Laying out the Ingredients…

Although I can’t point to the exact moment of truth, I can tell you that its been about ten years since I realized that I’m a foodie. The girth of my body will easily assure you of the fact that I love to eat… but I also love to cook, plan menus, experiment with different ingredients and flavour blends and cooking methods. A steamed samosa seems like the most natural thing in the world to me, as does a cardamom coffee, although both would make purists of Indian cuisine march on me with flaming torches. Samosas are strictly fried food and cardamom is for tea, not coffee.
Mom’s been a great support, always willing to try out whatever crazy new idea happens to be floating around my head at the moment. Dad, unfortunately, has been remarkably less eager to jump on. It takes a couple of rounds of testing (by my mother and me) before a dish can be labeled Dad-proof, and even then he might or might not try it.
Anyway, I guess it all started with my reading habit and my ignorance of those wonderful things called novels. Comics, which we generally bought, wouldn’t provide an hour’s worth of reading, and the monthly Reader’s Digest only lasted half a day. And that’s when I discovered grocery labels – those bunches of facts and figures printed on cartons, cans and packets? I loved them. I read them, analysed them, compared them. And the best part? There was always a steady supply of reading material! From there I graduated to cookbooks, and finally to food websites and blogs.
And the day has come, as one should have known would come, when I am starting my own food blog – Culinary Khichdi. For those unfamiliar with the name Khichdi, let me elaborate. Khichdi is cooked across a large part of India, but the ingredients, cooking time, and even the meal at which it is eaten differ. What remains common is the sense of a mingling of different things which wouldn’t normally be cooked together. The term Khichdi has come to symbolise that –  a mishmash of a whole range of things.
I grew up eating 3 kinds of Khichdi. The most common one was mung dal and rice cooked together till slightly overdone, and then tempered with ginger, green chillies, cumin and asafoetida in oil. It was fascinating how the runny mix that came out of Mom’s pressure cooker would solidify within minutes. Eaten with lemon pickle, roasted papad and buttermilk, it was the cure for all sorts of stomach ailments. The second one (my all-time favourite) was urad dal and rice, with the same tempering. However, this one had to be cooked till just done – just like basmati rice, all the grains should remain separate. It was only much later that I found out that this khichdi was typically cooked during the mourning period following the death of a family member… Thankfully it was too late for me to associate this lovely dish with sadness and death. The last one was Sabudana or Sago Khichdi. Sago, bits of fried potatoes and peanuts, with a tempering of curry leaves and mustard, it was one of the few foods that could be eaten on most fast days.
When I left the nest, symbolically speaking, however, I found out about other kinds of khichdi through conversations with friends and meals eaten at other places. I learnt about the true meal-in-one khichdi – with dal, rice and vegetables all mixed in. Another version had a 2:1 rice to dal ratio (unlike the 1:1 I was used to) and had to be eaten with a side dish of sour dal or kadhi. Khichdi made with whole mung dal, which gave a nice green colour to the whole thing and made it healthier. Even though I maintain a preference for the khichdis mom cooked, I liked all the others too. But of course, there had to be an exception, right?
Living in the university hostel while doing MA, one morning on going to the mess for breakfast, I was presented with what looked like overcooked yellow rice and coconut chutney. Enquiry revealed that it was supposed to be khichdi. No vegetables, barely any dal, and the teeniest bit of ginger to give it some flavour… Four years in the hostel and I still haven’t managed to develop a taste for it. But it has enabled me to formulate a new rule to live by – When life hands you tasteless khichdi…. go out for breakfast!

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