I am food for the rich and the poor, for the devout and the atheist, the toddler and the ageing. I will blend but yet stay distinct," writes Mumbai nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar in her “Open Letter From Khichdi" post on Facebook, extolling the virtue of this underrated one-pot meal.

While most of us turn to khichdi while battling digestive problems or when in need of comfort, we don’t understand why this humble dish is a nutritional superstar. To begin with, it is a balanced meal in itself, with the rice and lentils containing carbohydrates and protein, respectively. “The combination provides the body with 10 essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. You can add vegetables for fibre and antioxidants; while a dollop of cow’s ghee gives a much-needed dose of healthy fats," says Alpa Momaya, a senior nutritionist at HealthifyMe, a health and fitness start-up.

However, it’s important to make a distinction between khichdi that’s prepared for a sick person and one that’s meant for a healthy body. “The traditional khichdi made with rice and moong dal is low on fibre and doesn’t tax your stomach," Bengaluru-based dietitian Shalini Manglani explains. But if the dish is being prepared as part of one’s regular diet, she recommends using different grains or cereals such as millets, brown rice, daliya, etc. “In terms of calories, it doesn’t really matter which grain you use as half a cup of brown rice or ragi (finger millet) have about 70 calories each. While brown rice will give you more fibre, ragi has more calcium. Vary the grains or cereals to gain different health benefits," explains Manglani. For a non-vegetarian version, she advises substituting the dal with chicken and adding plenty of vegetables as they contain antioxidants.

While the optimal serving size will vary with age, gender and weight, Manglani recommends sticking to two or two-and-a-half cups of khichdi per meal for an adult. If using ghee, one teaspoon for two cups should suffice. Here are two variations of the country’s favourite soul food:

Bhaja Moong Dal er Khichuri (west Bengal)

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 30-40 minutes

Serves: 2

Ingredients

•2 small potatoes, halved

•8-10 large cauliflower florets

•1/2cup peas

• 1/2 cup short-grained rice, soaked

•1/2 cup yellow moong dal, roasted light brown

• 1 tbsp minced or grated ginger

•1/2 tsp cumin powder

•1/2 tsp red chilli powder

•1/4 tsp turmeric powder

•1 tbsp oil

•1 tsp ghee

To temper: 2 green cardamoms, 2-4 cloves, 1 thin stick of cinnamon, 1 bay leaf, 2 dry red chillies, N tsp cumin seeds

Method

Lightly fry the potatoes and cauliflower with a sprinkle of turmeric powder; add peas and sauté. Keep aside. Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed deep pot and add the tempering spices. When the spices pop, add ginger, cumin powder and red chilli powder. Sauté for a minute.Add the moong dal and two cups of warm water with some salt. Cover and let the water simmer to a boil. After 2-3 minutes, add the sautéed vegetables. Add some more warm water if needed. Cover the pot and let the vegetables cook for 2 minutes.Add the rice and mix and top with two cups of warm water, salt to taste and turmeric powder. Once you see the water boil, lower the heat, cover and let the rice and lentils cook. Sprinkle about half a teaspoon of sugar and a pinch of garam masala and gently mix. Drizzle with ghee and serve hot.

—Sandeepa Datta Mukherjee, food blogger and author of Bong Mom’s Cookbook

Jowar no Khichdo (Gujarat)

Preparation time: 30 minutes + 6-7 hours for soaking Cooking time: 40 minutes
Serves: 2-3

Ingredients

•1 cup jowar (sorghum)

•1 tsp whole wheat

•1 tsp whole moong dal

•1 tsp chana dal

•1 tsp brown chana, soaked for 6-7 hours

•1 tsp black-eyed peas

•1 tsp whole bajra (pearl millet)

•1 tbsp ghee

•Salt to taste

Method

Soak jowar and wheat for half an hour. Drain, dry and blitz in the mixer for a few seconds at a time to remove the outer skin. This should then be soaked for 6-7 hours and drained. Pressure-cook the soaked mixture with 5 cups of water, chana, ghee and salt for about eight whistles. Add the rest of the ingredients and pressure-cook for six more whistles.

—Sejal Shah, co-owner of Maia, Bengaluru

Panchkuti Khichdi (Himachal Pradesh)

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Serves 4

Ingredients

•1 cup whole bajra ((pearl millet)

•1/2 cup chana dal

•1/2 cup whole tur dal

• 1/2 cup split green moong dal

•1/2 cup split yellow moong dal

•1/2 cup whole masoor dal

(To temper) 1 tsp cumin seeds, 1 tsp mustard seeds, 1 tsp whole black pepper corns, 2 dry red chillies, 1 inch cinnamon stick, 3 cloves

Method

Soak all the dals and millet in water for about 30 minutes. Pressure-cook in about three cups of water, turmeric powder and salt for about five whistles. Heat ghee in a small pan, add cumin and mustard seeds. Allow them to splutter, then add the remaining tempering ingredients and fry for 10 seconds. Pour over the khichdi and serve hot.

—Archana Doshi, founder of Archana’s Kitchen blog

Pongal (Tamil Nadu)

Preparation time: 30 minutes + 6-7 hours for soaking

Cooking time: 40 minutes Serves: 4-5

Ingredients

•250g yellow moong dal

•2 litres water

•500g rice

•Salt to taste

(To temper) 50ml ghee, 100g cashew nut, 5 green chillies, 1 tsp black peppercorns, 1 inch ginger, julienned, 1 sprig of curry leaves, 1 tsp cumin seeds

Method

Cook the rice till it’s about 80% done, then mash slightly. Boil moong dal with water and salt. Once it is about 70% cooked, add rice and cook for another 10 minutes or until cooked through. Keep aside for at least 30 minutes. Heat ghee in a pan and add the tempering ingredients. Sauté for a minute or two, then add to the pongal mixture. Serve hot.

—Kasiviswanathan Muthuraman, executive chef, Radisson Blu Atria Bengaluru

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