Meet the chef behind The Khichdi Experiment who tells us about the perfect dish for National Comfort Food Day
A chocolate filled muffin? A sandwich full of warm cheese? Or a bowl of ghee-laden khichdi? Which would you choose on National Comfort Food day?
According to the team behind The Khichdi Experiment, the flagship Brand of Ola foods, most Indians would choose khichdi. Mothers serve it to kids when they want to quickly whip up a meal, it’s often the first thing that young bachelors learn to make when they’re on their own and this dish has been nourishing the body, and soothing souls for generations.
On most days, we use comfort food as a panacea for a bad day or when we are depressed or bored. On National Comfort Food Day, it’s a good idea to look at the existing comfort foods we love and try to make them as healthy and varied as possible. Whether it is a bowl of macaroni and cheese, a pot of rajma chawal or a platter of momos or samosas, make sure you tweak them so that you can enjoy them often, instead of enjoying them as guilty pleasures when your spirits are low.
YS Weekender caught up with Praneet Singh, culinary head, of the food venture, The Khichdi Experiment, to talk about khichdi, the dish made of rice and dal, that is often described as the ultimate comfort food…
Edited excerpts from the interview:
What is so special about a simple dish like khichdi?
Food is an integral part of the Indian culture. Indians have been creating variations of classic recipes by adding different flavours, ingredients and aromas, and one of these, is khichdi.
This dish is a blend of rice and lentils, seasoned with flavours and herbs. Khichdi is a household staple that offers warmth and comfort, until the last bite. With a variation in almost every state, it is no surprise that it has become embedded in our culture and is an integral part of our day-to-day life.
Why would it be classified as a comfort food dish?
Comfort Food boils down to simple, light and wholesome dishes that give you a nostalgic feeling and I cannot think of a better example than a warm bowl of khichdi, with a helping of pickle and papad on the side. A traditional and seemingly simple dish, khichdi has been savoured by Indians for generations now and every bite, takes us back to our childhood.
What are the other comfort food dishes in our country?
With every corner of India having different cuisines, tastes and cooking styles, India is the culinary melting pot of the world. While every home is bound to have its own comfort dish, the top two that come to mind are those that are indigenous to nearly every state - khichdi and Biryani.
What are the variations of khichdi? How many more are there?
We spent a great amount of time understanding the Indian palate, while playing around with popular and evolving taste preferences. Our teams spent months carefully curating the 16 best varieties of khichdi, keeping its original integrity in mind.
From the classic Plain Dal Khichdi to the Palak variant and even the Bengali Panch Phoran Khichdi and Hyderabadi Khatte Dal ki Khichdi, each flavour is a play on classic dish from states across the country, with an added twist.
On National Comfort Food Day, we would recommend trying any one of our 16 variants of khichdi, especially the Achari, Palak Paneer and Tadke Wali Khichdi from our menu, which have already become customer favourites.
What is the secret of making good khichdi?
While everyone has their own cooking style and takes, healthy khichdi gives us ample opportunities to experiment with an assortment of flavours and ingredients to reinvent the quintessential Indian dish. The one requirement to keep in mind is ensuring that the rice and lentils are soaked to ensure the texture and consistency is smooth and not overcooking - this could be anywhere between half an hour to 45 minutes.
The versatility of khichdi makes the dish popular.
Cooking khichdi can be an adventurous task as you have the option of mixing and matching ingredients, spices and flavours to suit your palate. Lately, we are also seeing people taking a different spin to the dish by adding lamb and chicken, which has become popular among foodies.
Can you tell us about the other foods being curated for Ola foods?
At Ola Foods, we are focused on food technology innovation with its state-of-the-art kitchen infrastructure, leading food manufacturing and menu engineering practices. By putting the customer at the forefront, we are creating classics that are unique and appease different palettes.
Why is khichdi so nourishing and why did you choose to work on it first?
Khichdi is one of the most versatile dishes with a variation in almost every state. As a truly Indian brand, what better dish to start of our food journey with than India’s national dish? For decades now, this simple yet nourishing dish has been an integral part of everyday life and we have given it a new spin.
Through The Khichdi Experiment, we provide the convenience of eating an Indian home-style meal at one's desk and it saves time when you’re overwhelmed with food choices, and would like to go with something familiar. It is also the best option for those missing home as we bring back childhood memories, delivered in a bowl.
What are some of the mistakes that you see Indian cooks making over and over again?
Indian cooking has been reduced to just four gravy foods. 80% of restaurants these days just make four gravies and build 100 to 200 products based on these gravies. This is not what Indian food is about. Indian food is predominantly about simmering, low flame cooking over a longer duration of time of individual ingredients and products.
Commercialisation of our Indian cuisine has really killed the true essence of it. Sadly, Indian cuisine has moved from well-curated, differentiated, individual dishes to just a churn of more than 100 products with the same base.
Can you give us three tips on good and healthy cooking?
My top three things to keep in mind when cooking are:
• Do it from your heart and give it your all: Cooking is all about inspiration and having an emotional connect. When you cook from the heart, you’ll definitely get the desired results.
• Sharpen all your senses when cooking: Cooking is definitely a sensory experience and it is important to learn to use and trust all your senses when cooking.
• Slow-cooking is important. Slow cooking has several advantages- the more slow cooking you do, the better the results will be. Of course, the icing on the cake is that slow cooking enriches the flavour of every dish.
What are some of the interesting comfort foods of other countries and states? Which among them do you like the most?
Across the world, you will see a myriad of comfort food options. Cultural globalisation has seen a shift in preferences and people indulging in new cuisines. For example, in the US, originally, burgers and fries were known as the go-to comfort food dish but we are now seeing different cuisines, including Indian, Greek and Pan-Asian becoming hot favourites. Thai Food Curry is one 'comfort food 'dish that is globally sought after and a personal favourite.
Why is this venture called The Khichdi Experiment? Is there any story behind it?
Khichdi is by far the simplest yet most wholesome of dishes that we Indians consume, giving us ample opportunities to experiment with an assortment of flavours. It is also referred to as the national dish of India. It cuts across the length and breadth of the country and what is interesting is that each of these variations of Khichdi have different names and all have a unique origin as well. There could not be a better dish to start with.
With so many food related shows now on TV and online, have more people begun cooking and enjoying it? Is it a good trend?
Food has always been a convivial and spiritual experience for us Indians. For example, every Indian festival and celebration is associated with food. A growing movement is seeing people from across the globe coming to India to experience our cuisines and Indians going abroad to try other cuisines.
We are seeing people indulging in gastronomical experiences, which involves understanding how the food is prepared. To answer your question, it is not a new trend but these shows have opened up opportunities for people to reinvent their cooking styles. What has changed, however, is the way people experience food.
How do you do research for your brand?
We carry out research through a combination of approaches. With food experiences having become a global movement, we ensure we tap into global food trends to understand flavours, ingredients etc. Additionally, we channel our inspiration with flavours and play around with elements to curate new dishes.
For The Khichdi Experiment specifically, we wanted to give a twist to India’s original comfort food to create a differentiator from the clutter in the market. Our sole purpose was to offer one brand that offers various flavours to khichdi.
What have you noticed about the changing tastes of the Indian customer?
Fusion food has gained immense popularity over the last few years. Nowadays, Indians are open to different culinary blends of culture and do not shy away from experimenting with a twist to their household favourites.
With eating out being more of an experience or a journey, consumers are willing to pay a premium to try new things and experience different cultures through food.