Kicchari: India's Famous One-Pot Meal

Yamuna Mataji

Yamuna Mataji

LONG-TIME Back to Godhead readers will recall that for several years Visakha Dasi wrote this column. Since she has made kicchari nearly every day for twenty years, I asked her to write something about kicchari.Not surprisingly, she discussed Radharani's serving mood to Sri Krsna more than kicchari. Here are her thoughts, an enlivening preface to the late-autumn kicchari menus that follow.

"Radharani, the eternal consort of Sri Krsna, was given the benediction that whatever She cooked would be more delicious than nectar. Aromatic and pleasing to see, Her dishes are the essence of all delicacies. She cooks so many types of dishes that no one can know them perfectly, and the Lord, upon eating Srimati Radharani's meals, feels great satisfaction.

"We might think that the Lord's satisfaction is due to the unsurpassed quality and diversity of Radharani's cooking. But in truth this is not so. His satisfaction is due to Radharani's supermost glory Her bhakti, Her unmotivated and uninterrupted loving devotion for Him and His devotees. And Lord Krsna seeks to evoke that glorious quality in all of us. Therefore He says, "If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or water, I will accept it."

"Getting a leaf, a fruit, a flower, or water isn't a problem, and the physical act of making an offering to the Lord is manageable. Loving devotion, however, goes beyond the mechanics of physical activity and intellectual correctness. It goes to the innermost core of one's heart, where the Lord, resplendent with the radiance of a bluish-black rain cloud, is situated. It is only by His and His devotees' grace that our innate feelings for Him can be aroused. And all acts done for Him can assist in this process of arousal, including, and perhaps especially, cooking for Him, offering food to Him, and eating while remembering Him.

"But what if one isn't naturally a good cook? What if like me one has limited time, energy, and kitchen equipment? And, even more, hardly a tinge of devotion?

"Still there is hope. First, because for one on the path of awakening love for Krsna there is no loss. With attention, a tinge of devotion may become a grain, then a pinch, then a morsel, and so on. And second, because one doesn't have to cook elaborately. For those of us not so qualified, or who prefer simple meals, there is always kicchari.

Made from simple ingredients dried split peas, rice, vegetables, and spices kicchari is a perfect one-pot meal. You can combine the elements in endless variety, creating new and fresh variations at every turn. And more important, the Lord will accept kicchari when you offer it to Him with devotion. Try it with Yamuna's menus that follow."

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These kicchari meals are easy enough for busy workday schedules, and delicious enough for weekend company. Kicchari is traditionally made on the stovetop, but both of these varieties are baked, leaving you free for other tasks. While the tastes are typically Indian, the dishes use ingredients readily found in supermarkets and natural food stores.

Cilantro, also called fresh coriander, is the most popular herb in India and much of the world. Mustard seeds have a nutty flavor when toasted and lend a pleasant flavor to many legume, grain, and vegetable dishes. If possible, buy organic rice, split peas, vegetables, and herbs, available in larger natural food stores. Their flavor is considerably more distinctive than nonorganic.

Menu One

Baked Stew Of Yellow Split Peas And Brown Rice With Carrots And Peppers

(Serves 4)

This no-fuss entree takes only minutes to prepare, and it cooks by itself in two hours. Marbled with brilliant red bell peppers, orange carrots, and green cilantro, this golden stew is beautiful, satisfying, and inviting for a fall dinner.

Accompany with Light Tomato Chutney, salad, and capatis (toasted flat breads).

1 cup yellow split peas, soaked in water overnight
2 cup long-grain brown rice
5 cups water or vegetable stock
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1-inch slice fresh ginger 
1 cup cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons butter or peanut oil
3 red bell peppers, seeded, deribbed, and cut into 3 4-inch squares
1 pound slender carrots, scraped and cut into 3 pieces
1 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon mustard seeds

Preheat the oven to 375°. Rinse and drain the split peas and place them in a 3-quart casserole. Add the next five ingredients, half of the cilantro, and a dab of butter or oil. Cover the pan and bake for 1 hour.

Stir in the vegetables and salt. Bake uncovered until the water is absorbed and the split peas and rice are soft (about 1 hour).

Place the mustard seeds in a small pot, cover, and fry over moderate heat until they turn grey and pop. Stir them into the stew with the remaining butter or oil and cilantro.

Light Tomato Chutney

(Serves 4)

2 teaspoons peanut oil
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 fresh jalapenos chilies, seeded and slivered
1 pounds plum tomatoes, chopped coarse
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons maple syrup
salt and freshly ground pepper

Place half of the oil, fennel seeds, and jalapenos in a saucepan over moderate heat. Toast until the seeds darken a few shades. Add the tomatoes and maple syrup and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.

Fold in the mint and remaining oil. Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Menu Two

Baked Kicchari Of Basmati Rice And Green Split Peas With Toasted Almonds

(Serves 6)

With a texture similar to South Indian pongal, this baked kicchari has a pilaf-like consistency hearty and inviting. The dish that goes with it, Baked Vegetable Packets, cooks by itself, leaving you free in the kitchen. Serve with lime yogurt.

1 cup green split peas, soaked in water overnight
4 cups water or vegetable stock
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 cinnamon stick
6 whole cloves
1 to 1 teaspoon crushed red chilies
1 cup cilantro leaves
2 cup long-grain rice, preferably basmati
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons toasted sliced almonds

Preheat the oven to 375°. Rinse and drain the split peas and transfer them to a 3-quart casserole. Add the next five ingredients, half of the cilantro, and a dab of butter. Cover the pan and bake for 1 hour.

Stir in the rice and salt. Partially cover and bake until the water is absorbed and the split peas and rice are soft (about 1 hour.)

Place the cumin seeds in a small pot and fry over moderate heat until they darken a few shades. Stir into thekicchari with the butter and remaining herbs. Garnish with almonds.

Baked Vegetable Packets

(Serves 6)

2 large red bell peppers, seeded, deribbed, and cut into long strips
3 small zucchini, sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 cup corn kernels
1 pound thin green beans, cut in 1-inch pieces
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed
1 cup vegetable stock
salt and cayenne pepper
lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350°. Combine the vegetables, coriander seeds, and stock in a large bowl. Season with a light sprinkle of salt and cayenne. Place an equal amount of the vegetables in mounds on six 12-inch squares of kitchen parchment or tin foil. Fold two ends of the squares together at the top and seal the sides by folding them together twice.

Bake on baking trays until the vegetables are tender (about 30 minutes). Just before serving, break the packets open and sprinkle with lemon juice.

Yamuna Devi is the author of Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking and is a regular contributor to the Washington Post.