Farro and Butternut Squash

Sabudana (tapioca balls) khitchdi is very popular in Bombay. When many Hindus in Maharashtra and Gujarat fast, they are allowed to eat sabudana. When visiting my mother once, her health aide Lata shared some of her khitchdi with us and it was delicious. This is simple, humble food. And it pays homage to Bombay.

Lata told me how to make it and back home in New Jersey, I did make it many times. But tapioca is all starch and mixed with potatoes, it is more carbs and little fiber. So looking at a packet of farro one day, I thought of a new version. And it worked! It has worked so well that this is the only version we make in our home. It is nutty, flavorful, light and nutritious. It is also economical at less than $10 for six servings.

We make farro khitchdi ahead of time and make extra portions as it sits well covered in the fridge for 3-4 days. I take it for plane rides as it is very portable and delicious at room temperature. Each grain is separate and full of flavor. I do not freeze this as the squash loses its texture when defrosted and heated, it becomes mushy. That is why fresh butternut squash works so much better than the frozen.

Sweet potato would work well and so would frozen green peas. The peas would require very little cooking time–just enough to defrost them. All the other ingredients would remain the same.

To make it gluten-free, use quinoa.

The list looks long but the flavorings are salt, sugar, lime juice, cumin, ginger, green chili, cilantro and peanuts. That is it. It has humble roots. I serve it with a salad and yogurt.

Ingredients

For the Farro

1 1/2 cups of 10-minute farro

21/2 cups of water (or according to instructions on farro packet)

1 tablespoon minced ginger

2 teaspoons minced hot green chili–jalapeno, serrano, habanero, tiny green chili or medium one (or to taste)

2 tablespoons sugar or to taste (a little more if using turbinado)

3/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

For the butternut squash

4 tablespoons oil (canola, grapeseed, peanut, avocado)

2 teaspoons whole cumin

1/4 teaspoon asafetida/hing (optional)

1/2 tablespoon minced ginger

1 teaspoon minced green chili

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar

3 to 3 1/2 cups diced (between 1/4 to 1/2 inch dice which is about 2 pounds of fresh butternut squash peeled, cored and diced or about 20 oz store-bought and cut)

For the end

2 cups chopped fresh cilantro

1 cup coarsely chopped roasted and salted peanuts

Method

1. Cook the farro according to the packet instructions. Or bring to boil farro and 2 3/4 cups of cold water to a boil. Then simmer till the water level comes down to the grain. Cover and gently simmer till the water is absorbed. Switch the heat off. Mix in all the ingredients and fluffing the farro. Cover and let it sit while cooking the squash.

2. In a large saute pan or skillet with a heavy bottom, heat the oil. Add the cumin, asafetida, ginger and chili and let it gently sizzle for about 45 seconds taking care not to burn the cumin.

3. Add the diced butternut squash, salt and sugar and give it a stir. Let it cook on moderate heat, gentle sizzle for 3-5 minutes. This will pan roast it. Then cover with a lid and continue cooking for another 3-5 minutes or until the squash is cooked through but is holding its shape.

4. To the skillet, add the flavored farro, stir it all gently and evenly on low heat. Cover and let it sit on low heat for a couple of minutes for the flavors to blend. If you plan to eat it straight away, scatter the cilantro and peanuts, toss, taste, adjust if necessary and enjoy.  If you are making it ahead, wait till the khitchdi cools before adding the cilantro and peanuts.

Serves 6. Cooking time 20 minutes: Prep 10 minutes if using store cut butternut squash.

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