The Khitchdi

Khitchdi Rice and Lentil Porridge

Khitchdi Rice and Lentil Porridge

Ingredients

The word Khitchdi has been spelt in so many ways throughout it's history -Kedgeree, Ketchery, Kitchery, Cutcherry that one is only certain what it means when it is described as a mixture of rice and dol/dhal/doll/dal/dholl in various references by some of the most famous scholars, adventurers and traders to have visited the Indian sub-continent over 700 years.

Ibn Batuta, a Moroccan scholar who visited Tughlaq's court- considered the richest Muslim ruler of his time and who gave Batuta the title of Qadi, or judge, spells it 'Kishri' and describes it in his fascinating medieval travelogue, Travels (1340 A.D.) as -a buttered mix of Munj (moong) and rice eaten for breakfast.

In a 1443 reference in 'India in the 15th century', Abdurrazzak, a Persian scholar describes "Kitchri'' as a meal fed to the Maharajas elephants.

Afanasy Nikitin, a Russian merchant in his 1475 chronicles on India describes 'Khichiris' prepared with sugar and oil as a meal fed to Indian horses.

In 1648 Albertus Jacobus Van Twist the Governor General of Dutch East Indies elaborates in his memoir that this meal feeds poor labourers.

In 1672 French adventurer Taverniers and Balls, 'Travels in India' mentions Baldaeus, a Dutch minister who travelled to India as eating Quicheri and Kitzery.

In 1772 Hamilton writes about Kitcheree "some doll and rice, being mingled together and boiled...the common food of the country. They eat it with Butter and Atchar."

There are also several late medieval references to Kitcheree being eaten with atchar (pickles) and salted fish in Bengal.

Today Kedgeree in Britain is a colonial era buttered rice eaten with smoked fish and boiled eggs.

In a 1907 copy of The Handbook of Trinidad Cookery I found 2 recipes for Kedgeree, one employs gill- a British Imperial measure in use when America was colonized. Trinidad moved hands from the Spanish to the British in 1889, enough time for the British version of Khitchdi to take root. Khitchdi and versions of it are found in British colonies across the world.

Cynthia Nelson, a resident of Barbados and a Guyanese food lover recounts in her column, 'Tastes Like Home' her mother telling her of Hindus in the Caribbean who fed the groom khitchdi when he first came to the bride's home.

Khitchdi could certainly qualify as a national dish- a dish born in India with ingredients native to the subcontinent- rice, moong and ghee, a one pot mash of boiled ingredients that was eaten for centuries by the common man within India and without and by Indians who moved abroad. Served with ghee or oil, sugar or dried fruits, pickles, fish- it was a meal that nourished hungry bellies.

My second edition 1903 Hobson Jobson alludes to a single pot of 'khichri' that was atleast 880 kgs, larger than the Khitchdi -(800 kg), which has just been cooked to beat a Guiness world record in 2017.

Hobson Jobson is a remarkable compendium of Anglo-Indian terms first published in 1896 that covers millions of words from India's British Raj, some no longer in use and some so differently spelled today, you'd never guess what they meant.

A reference to the Nawab of Tonk (Rajasthan) in an 1880 report by an Indian Mirror correspondent describes him as having donated 3000 rupees for the supply of 2 colossal pots of 'khichri' made with rice, dry fruits and sugar for a religious festival in Ajmer. One pot contained roughly 80 maunds and the other 40 maunds (a varying post Akbar era measure used in the sub-continent) 1 government maund =37 kg however it could be as little as 11 kg also. So that would mean the bigger pot contained atleast 880 kgs of rice and combined these 2 'tremendous' pots contained at minimum over a 1000 kgs of rice. The cooking of these were observed by the Nizam, Ajmer's commissioner and various civil servants- leading me to wonder if maund here was the government standard of 37 kg per maund.

While the item is described as 'khichri' it contains sugar and dried fruit so it appears by modern standards to be more like a cooked kheer though no mention is made of milk. If not the largest khichri, is this the world record for kheer? Also which religious festival was this? Any thoughts?

In a 1934 book The Mystery Chefs Own Cookbook by John Macpherson, an American of Scottish descent, a chapter is devoted to national foods. Macpherson says curry is India's national food and to be fair all through Victorian times Indian food is referred to as curry. He also describes Stroganoff (named after a Russian noblemen) as Russia's national food. I don't know if Russians today would agree-I'd say it was probably Pirogi or Pelmeni dumplings. This book was written while India was still colonized and Russia's Tsarist rule had come to an end, only 17 years before this book was published. So Khitchdi or no Khitchdi, he hybrid curry is still the first thing that comes to mind the world over when one thinks of Indian food.

Abu'l Fazl describes a recipe for 'khichri' in 1590 A.D for 7 dishes recorded in the Ain E Akbari. Fazl was one of Akbar's Nav Ratnas. Here is the recipe and my adaptation-

5 ser of each rice, split dal and ghi and 1/3 ser salt

1 ser is approx .93 kg

My interpretation and adaptation

1 cup rice

1 cup moong dal

2 tbspns ghee (plus more for garnishing)

salt to taste

Optional improvisations

1 /2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

8 fresh green curry leaves, torn

2 teaspoons of peeled and minced garlic

Instructions

Wash the lentils and rice and immerse in 8 cups of water in a pressure cooker. Add turmeric.

Heat 2 tbspns ghee. Add cumin and cook 30 seconds. Add curry leaves and garlic and cook 45 seconds. Pour spiced ghee over uncooked rice and lentils and steam 2-3 whistles until fully cooked and soupy. Salt to taste. Garnish with more ghee and serve with papads, yogurt and assorted pickles.

References Hobson Jobson (1903), The Mystery Chefs Own Cook Book, Tastes Like Home (C. Nelson) A Handbook of Trinidad Cookery 190

http://www.taradeshpande.in/the-khitchdi/