No, 'khichra' isn't 'khichri' or 'khichdi', it's a dish in its own right!

When meat meets dal Have you tried the hearty khichra Andaleeb Wajid
Features Food Wednesday, November 01, 2017 - 14:38

Mention the word ‘khichra’ to someone and they might cock their head and wonder if you meant ‘khichri’, but no, ‘khichra’ is a dish in its own right. Outside of the Muslim community, not many people have heard of khichra. Not that it’s a secret but it hasn’t gained the universal popularity of biryani or the hip coolness of Haleem.

While biryani is something that you can have anywhere, khichra is not something that’s easily available, although recently, food photographer Saina Jayapal had posted on Instagram about coming across very tasty khichra on Mosque Road at Maqsood Babban Stall, in Bengaluru. She tells me that she knew of Haleem but had never heard of khichra until then. Now of course, she loves it.  

So, what is khichra, apart from the one syllable that makes it different from khichri? Well, it uses the biryani akhni as its base and is a mixture of cooked dals, mutton, rice and sometimes vegetables, stirred and cooked together for a long time to create a hearty and fulfilling dish.

Typically cooked in large quantities, khichra began as a community dish, one which was cooked during the Islamic month of Muharram although it’s not confined to that month.

Historian Rana Safvi admits that she has not researched the topic independently but from what she knows of the origin of khichra through oral history, it goes back to the time of Hazrat Zaynab, the granddaughter of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

Following the battle of Karbala, when she returned to Medina, a huge number of people visited her to offer their condolences. Since Arab hospitality is renowned, they would add grains and meat to huge pits where everything would be cooked together into a tasty meal that would serve all the people who visited.

Making khichra however is not just about throwing together meat, rice and dals. It is actually a laborious process because the dals need to be roasted, soaked, cooked and mashed slightly, the rice needs to be cooked separately, and the akhni needs to be prepared. Then, it’s all mixed and cooked in an open vessel until everything comes together as one.

To be honest, this process always seemed magical when I was young. How could all these disparate ingredients come together and make something that looked and smelled and tasted completely unique? But therein lies the magic behind cooking, something which is of course, more science than magic.  It’s also amazing to learn that the base for biryani can be used for other dishes as well, like sutriyan and khichra.

There are probably different versions of khichra as well as there are different versions of biryani alone. But the recipe here is one that is followed at home, so it’s probably safe to say that it’s a south Indian version.

Considering that khichra is a community dish, my mother feels it’s something that should be shared with everyone in the family. Until a few years ago, whenever she made khichra, she would cook it, parcel it out for the extended family and actually drive around herself and drop it off in their houses.

Now thanks to Bengaluru’s traffic, she doesn’t drive that much but she still tries to get khichra across to various members of the family. I’m just glad we’re the lucky ones who get to eat khichra whenever she makes it.

Recipe

Ingredients

For the biryani akhni

Tomatoes – 4

Onions – 2

Chicken/Mutton – ½ kg

Yoghurt – 2 tbsp

Oil

Red chilli powder – 1 tsp

Salt – To taste

Whole garam masalas – Cardamom, Cloves, Cinnamon sticks

Coriander – a small bunch

Method

Prepare the akhni as for biryani – Heat oil, add whole garam masalas and saute the sliced onions until translucent. Add ginger garlic paste and then the mutton or chicken. Add chilli powder, salt and yoghurt and stir well. Add chopped tomatoes and keep stirring till the tomatoes are softened. Add chopped coriander and once the masala is reduced a little and the mutton is tender, keep aside.

For the rice

Rice – 2 cups

Onion – 1/2

Ginger garlic paste – ½ tsp

Whole garam masalas

Mint and coriander

Salt to taste

Oil

Method

Heat oil in a large bottomed vessel. Add the whole garam masalas and sliced onion. Saute till onion is translucent, add ginger garlic paste, mint, coriander and salt. Add water and cook as you would cook ghee rice except that the rice can be a bit mushy.

For the dals

1/3 cup each of

Toor dal

Urad dal

Moong dal

Masoor dal

Channa dal

½ tsp haldi.

Roast each dal separately, wash and soak for ½ hour. Pressure cook till soft.

Add the cooked rice and the dals to the biryani akhni. Let everything simmer together and let it cook for a while.  

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