I first read The Conch Bearer by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni about eleven years ago. The most vivid and lasting impression was not of a great story (though it is fair) or of any particularly endearing characters, but of the feeling of having feasted on her words. I’m pretty sure this woman loves food. The story, in which the characters travel a vast swath of India, is absolutely saturated with mouth watering descriptions of hot, crispy onion pakoras, creamy mango lassi, dal, sparkling sugared candies, aromatic tea, and on and on. One of the meals that has a starring role is a khichuri, a meal made in poverty that becomes touched with a bit of magic, and has stuck with me (obviously) until now.
Let me stop right here and say I have no experience with Indian food. When I first read the book, I’d never even had the Anglo-Indian version, the generic curry. The Japanese steak house was about as exotic as things got growing up in my household. I’m calling this recipe a khichuri because the base is a mix of rice and lentils and a curry because I’ve whacked in a load of things like coconut milk, tomatoes, and spices, but it really is just this thing I’ve smooshed together.
I started as I would a risotto: oil, aromatics, and rice, and built from there. Again, making zero claims to cultural authenticity in either ingredients or technique. If you are doing an allergy elimination diet similar to mine this recipe is a great option (if you are testing for a nightshade allergy, this is not for you). I feel like this should be almost infinitely adaptable. If you try any different combinations, substitute in different ingredients, let me know in the comments.
Have you ever read a book that left you jonesing for a special food? Another of mine is The Pickwick Papers (Dickens); it always makes me want a picnic with cold chicken and cheese and pickles and things (basically, Feast). What are some of yours?
serves 4-6 depending on how greedy you are
- 2 tsp coconut oil
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 1 small or 1/2 large onion
- 1 1/4 C rice (we used brown Basmati rice)
- 3/4 C green lentils, rinsed
- 1 large tomato, cubed
- 1 large zucchini (courgette), cubed
- 1/4 C tomato sauce or puree
- 2 C vegetable stock
- 10 oz coconut milk
- 1-2 C spinach leaves
- 1 Tbs curry powder
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1/8-1/4 tsp cayenne (you’ll be surprised how far it goes!)
- parsley, chopped
- 1/2 lemon
- In a large skillet, over medium heat, heat oil, garlic and onion until fragrant and onion is releasing some moisture.
- Turn on hood fan. . .seriously. Add spices and a generous sprinkle (1/4 tsp or thereabouts) of salt. Cook off until onions have softened and spices are toasted.
- Add rice, and stir to incorporate with spiced onion/garlic mix.
- Add zucchini and tomato, and another 1/4 tsp of salt, and stir, scraping up as many of the good bits stuck to the bottom of the pan as you can.
- Add veg. stock, coconut milk, and tomato paste, and give it a good stir. Bring to boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, add lemon juice, lentils, and spinach. Cook for a final 15-20 minutes. Taste for seasoning, adding salt (or other things) as you see fit)
- Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.