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Beyond Curry: Khichdi with Eggplant Fritters

If Indian food is just chicken tikka and biryani to you, then please keep reading. First, let me quickly clear that misconception. Those dishes are mainly from the North. In India, food varies from region to region, home to home, and religion to religion. And it's not all spicy and complicated. Most Indian food is surprisingly simple to make and very, very rewarding to eat.

In this new Indian cooking column, I'd like to introduce you to the real food we cook and eat at home. For starters, khichdi, a sort of one-pot comfort meal of rice, lentils and vegetables. Because of its soft texture and wholesome ingredients, it's one of the first meals we eat as babies, and thereafter it remains a staple.

Khichdi makes an appearance in a slightly richer form during festivals and takes on all sorts of avatars from region to region. In fact, khichdi is so popular, it has slipped into colloquial speech to mean a "random mixture of things." So when a feisty old lady says what you're wearing is a khichdi, it simply means that your look is all mixed up (and not that you've accidentally slathered some of the dish on yourself).

Khichdi is delicious just by itself with a dollop of ghee (clarified butter) mixed in. One of my favorite accompaniments are spicy fried fish or crisp eggplant fritters. Since it is essentially home-food, khichdi doesn't need to be fussed over. It usually has a risotto consistency, but if you'd like it drier, that's fine too. It's an extremely forgiving dish.

Note: If you don't have a pressure cooker, you can cook the khichdi in a pot with a lid. The cooking time increases by about 15 minutes. Any vegetable you have will do, this is a very forgiving dish.

About the author: Denise Dsilva Sankhe is a writer & creative director by profession. But that's only when she isn't eating her way across India. She recreates this delicious cuisine in her Mumbai home, which she shares with her newly-married husband, who has long since given up his determination to have salads for dinner.

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