi-appropriately named Laziza—'the delectable'-in her book The Emperor's Table

Aurangzeb, the last of the great Mughals, was an ultra-orthodox puritanical Muslim who led a spartan life. If he had one weakness, it was a well-prepared khichdi. There is an interesting letter that he wrote during the evening of his life—while camping in the Deccan-in which he requested his son to lend him his bawarchi (chef) who had once prepared a delicious khichdi for him. There is no record if the son complied with the request. 

The chappan bhog—the feast of 56 items that is prepared as an offering to Lord Jagannath in Puri includes a khichdi. This khichdi is merely boiled and seasoned with salt and pepper, eschewing onions and garlic, and is untempered. Khichdi is also routinely cooked in all Krishna shrines that belong to the Pustimarg sect. Furthermore, the Sai Baba temples across the land cook and distribute khichdi as a prasad. 

The ubiquitousness of khichdi manifests in dialects and colloquialisms-on witnessing a secret or a whispered conversation between two people, one is tempted to say, 'Kya khichdi paka rahe ho (What khichdi are you cooking up)?' A popular colloquialism goes, 'Khichdi ke chaar yaar, dahi-papad, ghee-achar (Khichdi has four companions-curd, papad, ghee and pickles)'. 


(Minced-meat rice)

Origin: Hyderabad

Preparation time: 45 minutes, plus soaking time

Cooking time: 45 minutes-1 hour

Serves: 8


For the mince:

Mutton - 500 gm, minced

Vegetable oil - 8 tbsp

Green cardamom pods - 2

Cloves - 3

Cinnamon - 2-inch stick

Onions - 4, sliced

Ginger paste - 1 tbsp

Garlic paste - 1 tbsp

Coriander powder - 1 tsp

Poppy seeds - 2 tbsp, ground

Tomato - 1, chopped

Curd - 1 cup

Fresh coriander leaves - 1/2 a bunch, chopped

Saffron - 1/2 tsp

For the rice:

Rice - 500 gm, rinsed

Saffron - A pinch

Milk - 1 tsp

Vegetable oil - 1 tbsp

Onions - 2, sliced

Clove - 1

Green cardamom - 3, pods; 2, ground

Cinnamon - 1-inch stick

Curd - 4 tsp

Fresh coriander leaves - 1 bunch, chopped

Lime juice - 1 tsp

Butter (optional) - 20 gm


Soak rice in a bowl of water for 20 minutes. Drain and keep aside. 

Put saffron threads in a small bowl. Add milk and soak for about 10 minutes. Transfer it to a mortar and grind. Heat oil in a large, heavy-based pan over medium heat. Add cardamom pods, cloves and cinnamon stick and fry for about 1 minute. 

Add onions and fry for about 5-7 minutes or until golden brown. Add ginger and garlic pastes, coriander powder and ground poppy seeds. Cook for a few minutes until well-fried. Sprinkle a little water on the pan and stir if the mixture is sticking at the bottom. Add the minced mutton and fry for about 10 minutes until well browned. 

Add chopped tomato and mix. Then, stir in the curd. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 15 minutes. 

Add chopped coriander and saffron. Cook for another 1–2 minutes, then remove from the heat. 

For the rice, heat oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add sliced onions and fry for about 5-7 minutes or until golden brown. Remove the onions from the pan and set aside. Reserve the oil. 

Bring a large pan of water to a boil. Add clove, cardamom pods, cinnamon and rice. Cook for 10 minutes or until half-cooked. 

Drain excess water and layer half of the rice on the pan. Spread the mince over the rice. 

Add 2 tsp of curd, half the chopped coriander, a little ground cardamom, a dash of lime juice and saffron milk. 

Layer the rest of the rice evenly over the mince, then sprinkle the remaining chopped coriander, curd, ground cardamom, saffron milk along with the fried onion and the reserved oil (or butter). 

Cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid. Put it on a hot griddle or place over low heat and cook for about 10 minutes. 

Serve hot. 


The above excerpt has been reproduced on Slurrp with due permission of the publisher, Rupa Publications. Pushpesh Pant's Lazzatnama: Recipes of India is available in bookstores (272 pages, Rs 395) as well as online.