Of life and the Indian smorgasbord – khichdi… the art of jugaad…

New jobs, long hours, new cities, setting up homes for the first time, severing or at least distancing of close friendships, figuring out long commutes (which we were unused to after living in small towns where everything was “next-door”), new marriages for some of us… many new experiences… some exciting, some exhausting, some frankly overwhelming… my undergraduate and post-graduate classes had split up to various cities around the country and were facing their many challenges in many different ways.

Like i said a couple of days ago, some of us chewed up the new experiences, extracting the livin’ bejeezus out of them and then spat out the skins, others scraped the skin off carefully with their teeth and neatly setting aside the ‘kachra’ (rubbish)… warily before sliding into the stream of life…

…..these were the pre-internet days, in fact most people had not set eyes on a computer till then… so support systems (no, the REAL ones, not the computer varieties!) had to be built from scratch, one learnt primarily from one’s own mistakes, one picked oneself up, dusted off and looked around sheepishly to see who had witnessed the fall and was probably giving you a wise grin from the sidelines… and one went on…

…one grew older, had kids, got into the EMI trap, picnicked with kids and families, we started meeting up again and built close relationships that have lasted a lifetime for most of us and have served as lifelines in times of trouble… and learnt that caring and being cared for are truly the best things in life!

…but in those early days, we made do in a lot of ways. for a number of my friends, official trips meant a stretch on the pocket as daily allowances – battas – were strictly small and if you could find somebody’s house to crash in for the night rather than pay for a hotel room, you could manage the rest of your travel… my parents’ house in Hyderabad – being one of those hospitable types, saw a number of my friends staying over for the night (whether i was there or not!) as they came on work from distant cities… they all ended up being good friends to the parents too… and were happy to host my parents in turn…

As I’ve mentioned earlier in these stories, my mom is a past mistress at the art of jugaad – the very Indian art of ‘making-do’, quickly and efficiently and with the least amount of fuss. On one trip to Bombay, she stayed with a couple of friends of mine and found them struggling to manage two fulltime careers, long commutes and cooking meals! Unlike more conventional (and perfectionist) cooks, she had learnt cooking late in her twenties and being immersed in her own career, she quickly decided she’d learnt enough to get by on and she has – over the past fifty odd years since then, ‘made-do’ very well indeed! 

Moved by the plight of this young couple, she taught them a khichdi – a one pot meal – which they made every day for the next two years! My friend K is grateful to her to this day saying that they got by and survived and in fact, thrived on this one pot wonder! And for old times’ sake, they still resort to it every now and then…

Here it is, the one pot, barely-any-recipe-needed, any-idiot-can-make-it dish!

VEGETABLE KHICHDI (for 2 people)

  • 1 cup rice 
  • 1/2 cup masoor/moong/chana dal or a mixture of all three (except that chana dal has to be soaked for half an hour prior to cooking)
  • 2 cups mixed vegetables – carrots, beans, peas, potatoes,tomatoes, cauliflower, spinach, chowchow – any mixture of these
  • Salt – 3/4 tsp
  • Green chilies -1 or 2 – slit
  • Pepper – 1/2 tsp
  • Jeera (seeds or powder) – 1/2 tsp
  • Red chili powder – 1/4 tsp
  • Ghee – 1 tsp
  • Chopped coriander/mint – 2 tbsp
  • Turmeric – 1/4 tsp

Put everything  (except coriander/mint) in a large bowl (about 1.5 litre capacity), add 3-4 cups of water, cover and pressure cook for 2 whistles. Lower heat and simmer for a further five minutes. Switch off and let rest while you bathe or have a drink.

Open, sprinkle herbs over, open a carton of yogurt and a bottle of pickles and a packet of chips (if you insist on fatty foods!), settle down to watch reruns of Downton Abbey or whatever is your particular poison and dig in – to a healthy, satisfying dinner – the best of the jugaad varieties! It’s a most forgiving dish too – more or less water than needed – never mind – it tastes just as good. Feeling sick in the tummy? Add more water! Feeling celebratory? Add a couple of cloves, cinnamon, flakes of garlic, some ginger – anything you feel like almost… well, maybe I wouldn’t go so far as adding mints or Coke… but… almost anything else. Run out of rice? – never mind… add semolina or vermicelli (cook for a few minutes only though). Forgot to pick up ghee at the store? Reach for the butter… no butter? Go fat free and garnish with feeling virtuous!