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Khichra or kichada

My mother makes Khichada, a tradition to mark the end of the month of Muharram. However, I grew up in Mumbai where kichada was one of my fondest food memories in my Aunt's house. The preparations and general chaos started 2 days ahead, the beans and wheat are soaked, the spices roasted and the super large vessels, enough for 100 people were taken out from storage. The next day the charcoal fires were lit and the cooking started amid now total chaos with shouts for spices, large metal stirring tools and a constant need for the charcoal fires to be fanned. The cooking lasted all night with every member of the family taking a shift around the fire stirring the pot and being told to pay attention. On the day of Eid, the chaos disappears, and the prayer ceremonies are always too long because everyone can smell the slow-cooked stew, aromatic and calling. Even today Kichada brings back those childhood memories, and I always relish the Kichada my mother makes from this very old and traditional recipe.

Khichada is a Mughal dish that is a variant of Haleem, the main difference being that Kichada has full chunks of meat and is low in oil while haleem is cooked till the meat shreds into the lentils and is very heavy on the oil. Basic recipes have variations on the composition of lentils used, but wheat is always a component. History tells us that Kichada was originally made in Lucknow. During the period, the people were amid the famine of 1784. The Nawab of Awadh decided to build the Imambargah monument and fed the workers with a thick gruel of rice, lentils and meat that was rich in carbohydrates and protein. The dish became popular and was carried across the country after the completion of the monument.

This Kichada is an old traditional recipe that has been passed down through generations. The thick stew is beautifully flavoured with spices, the meat fall-apart tender and the topping of sweet onions, birista, and lime juice cut through the heavy dish. To me, it is comfort food, one tied to childhood memories and one that will always be delicious. You will find Kichada in some restaurants in Mumbai or other cities, but they pale because the meat and lentils are pressure cooked, and the balance of spices is off. The best Kichada is always found in people's homes, slow-cooked with care and love.

For more recipes from Chef Zafar, click here.

Ingredients: (For a large party)

1 lb whole wheat berries

1/2 cup split Bengal gram (chana dal)

1/2 cup split pigeon peas (toor dal)

1/2 cup split yellow gram (mung dal

1/2 cup split red lentils (masoor dal)

1/2 cup rice

1/4 cup black-eyed peas, (lobia)

10 cups water

Soak all these ingredients in 10 cups of water overnight.

5 tablespoons oil

4 onions, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons ginger paste

8 cloves garlic

12-15 green chillies

1 tablespoon red chilli powder, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon garam masala

1 kg mutton, 1/2 rib chops and 1/2 bone-in mutton leg cut into medium dice

4 cups water

Salt, to taste

4 tablespoons cilantro, minced, to garnish

4 large onions, sliced

5 tablespoons oil

Wedges of lime

Rinse the lentils out and add another 10 cups of water and salt and bring to a boil. Simmer closed for 3 hours. Stir the dish every so often as the lentils will tend to stick to the bottom of the pot. A slow cooker or Instapot is best for this stage.

Meanwhile, grind the ginger, garlic, and green chillies to a smooth paste and set aside.

In a large frying pan add the oil and fry the onions on medium heat till they are well browned. Add the Green chilli paste and cook for 2-3 minutes till the ginger no longer smell raw. Add the spices, red chilli powder, turmeric and garam masala and give a quick spin.

  • Add the meat and fry on low heat for 5 minutes to allow the outsides of the meat to seal and the spices to cling to the surface. Add the water and salt and slow braise the meat on the stove on a low simmer for 2 hours. Alternatively, you can bake the dish at 375° F for 2 hours. Keep an eye on the liquids and top up as needed.

When the meat is ready, add it to the cooking lentils. Mix in well and allow to continue to simmer for 4 more hours. At this point, the lentils should have essentially disintegrated and the wheat berries should be also breaking down. This step is best done in a slow cooker or Instapot. Stir the pot often as the broken down lentils and wheat berries will tend to stick to the bottom of a pot, especially if you are cooking this on the stove.

At the end of the 6-7 hours, you will have a smooth mix with all the lentils and wheat berries completely broken down. The meat should also be completely tender and ready to drop off the bone. Taste and adjust salt and chilli.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and sauté the onions till they are a deep golden brown. Drain on paper towels and set aside to garnish.

Serve hot garnished with fried onions, cilantro and wedges of lime.

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