Lentils and rice have been a staple of diets across the globe for as long as civilizations have grown their own food, particularly those that most embrace the vegetarian lifestyle. In India, these foods are typically eaten separately, with white rice served alongside any number of mashed lentil dishes known as dal. One popular Hindi dish called khichdi, however, has the two ingredients prepared as one, with distinctive masala spices and vegetables to create a myriad of region-specific recipes.
Possibly for several centuries now, the first solid food for many Indian babies has been a more-conservatively spiced khichdi. The dish was described in print as far back as 1590, in the still-much-read Muhammadan histories known as Akbarna Mah. A section in this book concerning popular recipes of the time describes a dish called k'hichri, which was a mere basic version of rice, lentils, salt and the butter known as ghee. It is perhaps because of this long connection to Indian culture that many view this dish as one of the most-satisfying comfort foods in Hindi life. The recipe also may go by the names khichadi or khichuri.
The ingredients needed to make khichdi have evolved since the 14th century, but only in terms of India's distinctive masala spice blend. This method is still rather simple. Though approaches may vary, the Quick Indian Cooking Web site has a recipe that appears rather mainstream. Cooks start by infusing hot oil with spices like cloves, cinnamon, turmeric, bay leaf and cumin. These are the chief ingredients of the Indian spice blend widely known as masala.
Onions, garlic and other vegetables like broccoli, carrots and peas can be quickly sauteed in the spiced oil before the rice and lentils are added. After even the rice and beans have received at least a few minutes of frying, the contents of the pan are submerged in water. The khichdi is brought to a boil, the pot is covered tightly, and the pan is reduced to a simmer until the rice is tender, and the liquid is fully absorbed.
The popular tandoor bread known as roti is regularly served with helpings of khichdi. Depending on the region, chefs may use one ingredient more prominently than others, leave out some all together, or add even more spices like chili powder, ginger or pepper. When used as baby food or to feed the ill, cooks might leave out all spices except for a little salt and turmeric, recognizing that babies and the sick might not be fully prepared to handle the complete masala experience.