Call it by any name, a khichdi is just about the greatest Indian comfort food ever invented. In this Masala Khichdi, I add a spicy, healthier spin with tons of veggies, making an already beloved dish even more worthy of your love. Vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, and nut-free recipe.
A popular one-pot meal that’s cooked in just about every Indian home is a khichdi or a khichari, and those are not the only names it goes by. It’s called khichuri in Bengali, kichadi in Tamil, khichri in Gujarat, and kedgeree in English (yeah, as in the language spoken by the Brits). Although the Brits, somewhere in transit, made an unnecessary addition — fish — to a recipe whose vegetarian deliciousness really needs no gilding.
Today, with this delicious and easy Masala Khichdi, we will take this recipe back to its roots but we’ll do so with flair.
What is a khichdi?
Khichdi has a long history within India, one that, by some accounts, dates back two millenia. It is not just one dish but a family of hundreds of one-pot dishes that have evolved using the basic building blocks of lentils and grains. But it can also include everything you’d want in a complete meal, including veggies, herbs and spices.
Over the centuries, cooks around India shaped up versions of khichdi with whatever ingredients they had on hand or were locally available. There is a khichdi made with tapioca pearls (sabudana khichdi) that is eaten during fasts, and khichdis made with millets like jowar (sorghum) and pearl millet (bajra). There is even a keema khichdi, made with ground meat, that is said to have been invented in the kitchens of the Nizams, erstwhile royalty in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. More modern versions of khichdi incorporate street-food flavors, like pav bhaji khichdi.
In the south you’d find foods like bisi bele bhath or kadamba sadam, all versions of khichdi. In Tamil Nadu, you’d celebrate the harvest with pongal, also a kind of khichdi. In the north, cooks devised dalia, a khichdi made with broken wheat. In Bengal you’d find a khichuri made with toasted moong dal. The list goes on.
The reason khichdi is so popular among Indians is because to most of us it is the ultimate comfort food. Most types of khichdi are wholesome and use few spices, if any, making them gentle on the stomach, and we learn early on to associate this food with soothing and healing. It is often the first solid food a baby eats, or the food mom would feed you if you were sick. It’s the food you make in a hurry on a rushed weeknight, or the food you eat just to feel better. These healing qualities are also what has led khichdi to become associated in the west with Ayurveda, the ancient Indian form of healing.
Finally (and I have to get this out of the way because it is a pet peeve), while there are many different words and pronuciations an Indian would use to mean khichdi depending on where in India they are, what they would never call it is a “kitchari” (how do you even pronounce that?!).
If you really want to learn to say khichdi right, say it like most Indians do: “khitch-dee.” It is a delightfully explosive, even onomatopoeic sound that conveys the rustic nature of this dish and the fact that this is a hodgepodge of sorts: a delicious and much loved melange with no pedigree nor defined ingredients.
Why you’ll love this Masala Khichdi
- It’s delicious. As much as I love the everyday khichdi I make several times each month with just dal, rice, salt, cumin and turmeric, this masala khichdi is just as delicious and even better because it’s a one-pot dish. I often make it with brown rice and it is enhanced with a ton of veggies and flavorful spices.
- It’s easy. Khichdi recipes are usually easy and this one is quite foolproof. It can easily be made on the stovetop or in a pressure cooker or Instant Pot. I have included instructions for all.
- It’s nutritious. As you already no doubt know from the ingredients. Dal, rice, veggies, spices: it doesn’t get any healthier.
- It’s a true one-pot meal. One of the reasons I love Masala Khichdi is it is not one of those dishes that pretends to be one-pot and then asks you to, erm, please serve me with this side or that or I’m just not going to taste that good! When you make this Masala Khichdi, you can rest assured that all you need is a spoon and a bowl. And if you decide to make the wise decision of serving up some poppadums and Indian pickles alongside, well, good for you!
- Rice. Use any rice you have around, including basmati rice, jasmine rice or even a medium grain rice. Brown rice works too.
- Moong dal. This is almost always the dal used in khichdi because moong dal is considered the coolest of dals: as in, it helps cool your body down ;). Perfect for the soothing, calming effect one is looking for with khichdi. For substitution ideas look at the FAQs below.
- Vegetable oil. Coconut oil is great here, or use another unflavored vegetable oil. Most Indian cooks would advise that you should not make a khichdi with anything but ghee, and it is true that ghee imparts a nutty flavor to khichdi that’s quite delicious. But a vegan khichdi made with coconut oil can be just as tasty. To enhance it, dribble on some coconut oil over the khichdi while serving and you’ll never miss the ghee.
- Cumin seeds
- Onion. Use red onions if possible, otherwise yellow are fine. Shallots are fabulous.
- Curry leaves. You don’t absolutely need these, but use them if you can.
- Ginger. The warmth of ginger is gentle and healing and it’s perfect in a khichdi.
- Pureed tomatoes. You can puree your own or use a canned puree.
- Vegetables. You can add as many or as few veggies as you want. I add between a cup and four cups depending on what I have on hand. This time I added a rainbow of veggies: eggplants from my garden, a green and a red bell pepper, potatoes and green peas. I didn’t have any sweet potatoes on hand this time but I absolutely love them in this khichdi. You can also add squash, summer and winter, and cauliflower.
- Turmeric. For color and health.
- Cayenne or paprika. You don’t want a highly spiced khichdi, because remember, it has to be gentle. But some cayenne adds a nice kick, or add paprika if you’d rather just have the color.
- Coriander powder. For lots of fresh flavor.
- Garam masala. For a touch of spice and deliciousness.
- Salt to taste
- Cilantro or mint, for garnish.
Masala Khichdi: How to make it
What to serve with khichdi
- A poppadum and lime pickle (or any Indian pickle) are the perfect sides with khichdi.
- Potatoes and khichdi get along like a house on fire, and crispy, spicy potatoes are especially wonderful. If you don’t want to eat potato chips (which are great with khichdi btw), make a spicy sabzi like these Bombay Potatoes or this easy, saucy Potato Curry
- Fritters like pakoras are also wonderful with khichdi. For healthier, non-fried versions, check out these baked corn pakoras or asparagus pakoras.
I often use brown rice for khichdi, and when I first shared this recipe with you back in 2014 I made it with brown rice. To make the khichdi with brown rice add one more cup of water and pressure cook on high pressure in the IP for 20 minutes. In a pressure cooker go up to six whistles. On the stovetop, cook 45 minutes after the water comes to a boil, or until the grains are soft. Once your khichdi has cooked, don’t be afraid to add a little more water to give it a soft, but not runny, consistency.
Moong dal is traditionally used in khichdis of all kinds around India, but not all, and you can definitely make this with another lentil. As alternatives for the moong you can use toor dal (split pigeon peas) and masoor dal (pink lentils). If using toor dal, which tends to take a bit longer to cook, soak it in water for at least an hour before cooking so it cooks at the same time as the rice.