Zohar is my aunt’s yoga teacher in Tel Aviv. Though I’ve never met her, Zohar makes regular appearances in the family conversation on account of her sunny outlook and terrific recipes, which she learned while studying yoga in India. In particular, “Zohar’s Indian rice” has attained the status of family favorite.
About Khichri (Khichdi)
There are lots of Indian rice dishes, of course, and Zohar’s is actually called Khichri (more commonly spelled Khichdi; I understand that it’s spelled that way in Hindi, but is written with a “r” in Urdu). Khichri is a pan-Indian comfort food, a good thing to have when you’re under the weather, or to serve a hungry toddler.
What kind of rice to use
It was Urvashti Pitre‘s wonderful Indian Instant Pot cookbook that introduced me to the ins and outs of Indian basmati, which has two key characteristics: it’s grown in the Himalayan foothills of northern India, lending it a noticeable terroir, and it’s aged. Luckily for authenticity chasers like us, aged Indian basmati is widely available and though it doesn’t strictly require a hechsher, it’s easy to find organic Indian basmati, both white and brown, with kosher certification.
Sourcing Moong dal (split mung beans)
Being such a widely made dish, Khichri has plenty of regional and family-level variations, usually involving the type of lentil used. The most common seems to be moong dal, which are split and skinned mung beans, and it’s my personal favorite. You can find moong dal at Indian groceries or online; Amazon carries a number of organic-certified brands. (According to most authorities, raw split legumes don’t require a hechsher, but ymmv.) I’ve never been able to find moong dal at my local grocery stores, like Whole Foods, but it’s worth checking. If you can’t find moong dal or don’t want to track it down, red lentils (masoor dal) work very well in khichri also and you can easily find them in Western supermarkets.
Sourcing Indian spices
Both whole and powdered spices are used in Zohar’s recipe, and most are not difficult to find: cumin seed and ground cumin; cardamom pods; whole cloves; bay leaf; and staples that are likely hanging around your spice cabinet, like ground cinnamon, turmeric, and coriander. The one spice you might have some trouble tracking down is hing (also commonly called asafoetida), a potent and unique spice that reputedly has an oniony-garlic thing going on. Don’t worry, everything will be beseder, just leave it out. I’m on a mission to find reliably kosher hing, but in the meantime, I make khichri without it.
One touch of my own I’ve added to Zohar’s recipe: freshly grated turmeric, which I get through my weekly CSA box. But don’t think you have to have it to make great khichri; most recipes (including the many English-language Indian food blogs I read!) use powdered.
Adding vegetables and aromatics
Vegetables are often added to khichri; my favorite is fresh carrots, diced, but tomatoes are also popular, and Zohar’s suggestions include zucchini, asparagus, and sliced fennel bulb (for those of you not put off by licorice). If using, add the vegetables to the rice and lentils before adding the water.
If you’re not making this to ward off a cold or comfort an ailing kiddo, you can add some aromatics to it, such as finely chopped onion, garlic-ginger paste (or 1 teaspoon each minced garlic and ginger), or diced green chilies. If using, add these in to toast along with the spices.
I also like to take Zohar’s advice and garnish khichri with fresh cilantro leaves for a pop of flavor and color.
About the yogurt sauce and making parve/vegan khichri
Khichri is often served with yogurt sauce, and Zohar’s version includes a quick and tasty version. Hers calls for sheep’s milk yogurt, and I use whatever plain dairy yogurt I have on hand (just thin with more water if you’re using Greek yogurt). This accompaniment really makes khichri shine and turns it into a one-bowl meal.
If you want to keep this dish parve or vegan, you can certainly skip the yogurt sauce and use oil (coconut works well here) in place of ghee.
Khichri (Khichdi) | Indian Rice and Lentil Porridge with Yogurt Sauce
- 1 cup white aged Indian basmati rice
- 1/2 cup moong dal (split, skinned mung beans) – can substitute red lentils/masoor dal
- 2 Tbsp ghee or coconut oil
- pinch hing (asafoetida) – omit if you can't find it
- 1 tsp cumin seeds – these will be divided after toasting
- pinch cinnamon
- 2-3 cardamom pods
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 whole cloves
- 1/2 tsp ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2" (1cm) piece fresh turmeric root, peeled and grated with a microplane – or 1/4 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
- 2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, stemmed – to garnish
For the yogurt sauce:
- 1/2 cup plain yogurt
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/2 tsp reserved toasted cumin seed
- Rinse the rice and lentils together and pour off the water.
- In a medium pot, heat the ghee/oil. When it's heated and shimmering, add 1 tsp cumin seed (half will be reserved for tempering the yogurt sauce). When the cumin seeds begins to pop, about 30 seconds, remove half and reserve.
- Quickly add the cinnamon, cardamom pods, bay leaf, and cloves to the pot and stir.
- Next, add the soaked rice and dal to the pot and stir again, to coat. If using carrots, add them now. Add the water, which will be a generous amount, covering the rice and dal by about 2" (5cm).
- Grate the fresh turmeric into the pot, or stir in ground turmeric. Add the ground coriander, cumin, and salt. Stir well.
- Simmer over a low flame for about an hour, until soft, like porridge.
Prepare the yogurt sauce:
- Using an immersion blender, process the yogurt and water. Add the reserved cumin seed and serve over the khichri.