Whenever Aarti Sequeira is in need of some comfort, she whips up a bowl of this savory rice and lentil porridge. “Imagine a loved one rubbing your head when you’re not feeling well. That is the sensation that runs across my tongue and my heart when I take a bite of khichdi,” she says. She adds lots of toppings, like cashews and fried onions or shallots for crunch and a dollop of plain yogurt for tang.
Combine the rice and lentils in a large bowl. Cover with water and swish around with your hands until the water is cloudy. Pour off the water, then repeat this process until the water runs clear, 3 or 4 times. Cover with water and let soak for 15 to 20 minutes.
Set an electric pressure cooker to sauté on high. Add 2 tablespoons ghee, the bay leaves, pepper, 1 teaspoon cumin seeds and the hing. Allow to cook until the leaves are sizzling, about 1 minute.
Drain the rice and lentils in a strainer. Carefully add to the pressure cooker and stir well. Continue to cook, stirring often, for about 2 minutes, until the water has evaporated off the grains and they sizzle.
Add the grated ginger, turmeric and 5 1/2 cups water to the pressure cooker. Stir well and add 2 teaspoons salt. Put the lid on the cooker and set the steam valve to the sealing position. Cook for 12 minutes on high pressure. Let the cooker naturally release the pressure for 20 minutes. Manually release any remaining pressure, then open up the cooker and stir, discarding the bay leaves. The porridge should be the consistency of a soft polenta or risotto; feel free to add more water until it’s just right.
Start making the toppings while the pressure is releasing. Make birista, or fried onions: Set a small skillet over medium heat and add the sliced onion. Pour in just enough canola oil to cover. Gently fry the onion until uniformly golden brown, about 10 minutes, stirring every now and then. Using a slotted spoon, remove the onion to a paper towel–lined plate and sprinkle with salt. Add the cashews and coconut to the oil and fry until golden brown. Remove the cashews and coconut to the plate and sprinkle with salt.
Pour off all but 1 to 2 tablespoons of the oil. (But don’t discard it! The oil is great to drizzle over vegetables before you roast or sauté them; it’s also a great start to a soup, pasta sauce or curry.) Add the remaining 2 tablespoons ghee to the remaining oil in the skillet. Once shimmering, add the dried chiles, garlic and remaining 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds. Cook, shaking the pan and stirring, until the garlic is golden brown, 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Pour the porridge into a serving bowl, then pour the contents of the skillet on top and gently stir. Top with a big dollop of yogurt, the fried onion, cashews and coconut, and some cilantro.
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Photograph by Mike Garten
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