January 5, 2023
On dark and cold days, a cozy bowl of khichdi — a lightly spiced mixture of rice and lentils — complete with crispy papad, fried vegetables, and tongue-tickling pickle is the only meal to have. As a child growing up in a Gujarati home in New Jersey, chef Hetal Vasavada vividly remembers the weekly khichdi parties her mother hosted. The local aunties would come to their family home with cooking pots filled with their unique khichdi recipes.
Decades later, Vasavada was filming for Masterchef, a cooking competition show. When the Mystery Box challenge — which involves a box of ingredients chefs do not know ahead of time — stipulated a dish with rice at its heart, she knew she had to make khichdi. And so, the homey staple made its successful international television debut.
The simplicity of the one-pot khichdi — associated with festivals, celebrations, mourning, and sickness — makes it the perfect meal for any time. But, unlike the trajectory of congee, few South Asian restaurants serve the dish, and few food magazines center it. Instead, wellness gurus have been selling khichdi in fancy guises as Ayurvedic “health” food. So how did we get here, and is it time to reclaim khichdi?