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Vegan Khichdi With Onion Sambal Served in a Bread Bowl

Freelance writer from the northeast coast of England with a fondness for vegan food and punk rock.

Vegan khichdi with onion sambal served in a bread bowl

Vegan khichdi with onion sambal served in a bread bowl

What Is Khichdi?

Khichdi, also known by several other spelling variants, is a spicy Indian dish from which the English breakfast meal kedgeree is derived, It is a combination of rice and lentils, cooked together with onion and spices.

Khichdi is easy to prepare, and it goes well with a topping of fried onion sambal. There are recipes for both below, as well as instructions on how to make a bread bowl, if you feel like giving in to your adventurous side.

Khichdi with red and white onion sambal

Khichdi with red and white onion sambal

Khichdi In Literature

“If I use the word 'khichdi' in my novel, I don't have to get into the trouble of explaining that it is a dish of rice and lentils. My Indian readers know it.”

— Ashwin Sanghi, Indian novelist

Spelling Variants of Khichdi

There are some sixty varieties of lentils grown in India. There appear to be almost as many variations in the spelling of the word khichdi. I have one old recipe book that uses the spelling kitcheri and in another it’s khichri. An online recipe lists it as khichadi, while one site reveals kitcharee and kitchadee as yet more variations. One article listed five different ways of spelling the word, adding that there are many other variants. I assume these are regional spellings from across the vast area of Southern Asia where this dish is popular. For this article, I’ll stick with the spelling khichdi.

My first attempt at khichdi came via one of the aforementioned recipe books. I tried it out on my family, and it was soon demolished as everyone tucked in, tearing off pieces of chapati to use as mini scoops. The secret to a successful khichdi, in my opinion, is to make sure the dish doesn’t dry out. The two main ingredients are very absorbing, so keep stirring and adding drizzles of liquid (stock or water) until it reaches a consistency known as gloopy.

Red lentils and brown rice

Red lentils and brown rice

Khichdi Recipe

There are many variations of this dish, but here is a simple, tasty version.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon oil (or 1 cm water for oil-free)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 large or 2 medium tomatoes, skinned and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (or more, if you’re a fiend)
  • 1 ‘thumb’ of ginger, minced
  • 1 chilli pepper, finely chopped (use your favourite type)
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 1 cup rice*
  • ½ litre vegetable stock
  • ½ teaspoon cumin powder
  • ½ teaspoon chilli powder (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon coriander powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
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Method

  1. Saute the onion, or simmer for an oil-free version, until soft. Add the ginger, chilli and garlic and stir for 2 to 3 minutes over medium heat, taking care not to burn the garlic.
  2. Add the tomato and spices and mix everything together. Add the rice and lentils and stir in the stock. Bring this to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer, and put a lid on the pan to impede evaporation.
  3. Stir the mixture occasionally to prevent sticking, and add more stock if it looks like it is drying out. When the rice and lentils are cooked, add a splash more stock and stir everything together.
  4. Transfer the khichdi to a bowl, and top with onion sambal, which you could prepare while the rice and lentils are cooking.

Cooking Notes

One thing I learned about making this dish is that towards the end of cooking, the rice, particularly brown rice, can still be a bit hard in the centre, while the lentils are cooked and disintegrating. Waiting for the rice to cook dries out the dish, and more liquid needs to be added, which dilutes the flavour and you could end up with lentil soup with rice in it. To avoid this, I soak brown rice for a few hours before cooking so that it plumps up in the sauce. Another solution is to partly cook the rice in a separate pan of water at the start of cooking, adding it to the lentils when almost cooked. This might invalidate the dish’s claim to be an authentic khichdi—but it still tastes great.

Onion sambal is a sweet and fiery topping

Onion sambal is a sweet and fiery topping

Fried Onion Sambal Recipe

I first came across a recipe for onion sambal in Charmaine Solomon's Complete Vegetarian Cookbook, and since my first taste it has been a regular accompaniment to spicy dishes. Onions add a delicious sweetness that lifts any kind of curry to another level, and it's very easy to prepare. If you don't have any chiili flakes, then powder will do, but I much prefer the flakes, and I like my sambal to be quite hot. Here's how to make enough for two people.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 large or 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon chilli flakes (or more, if you're a fiend)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Salt to taste

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a pan and saute the onions over a medium heat. Keep this going until the onions have browned and are soft.
  2. Add the salt, chilli flakes and lemon juice, and continue stirring until almost all of the liquid has evaporated.
  3. Transfer the sambal to a small bowl and spoon onto your favourite spicy dish.

How to Make a Bread Bowl

Having baked many homemade pizzas over the years, I became familiar with the properties of bread dough, and I figured that it should be possible to fashion a bowl made of bread. I put this to the test, and it worked. If you would like to try it for yourself, here's what you'll need.

Ingredients

  • 4 heaped tablespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon dried yeast
  • Warm water

Method

  1. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl and add the warm water until a smooth dough is formed. Knead this for 5 minutes, and let it rise, covered in a warm place. While the dough proves, turn your oven on to preheat at 400°F (250°C).
  2. Find an ovenproof bowl you want to use as a mould, and spread whatever you use for butter on the outside. Turn it upside down on a baking sheet on a solid surface (e.g., a table or worktop).
  3. When the dough has risen, after 20 minutes or so, knead it again for 1 minute and press it out onto the outside of the bowl. Try to keep a uniform thickness.
  4. Place the baking sheet containing the bowl into the oven for 10 minutes. When it is ready, remove it from the oven and carefully prise the bread from the bowl. Et voila.

A bowl made of bread is the ideal receptacle for this dish, as it has no runny sauce. Demolishing the bowl along with the food has a satisfying aspect to it too.

Khichdi Prep Playlist

If ever a band lived up to its name it was the Notsensibles. Here's a slice of their silliness with a comical ending too.

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