What's khichdi but a smart one pot dish that is complete in itself! In fact, this simple, humble dish which derives its name from the Sanskrit word khiccā. I feel is one of the first masterstroke cooked up for eating right (read nutritious eating). Whosoever first thought of it was an absolute genius - yes, it is that brilliant!
Why? I give you seven reasons:
1. It gets ready in a jiffy. Dump the ingredients (dal, rice, veggies, seasonings), cook and 15 minutes later you can dig in. So basically you get a dish ready as fast as most convenience foods (packaged or ready to eat), but the difference is that this one is loaded with health.
2. Khichdi has all the benefits of a "good-for-us" meal - low in fat, high in fibre, loaded with essential vitamins and minerals. Plus it is calorie balanced too: two cooked bowls (about 250gm) deliver close to 400Cal and when you pair it with some yoghurt (which goes beautifully with it) you get a perfectly balanced, super healthy and filling meal of sub 500Cal. Khichdi thus cuts the need for unnecessary calorie counting (and stressing).
3. It gives you decent amount of good quality protein. Unfortunately most vegetarian foods tend to be incomplete sources of protein but apparently our ancestors found a way out via khichdi (even if unwittingly). In this dal-chawal combination the amino acid lysine lacking in rice and those lacking in lentils (cysteine and methionine) get supplemented, thus completing the amino acid profile.
4. Ever wondered why khichdi is the default dish to cook on the days when our digestive system seems to be playing up? Well, that's because it does not tax the intestines too much and gets digested easily (that's precisely also why rice kanji is a quick fix for diarrhoea, and Gujarati ghainsh (curd rice) is considered a standard meal for people who are unwell). Plus it helps maintain water balance in the body as it soaks up water during preparation, so is a hydrating food too.
5. And if you are worried about eating rice (as khichdi is usually made with rice) relax as studies show that rice eaters tend to consume a lot more fibre, nutrients and protein compared to non-rice eaters, and also eat less total fat, saturated fat and added sugars, and more beans and fruit compared to non-rice eaters. Khichdi is in fact a perfect vehicle for us to easily sneak in all the vegetables (added fibre and nutrients) that we don't otherwise eat.
6. A lot many people wrongly believe that khichdi (because of rice) is a high glycemic index food so makes the blood sugar surge quickly. But the fact is that as it is made with generous helpings of vegetables and dal and is usually eaten with fish curry or curd, the GI reduces drastically thus making it agreeable even for diabetics.
7. Finally let's accept it, we all dig comfort foods, basically foods that make us happy, even when we are down. And khichdi tops this list. One because of the happy childhood memories attached to this simple dish, but also because eating rice raises serotonin levels. And serotonin is one of the pleasure hormones that elevates the mood - and has a calming, soothing effect on us. That's the reason I feel khichdi is a perfect food to eat at night too (unlike otherwise thought), as the rice in it gives the brain a serotonin surge, which makes us serene, sleepier, and sated.
Small wonder, then that, this ubiquitous dish is omnipresent. And what is interesting is that every kitchen has its own special way of making it (yes, somehow it tastes different in every household). There are regional specialities of course: in Bihar cauliflower and green peas are often added to it, and a friend tells me that in Maharashtra it is made with prawns. Sounds delish!
Then there are some interesting variations like the bajre ki khichdi made in Haryana (which they down with chaachh (buttermilk)), bisi bele bhat of Karnataka, pongal of Tamil Nadu which sound interesting too. It seems there is a reason why this simple dish is so deeply in-grained in our system. And now you know why we must maintain the status quo.