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Khichuri – A Convalescent Or A Carnival?

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Welcome to the Bhog season. Khichuri, or Khichdi, is the epitome of desi comfort food, with various iterations across the country. While for most people it is a comforting thick porridge primarily used for convalescence, in the East Khichuri is a royal lunch affair served with an assortment of stir-fried vegetables and donuts, is a celebrated feast served to goddesses and is romantically linked to rainy days and fried hilsa.

The word “Khichuri” or the Hindi “Khichdi”, etymologically speaking, denotes a disorder. It is used to describe confusion and turmoil, chaos and cacophony. Khichdi can be a troubled state of mind, a poorly written essay, or a disappointing movie. Why has a word with such a negative connotation been used to name such a delicious preparation is beyond me. I presume this is the unique nature of cooking Khichdi. Pour the rice, dal and vegetables into a saucepan or pressure cooker, add some basic spices, boil and you’re done. My experiences with the Khichdi outside the East have been quite disappointing. Khichdi is considered a sick day meal, is redundantly called “Dal Khichdi” (what else could you make Khichdi with?), Is cooked with long rice without flavor and contains no vegetables. To make matters worse, it is served with raita or curd. The first time I received Khichdi from raita, I politely apologized for this very heinous scenario. Additionally, Khichdis are mostly loose porridge – which I have a lot of issues with – and lack flavor or scent personality.

Khichuri, on the other hand, is a whole different story.

For starters, the rice used for Khichuri in eastern India is the extremely fragrant Gobindobhog variety, which is a rice cooked in the sun (called aatop or baked in the sun in Bengali and Oriya), short and robust in nature. Rice and dal (the richer versions use moong, while the simpler bulk version can use masoor) are first fried in mustard oil with bay leaves for a long time until until they become almost golden, slightly crunchy and more fragrant-y. Then powdered spices like turmeric and chilli powder are added, into halved potatoes and lightly fried coconut slices, and everything is cooked to perfection. When finished, steamed cauliflower florets, beans and carrots (winter varieties) and fresh peas are added, and a whole spice quench is applied with a ladle over the Khichuri, like final touch. The jar is locked to allow flavors and scents to infuse and do their magic. The amount of water depends on the tightness of your Khichuri. I prefer mine very tight and sticky, whereas I know people who prefer looser versions. The tight version is usually served as a bhog or an offering to the goddesses with a wide array of sides. The looser type is usually the one that is scrambled like a quick lunch at home.

Bangladeshis make a drier, almost pulao Khichuri called Bhuna Khichuri, and is served during Lakshmi Puja in many homes in East Bengal. They also introduced the outrageously decadent Keema Khichuri which is an explosion of textures and flavors, cooked with succulent minced or chunks of goat cheese. Many Bangladeshis and East Bengalis cook a version of Khichuri meat and call it ‘Pish-Paash’, which I believe could be a derivative of ‘mish-mash’. Non-spicy, extra-boiled and loose Khichuri and Khichdi are common baby foods in the subcontinent. In Hyderabad, Khichdi-Keema-Khatta (Khichdi, a dry chopped stir-fry and sour sauce or salan) is a common breakfast item. Fiji, surprisingly, also appreciates Khichdi a lot. Finally, the Anglo-Indian Kedgeree, a real mess that includes rice, lentils, smoked haddock flakes, hard-boiled eggs and this thing called curry powder, is the attempt – and failure – of the Englishman. to reproduce the Khichdi.

For the Bengalis however, the sides are as important as the Khichuri. A Khichuri lunch will include a range of donuts, which may include potatoes, pumpkin, okra, brinjal (on its own or dipped in chickpea flour dough), squash flowers dipped in dough, fried eggs and fried fish, to name a few. . Ghee is generously drizzled over the Khichuri at the start of the meal, and pickles are often served as a side. During monsoons, slices of Hilsa fat are fried for the Khichuri meal, along with fried fish roe. For bhog offerings, a mishmash of vegetables, called Labra (originally called “The FRAThe dish is simply spicy, cooked in lots of oil, and includes a wide range of regular vegetables with a banana stalk, a heart of banana blossoms and taro) is the star companion. I have personally spent a lot of time trying to perfect the bhog Khichuri, and have come to realize that because in an offering, the Khichuri is basically steeped in its flavors for a few hours before being consumed, and is also passively smoked by incense. and the camphor, standing time and scent absorption give it a completely different flavor profile, making bhog Khichuri a truly divine experience. I experienced this by smoking a pot of Khichuri with camphor and incense for a few hours, and realized that it made a difference. Just as kebabs are smoked before grilling, who knew that being smoked unintentionally in a religious ritual can make a pot of food so wonderful.

Monsoons, Durga Puja and Kali Puja, and winters, are the perfect occasions for Khichuri. Whether it’s a humble quick meal or its avatar in disguise, the Khichuri / Khichdi truly binds our country together and is a celebration of its products.

If you haven’t read this, take a look at Annapurna Leaves and “Vanilla Of The East”

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