Hira’s Kadhi

Let me take you beyond the ubiquitous Indian restaurant menu, usually north Indian, meaning a miniscule representation of Punjabi/Mughlai cuisine. The overly rich and heavy dishes do no justice, nor do they represent, the vastly diverse foods with their long histories that have sustained people throughout the subcontinent for centuries. With these recipes and stories, readers are welcomed into our kitchens. The food is nothing like the restaurant food. Home-cooked Indian food is simple, comforting, but can also be sophisticated and elegant. It has been overlooked in the West, especially the US.

This kadhi is another one of my mother’s wonderful recipes though she did not write recipes until we pleaded. As the water, air, ingredients’ flavors change in each place, I have made some minor variations.

It is believed that kadhi is originally from Rajasthan, a northwestern state extremely popular with tourists. It is known as the Land of the Royals and also as Marwar. Rajasthan has exquisite palaces.  Vibrant colors pop against the desert sands and clear blue skies. The highly flavorful cuisine is as colorful as the people and their crafts. A large segment of the population is vegetarian but the royals were big game hunters and they ate plenty of game and meat with rich gravies.

Like khichdi, kadhi has a long history and many variations, though it may not extend to 3,000 years. K.T. Achaya was a highly regarded Indian food historian. He is quoted here from the e-paper Mint.

“References to it can be found in writings that date back centuries. In Gujarat, K.T. Achaya writes in his book Indian Food: A Historical Companion, as far back as 1200, milk was used widely to yield thakra or buttermilk, kshiraprakara or chhena and themanam, or the present-day kadhi. Om Prakash, in his book Food And Drinks In Ancient India, mentions temana, a soup prepared with curds.” 

K.T. Achaya is also quoted in the newspaper Dawn:

“Some also believe that the yogurt-based Karhi is from Northwestern India and is a precursor to what came to be known as the British curry. The British were exposed to this saucy dish much earlier than to the foods of the south; they had entered India in the early 1600s through the northwestern city of Surat, making kadhi quite possibly the original curry.”

In Punjab, the kadhis are thicker with tart yogurt as the base along with besan (see note below). They also add various types of besan fritters. It is similar to Pakistani kadhis because it was one region before the partitioning of India. The South Indians have their versions of kadhi using what is available in the region.

As the northern part of Rajasthan is a vast expanse of desert, the cuisine does not have green vegetables. They simply do not grow there. So the food is based on what grows and is available under the harsh conditions–legumes, bajri/millet, barley, dairy. As water is scarce, ghee, buttermilk, yogurt, and milk are used in cooking. Yogurt and buttermilk are cooling during the intense heat of the summer and easily digested. Cooked with bajri/millet flour, buttermilk and milk making warming hot drinks during the chilly winter months. 

Gujarat, situated just south of Rajasthan, also has some arid desert areas (the Rann of Kutch), is predominantly vegetarian, and is home to many Jains like Rajasthan. Observant Jains regularly abstain not just from root vegetables but also from all green vegetables.  Even non-observant ones may abstain from all green vegetables during several religious periods, the main one being paryushana. It is easy to see how these dishes would be welcomed and adopted into Gujarati cuisine. 

Most of the cooks who work part-time (typically an hour in each home) or full-time in middle class and wealthy Gujarati and Marwari family homes are Marwari men who speak fluent Gujarati. They cook both Gujarati and Marwari food. Many have small farms in Rajasthan. But those farms do not sustain them financially. The women and children work on the farm. During planting and harvesting seasons the men return to their villages from the city jobs to work on the farms. The city jobs help pay for the children’s education and family bills.

My father’s family tree, which goes back centuries, indicates migration from Rajasthan to Gujarat. First names change from Marwari names to Gujarati names, so do the last names. Families must have brought their recipes with them to Gujarat and the two cuisines intermingled. The two states are adjacent. There has been intermingling through marriage as well. Our family roots are in Rajasthan, many, many generations ago.

A basic north Indian kadhi is a base of plain lassi or buttermilk thickened with besan. Gujarati kadhi balances salty, sweet, and sour flavors. I have eaten different Marwari (Rajasthani) kadhis–sweet and sour as well as slightly tart but not sweet. These kadhis are thinner, lightly coating the back of a spoon. Gujarati kadhi has many adaptations. Sometimes we add cooked okra (mine has no sugar when okra is added) to make bhinda ni kadhi. To a non-sweet kadhi base, we add little rice balls or dumplings to make our version of matzo soup–rasiya dhokra! To the same kind of base, my mother would add short besan noodles by making a thick batter and pushing it through a slotted spoon into the bubbling pot. Ganthiya nu shaak. All these dishes kept us happily fed, especially during days we did not eat green vegetables and when produce was limited.

Gujarati kadhi is flavorful without being spicy and you can see that there is little fat in this recipe. Hira’s kadhi is gently flavored with fenugreek, which is valued in Indian cooking for its digestive properties. Ayurvedic cooking values it for diabetics as well.   

This recipe has very little sugar compared to normal Gujarati kadhis. So those who find Gujarati cooking too sweet will be happy with the minimal sugar here. Others can add extra sugar to their taste and it would not be unusual to add four to six teaspoons of sugar. The tartness and consistency of the yogurt used is variable and so sugar and salt are adjusted accordingly, as is the amount of water. Homemade yogurt is a lot thinner than store-bought yogurt found in American supermarkets.

The perfect accompaniment to this Gujarati kadhi is plain rice or our khichdi.

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup besan (split yellow gram flour available at Indian grocery stores and places like Whole Foods)
  • 1 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar (or to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds (methi available at Indian grocery stores)
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger root (optional)
  • 10 ounces plain whole milk yogurt, or 2% plain Greek yogurt, or lactose-free 2% plain Greek yogurt
  • 3 ½-4 cups water (use 3 cups for whole milk as it is thinner)
  • 3 dried red chilies (add green chilies for more heat)
  • 8 curry leaves
  • 4 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander for garnish (optional)

For tempering (vaghar/tarka)

  • 2 tablespoons oil or 2 teaspoons room temperature ghee (it is soft and semi-solid)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 clove
  • 1/4 teaspoon asafetida/hing
  • 1/4 teaspoon red chili powder
  • 1/3 cup of minced cilantro–keep a couple of teaspoons aside to garnish, if desired

Steps

  1. Lightly mix the first five ingredients in a 3 quart pot with a heavy bottom.
  2. Whisk the yogurt till it is smooth. Then add a cup of water and whisk again till the mixture is well blended and smooth.
  3. Slowly add a little bit of the thinned yogurt to the flour mixture to form a smooth paste of flour. Then keep adding the thinned yogurt till it is all smoothly incorporated. Now add the remaining water and whisk.
  4. Toss in the dry red chilies (you may also add green chilies to taste) and the curry leaves.
  5. Bring to a boil stirring frequently. Then lower the heat to medium and simmer gently for 15 minutes, occasionally stirring the mixture. Keep an eye on it to make sure it does not boil over.
  6. Taste for seasoning. Then turn the heat off and in a small sauce pan or large heat-proof ladle, heat the ghee or oil. Add the asafetida, clove, and cumin. Keep them on medium heat till the cumin turns a deeper brown (10-30 seconds). Cumin burns easily. Add the minced cilantro and red chili powder, stir and cook for another 30-45 seconds on medium heat. Do not let the cilantro get dark and dry. Swirl the mixture gently into the kadhi.
  7. Simmer the kadhi for a couple of minutes for the flavors to work through.
  8. Garnish with fresh cilantro, stir, and serve hot with rice, pilaf (pullao), or khichdi (moong and dal dish).

Kadhi stays well in the fridge for a couple of days. It will thicken, so add the desired amount of water when heating it. Some days we enjoy a small bowl of hot kadhi on its own.

One of my sons does not like fresh cilantro so I cook it briefly in oil and it seems to remove the “soapy” taste that he experiences. Cooking it briefly in oil also retains the vibrant green better and is much better when reheating than the fresh cilantro that discolors and loses its freshness overnight.

Serves 6. Preparation and cooking time: 30 minutes.

Note: Besan or yellow gram flour is from beans that look much like yellow split peas and is gluten-free unless there is contamination from the mill. In that case, for a gluten-free version we have used Bob’s Mills gluten-free chick pea flour. The flavor is slightly different but it is an excellent substitute. Reduce the amount though to a quarter cup as it thickens the mixture more than yellow gram flour.

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