Chicken soup for the soul….but kichiri for a cold…..

I started back to school on Thursday after a wonderful summer of travelling, cooking and generally laying about.  As with all schools the first couple days are spent in meetings.   When I say meetings the reality consists of listening to a member of SMT trying to rouse an interest in time tables and break duty whilst you are mentally planning how you are going to make sure you reach the bourbon creams before anyone else at coffee time.

Another very typical part of a teacher’s life is to wake up on Sunday with a runny nose, streaming eyes and a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach.  A fecking cold???  Right at the beginning of term??  And it’s not even bad enough to wrangle a few days off work or garner sympathetic noises from a heartless YM.  But it is bad enough to make me grumpy and wanting my mum.

Is this a feeling that crosses all international and cultural divides?  Hands up who’s mum is the awesomest when you have a sniffle!  Nobody else is prepared to put up with the need for constant sympathy, the moaning and the endless cups of Lemsip like a mum is.  I learnt this firsthand when I managed to contracted a particularly nasty strain of Streptococcus when I was 6 years old.  It was the summer holidays (typical) and I spent the whole summer in bed with rheumatic fever.  Rheumatic fever really is the pits, especially when you are a 6 year old kid who’s summer was going to revolve around making ramps for my pink BMX and jumping off the swimming pool roof into the water below.  I was bedridden, unable to use any part of my body from below the waist and had horrendous fevers.

At first, I was left in bed for most of the day with a small handheld tape player to keep me company.  I was too ill to concentrate on a book or watch TV but to this day I can still remember the old Bollywood movie songs that kept me company.  Occasionally my dad would pop in with a new toy and a cheery smile.  He even tried to put in a state of the art lighting system into my doll’s house.  It was a pity I wasn’t able to walk over and play with it but he seemed pretty chuffed with it.  My mum was a saint as ever, massaging my aching limbs, bringing me freshly squeezed juice or just babbling away about what had happened in the last hour since I had last seen her.  My brother was confused by the whole thing (he was only 4) so he just tended to ignore me.

After a while, my own bedroom became horrendously boring so my parents hit upon the happy idea of carting me around the various rooms of the house on a decrepit sun lounger so I wouldn’t feel left out.  It was much better except my brother learnt that if he launched himself at the bottom of the sun lounger than then he could catapult me off towards the other side of the room.  Unfortunately, I could neither pick myself up or beat him to a pulp so this game was pretty safe from his point of view although seriously humiliating for me.

And of course, I had the chance to eat a lot of kichiri  (not kedgeree which is some bastardised colonial British dish involving fish).  Kichiri is the asian mum’s equivalent of chicken soup.  It is soft, comforting and easily digestible – the perfect food for invalids.  I honestly feel that my various colds over the years have been cured by a plateful of kichiri, as opposed to Lemsip and Covonia.  So what is this magical wonder of modern medicine you ask?  Simply put, it is rice and lentils gently cooked together.  It is the colour of sunshine and when the delicate smell and flavours wrap themselves around your digestive tract like a fleecy blanket you cannot help but smile.

After waking up this morning with sinuses that felt like the M25 at rush hour, I needed a plate of kichiri.  Yet again, a tersely worded email to my mum for the recipe (no time for chit chat – I’m dying here!)  resulted in a recipe that looked simple and foolproof.  And even better, I wouldn’t have to buy anything special for it!  After our weekly trip to the market and YM ensconced on the sofa (and out of my way!) with a glass of milk and the BBC series State of Play I was ready to begin my road to recovery.

The ingredients list is ridiculously simple:

  • a cup of basmati rice
  • half a cup of lentils – you are supposed to use red but I only had green
Soak the rice and lentils separately before cooking for at least half an hour.  I’ve soaked mine in cake tins because I have a grand total of zero big cooking bowls.  In fact, you better get used to me substituting weird bits of cookware for the norm because  I have the worst equipped kitchen in my history of cooking.  It’s hard to justify spending lots of money on cookware and bakeware when you don’t know how long you will be in one place (YM’s words of wisdom – not mine!).
  • vegetable oil
  • white cumin seeds
  • garlic
  • a chilli
  • a small onion (or half a big one!) finely chopped
  • turmeric
  • salt
  • black peppercorns
First add a tablespoon of cooking oil to a pan and heat on a medium heat.
Add the finely chopped onion and stir until they are lightly browned (or forget about them because you’ve forgotten just how awesome John Simm is whilst re-watching State of Play and burn them)
Now add a teaspoon of minced garlic.  Unless you adore garlic like I do – I added about a tablespoon!
I also added a finely chopped green chilli.  Being in Mexico has turned YM into a chilli fiend.  It was either this or see my beautiful kichiri get covered with half a bottle of Habanero sauce later on.
Now add half a teaspoon of turmeric powder.
Follow with a teaspoon of cumin seeds.
Add 2 tablespoons of water to stop everything sticking to the pan.
Chuck in a teaspoon of salt and half a teaspoon of black peppercorns as well.
Now cook your onion-and-spice mix for about 5 min.  Then mix in your drained rice and lentils.
Give everything a really good stir for about 5 min so all the rice and lentils get evenly coated in the spicy onion mix.  When this is done add 3 cups of water to the pan.
Once you have added the water.  You then need to put the pan on something that will help distribute the heat evenly across the  bottom of the pan.  I used my trusty tortilla grill but any thick baking sheet would do.  Put it on the hob and then place the pan on top of that.  Alternatively, you can just pop a lid on the pan and put it in the oven at 100 degrees C for 15 min.
Now put the lid on and leave it to simmer away until all the water has been absorbed and the rice and lentils are tender.  This is approximately about 20 min.  You must eat kichiri with natural plain yogurt.  I spice my yogurt up with half a minced clove of garlic and a shake of cumin powder.
I honestly think this is one of my favourite things I have cooked so far.  It was actually as good as my mum’s (not surprising as it is her recipe).  Gentle, fluffy, the hint of garlic and chilli is complimented by the acid yogurt.  Even YM had 3 bowls and with the Habanero sauce nowhere to be seen!  Unfortunately, my mucus-producing cells are almost as excited as my taste buds and have decided to celebrate by producing a tsunami of snot.  So I will wash my kichiri down with a Lemsip, but I’m smiling as I do so!

2 thoughts on “Chicken soup for the soul….but kichiri for a cold…..

  1. Beautifully written Hina – please keep them coming – you have talent!

    It sounds so comforting that I now want to try your/your Mum’s recipe for kichiri – something I have never had before and yet thought I had tried so many lentil/rice recipes – not come across this one before. Thanks for sharing!

    Take care

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