25 year-old Kunal is not your average guy, he cooks, massages people’s feet and makes flower mandalas. He is a co-volunteer here at Sapna Ranch, where he showed me how to cook khichidi , a simple ‘temple food’ invented by Saint Sai Baba. Khichidi is almost always served alongside curd curry (khadi). The mix of dry and wet are a perfect combination.
The story of Saint Sai Baba
Two hundred years’ ago there was a man called Sai Baba who lived in the town of Shirdi. Sai Baba was horrified by the amount of poor people in his town and wanted to do something to help them. He walked around Shirdi asking his neighbours to donate food. Some gave rice, others carrots, and others onions, and so on until eventually Sai Baba had a huge variety of food. He decided to put all the ingredients into the pot at once and cook it over the fire. What came out of the pot was ‘khichidi’, which means ‘mess’ in Hindi.
He then invited everyone in the area who wanted or needed food, to come and eat for free. The act of feeding the poor for free (or anyone who comes along, you can be rich and you will still be fed) has become tradition and the now infamous Sai Baba Temple in Shirdi provides meals every day from their vast solar powered kitchens. It is the second richest temples in India. Other Sai Baba temples in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh have followed suit, and serve the infamous ‘khichidi and khadi’ every Thursday.
An alternative lifestyle
As a child growing up in rural India Kunal had khichidi for dinner every single night. “It is the go-to dish for anyone in Madhya Pradesh. If you don’t know what else to cook, you do khichidi” Kunal explains. On rare Sundays his mother would also make curd and his family would have curd for breakfast and then khichidi and curd curry (‘khadi’) for dinner.
For a 25 year old Indian male, Kunal is an anomaly. He not only knows how to cook, but is a good one too. “When my girlfriends don’t know how to prepare a dish, they don’t phone their mothers, they phone me!” Kunal jokes. Each morning at Sapna Ranch he also makes the flower mandalas, a task that is very much the women’s job.
Hearing Kunal talk about his school years it is clear that he has always chosen an alternative path, even if it wasn’t always the easiest. At school Kunal was the only person who refused to wear ‘smarts’ (a shirt and trousers), insisting on wearing casual, practical clothes more reminiscent of their hard-working forefathers. He was also ‘that guy’, who complained to the principal about his classmates parking their mopeds in the school car-park when they were still legally underage to drive them.
By Kunal’s own admission, he isn’t suited to mainstream society, but it was a life changing bicycle yatra (journey) that completely changed his outlook on life. For one week he and some friends travelled with no phone or no money. Every day they were taken in by villagers and offered food and a place to sleep in return for work. Kunal realised he could live a life without money. Since then he has travelled between communities, temples and farms where he lives in exchange for work.
Khichidi and Khadi
Whether or not khadi was served alongside khichidi at Saint Sai Baba’s inaugural feast we will never know for sure, but what’s certain is that the two dishes go very well together now! They are perfect partners because of the combination of wet (khadi) and dry (khichidi), a partnership that I’m realising is an unrwritten rule when it comes to Indian cooking. The Khadi is (once again) Hasmukh’s recipe. It is usually cooked using chickpea flour, which gives it a natural yellow colour. But chickpea flour is expensive and goes off quickly, so Hasmukh uses a combination of wheat flour and turmeric powder in his variation of the curry.
Recipe for Khichidi and Khadi
- Tur Dal
- 1 tbspn mustard seeds
- 1 tbspn cumin seeds
- 2 potatoes
- vegetables of your choosing – cauliflower, carrots, radish, cabbage
- 2 onions
- 4 green chilli
- A handful of roasted peanuts
- 1/2 thumb fresh ginger
- 1/2 tspn asafoetida
- 1 tspn turmeric
- 1 tspn chilli powder
- 250ml curd or yoghurt
- 125g flour (chickpea or wheat)
- 1 tbspn turmeric powder
- 15 garlic cloves
- 6 curry leaves
- 6 green chillis
- 1 thumb fresh ginger
- 2 tbspn mustard seeds
- 1 tbspn cumin seeds
- A handful of roasted peanuts
- half a handful of raisins
Prepare all you vegetables in advance to make the cooking easy.
Put diced potatoes into a large heavy bottomed saucepan, or a pressure cooker, and let them cook in oil for a few minutes.
Rinse the rice and dal together in another pan.
Add the mustard and cumin seeds to the potatoes and stir for a few minutes. Next add the chilli, ginger, onions and asafoetida.
Once the onions have turned translucent and soft add the turmeric and chilli powder and stir. Cook everything until a slight scum begins to appear in the pan, this is how you know the spices are thoroughly cooked.
Now add any vegetables you may be using in the dish, along with the peanuts, salt, lemon, rice and dal. Stir everything together so that it is evenly mixed.
Add water to the pan until there is half a finger of water showing above the rice. Put the lid on the cooker and leave to cook. Turn the heat to low after the first whistle and turn it off after the second whistle.
For the Khadi
Mix together the flour, turmeric powder and curd together to make a paste.
In a large pan, kadi or wok heat some oil. Add mustard seeds to the pan, once you hear them cook you know the oil is hot enough to add the other ingredients. Add cumin seeds, then curry leaves, chilli, ginger and garlic.
Serve the khichidi and khadi together hot, also excellent warmed up again the next day.