Khichri dish with meat: Learn straight from the Mughal’s kitchen

Food 06 Jan 2021 Contributor
khichri dish
© Umme Salma Alam | Dreamstime.com

What may be crowned as India’s national dish? Well, officially there is none. But a few years back there was quite an organized effort from certain politico-cultural quarters to bestow this honour to one India’s most cooked dishes: the eternal Khichri dish.

I really don’t wish to delve into the subtle political motivations hyperactive behind this nomination, bypassing what may be termed as India’s most beloved dish: the royal Biriyani. However, I do suspect that the Khichri propagators were not very mindful of the fascinating history of Khichri, and were more swayed by its vegetarian rice-and-lentil humbleness, than the dishe’s myriad variety, which blossomed in the middle ages, particularly under the influence of rich culinary traditions. Frankly, I have no hesitation in joining their voice. And that is because rarely can we find an Indian dish that is as varied yet as purely Indian as the Khichri.

Khichri dish with traditions and history

The history of Khichri is vast and varied. It is not difficult to trace its origin in the food named Mudgaudana, mentioned in the 12th chapter of the Sanskrit text Shankhyana Aranyaka, dating back to 700 BCE, or the rice-lentil porridge, Tekatulayagu, mentioned in the famous Buddhist scripture Binaya Pitaka, dating back to C 350 BCE. There is no scope to narrate this long history of Khichri dish in this column.

But not many are aware that India’s humble Khichri dish truly received royal recognition for the first time during Mughal era, i.e. as late as the 16th and the 17th centuries. Khichri has been marked as one of the most favourite dishes of the greatest Mughal emperor Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar by his friend and Prime Minister Abu’l Fazl Ibn Mubarak, in his phenomenal tome Ain-i-Akbari, a detailed description of the Emperor’s administration.

Akbar was a frugal eater, yet his daily dinner-spread included a hundred dishes, cooked by the imperial kitchen’s chefs, who came from around the world. Out of these Abu’l Fazl has mentioned a sample of thirty dishes. One can easily gauge the importance of the humble Khichri dish in that lavish spread from the fact it is mentioned at number three.

Cut to Khichri dish of Jahangir’s era

The honour bestowed on Khichri is continued during Akbar’s son, Nur-ud-Din Muhammad Salim Jahangir, the fourth emperor of the Mughal dynasty, who ruled between 1605 and 1627. His memoir, the Jahangirnama has a fascinating description of the emperor being so impressed by the Bajra Khichri of Gujarat on his way from Khambhat to Ahmedabad that he ordered his chef to include it in his regular dinner spread. That was December 30, 1617: certainly a red letter day in the long history of this dish.

But even as these two emperors bestowed unprecedented prestige on Khichri, the dish really flourished in all its flavours during the era of the builder of the sparkling Taj Mahal, Shab-ud-Din Muhammad Khurram Shah Jahan, who reigned between 1628 and 1658. This is testified by a fascinating, but anonymous, cookbook of his period: Nuskha-i-Shah Jahani (in rough translation Recipes of the Shah Jahan Era).

Popular Khichri dishes

We will take a more detailed look at this gastronomic garden of heaven elsewhere, but for now we will straight go to its section 11, spread over four pages, it contains seven varieties of Khichri dish! To the best of my knowledge no other cookbook documents so many types of Khichris before Nuskha: Shola Khichri M’arufeh (Famous or Popular Khichri), Khichri Daud Khani (obviously named after an important Mughal-era noble), Khichri Gujarati (from India’s Gujarat province), Khichri Jahangiri (of Jahangir’s era), Khichri Maqshara (Pearly Barley Khichri), Khichri Be-ab (Khichri cooked without water!) and Khichri Tahiri (a special variety.) So, once again, even in this so called humble dish we find a celebration of what the golden Mughal Era contributed to Indian culture.

But don’t worry, I won’t leave you with just history, however colourful! So, get ready in your kitchen and cook-up an authentic royal lunch:

SHOLA KHICHRI M’ARUFEH

Ingredients

1. Rice: 1 Kg

2. Ghee: 300 Gms

3. Meat: 1 Kg

4. Cinnamon: 5 Gms

5. Cloves: 2 Gms

6. Green Cardamom: 2 Gms

7. Black pepper: 20 Gms

8. Beetroot: 250 Gms

9. Turnips: 250 Gms

10. Carrots: ½ Kg

11. Mung Dal (lentil): 250 Gms

12. Other lentils: 100 Gms

13. Peas: 250 Gms

14. Spinach (Palak): 250 Gms

15. Ginger: 20 Gms

16. Onion: 250 Gms

17. Coriander: 20 Gms

18. Salt: 40 Gms

Preparation

First, in 100 Gms of ghee fry the onion. Put in the meat and saute. Throw in all varieties of lentils and vigorously stir upside down. Throw in the coriander and fry. Put in water and keep cooking. When the meat is half-cooked throw in beetroot and other vegetables. Later when all are cooked well, separate the broth by straining the meat and vegetables and lentils using a fabric. Quickly saute the cloves in 100 Gms of Ghee. Fry the (separated) meat also. Put in it the broth and the rice together. Boil it very well. When it starts boiling hard throw in the spinach. When all is done well put in cinnamon, cloves, cardamoms and black pepper. Once again heat put in 100 Gms of ghee and stir well.

(Weights have been slightly adjusted to the metric system. Source: Nuskha-i-Shah Jahani. Page 105-106. Government Oriental Manuscripts Library. Madras. 1956.)

 

(Written by Author and Translator Nilanjan Hajra)