Chitra Agrawal’s Cheap Thrill Is a One-Pot Rice and Lentil Classic

Chitra Agrawal As Told To Maggie Hoffman

Chitra Agrawal is the author of Vibrant India and the owner of Brooklyn Delhi, which produces a line of time-saving simmer sauces, chutneys, and achaars. Since the start of the pandemic, Agrawal’s been juggling entrepreneurship with the full-time care of two children, which doesn’t leave a ton of time for making dinner. Below, she shares her Cheap Thrill—the go-to fast, affordable, and comforting meal that she puts together when she’s too busy or tired to cook anything else.

To be honest, we use a lot of our simmer sauces now, since I have a six-month-old and a toddler with me and no childcare. I also rely on vegetables that need only minimal chopping and cooking, like frozen peas or baby spinach—basically anything that I can just throw into the pot. And I’m leaning heavily on dried beans and lentils right now. I usually make them in phases. For instance, if I’m making a bean dish, I’ll soak the batch overnight, then cook them in my Instant Pot in the morning, and then right before dinner, I will chop some aromatics and flavor the beans on the stove with some spices and say maybe a can of diced tomatoes or some tomato paste. Splitting it all up is more manageable when your schedule is willy-nilly with two small children.

Khichdi, a one pot rice and lentil dish, is super cheap and a crowd pleaser over here. It's a quintessential Indian comfort food that I grew up eating, and my son will never say no to a bowl of the stuff. When my father first made this dish for him, he promptly proclaimed: "Khichdi is my favorite!" Though, knowing a toddler, this opinion may change a few times within the same day.

Toasted cashews make an excellent topping.
Photo by Erin Scott

The dish is made all over India, and there are many different names for it, depending on what region you are in. My father, who is from North India, grew up calling it Khichdi in Hindi, while my mother, who is from South India grew up calling it Huggi in Kannada. In my cookbook, I share my mother's recipe, which I liken to risotto, because when the rice and lentils cook together they meld into a creamy and luxurious texture.

To walk you through it: You’ll combine a cup of washed basmati or jasmine rice and ⅓ cup washed split mung beans (that is, small yellow lentils, also called moong dal) or red lentils in a pot with about 3 ½ cups of water. Bring the mixture to a boil, skimming off the foam.

Season with turmeric, ghee or butter, and grated fresh ginger, then cover and simmer over low heat until the rice and lentils are completely cooked, which takes about 20 minutes. Add another ½ cup of water and continue to cook over medium-low heat, partially covered, for about 5 minutes. When you stir the mixture, it should have a creamy consistency. Feel free to mash the rice and lentils with a spoon; you’re looking for the consistency to get similar to a risotto. Turn off the heat and add salt to taste.

Then take a small frying pan and heat about a little more ghee or butter, adding a few pinches of asafetida (or a chopped garlic clove), plus some cumin seeds (which you can crush in a mortar and pestle if you like) and crushed black pepper. Fry for a few seconds, just until fragrant. Pour this over the khichdi.

If you have time, you can also warm a little bit of butter in the pan with a couple tablespoons of broken cashews. Fry them up until golden brown and garnish the rice with them. If you like, you can add some yogurt on top or a squeeze of lemon for some tang. I like to add some achaar to mine for heat.

You can double the recipe so you have leftovers for a future meal. When you’re reheating it, though, be sure to add a little water to loosen up the dish, since it has a tendency to dry out.

Khara Huggi or Pongal

Chitra Agrawal

This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.

Originally Appeared on Epicurious