Genius Recipes

The South Indian Comfort Food We All Need

Chitra Agrawal’s khara huggi is the Genius recipe to make most things feel better.

July  1, 2020

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.


When I’ve found myself overwhelmed and stymied lately, or uninspired by the repetitious cooking of the five meals my family knows by heart, this recipe has consoled me, in even more ways than expected.

It’s a largely one-pot, complete vegetarian meal of creamy rice and lentils—cozy and restorative enough that in South India, versions of this recipe are often served to babies and the unwell, but easy to dress up in times you’d like more brightness or spice.

Big hug. Photo by Kristen Miglore

Of its gentle ways, author and Brooklyn Delhi founder Chitra Agrawal writes in her beautiful cookbook Vibrant India, “Fittingly named, huggi is the ultimate comfort food.”

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Top Comment:
“I enjoyed seeing the rice/lentil mixture magically puffed up when I lifted the pot lid. I cooked it slightly less time that the instructions read &, by the end, it was not soupy..not like a well-made risotto. When I reheated it later for dinner, I added water which made it creamy and wonderful. We mixed it w/chutney and yogurt for a delicious dinner. ”
— Lisa L.
Comment

She explains this version is known as khara huggi in Kannada—the language her mother spoke growing up in Bangalore—to differentiate its savoriness from sweet huggi commonly served as dessert. It's also known as pongal in Tamil.

“Many people know khichdi,” Chitra told me, the Hindi name of the equally cozy rice and lentil dish made in North India, where her father’s from. "This recipe is actually enjoyed throughout India but will vary in name and spices used depending on the region."

Of huggi and its kin, Chitra says, “You definitely feel like you’re being hugged when eating it.”

I do. It’s a big bear hug, maybe even more so than with the comfort foods of my own childhood—thanks to the mellow, earthly grounding of toasted spices like cumin and black pepper, and the feeling of not only tucking into a special treat, but being lastingly nourished, too.

It’s also the acts of cooking huggi that soothe: washing rice and toasting dal, bronzing cashews, igniting crushed spices in a swirl of ghee and pouring them, sputtering, over your pot of huggi (1), knowing and seeing that each of these steps makes a difference. (2)

And perhaps the most cathartic, and most impactful, is the moment you take your pot of perfectly steamed, turmeric-tinted rice and lentils, pour in more water, dive in with your spoon, and bash it all up. Chitra added this genius step to her mother’s recipe to get the texture just right.

The huggi immediately turns creamy and porridge-like, as it should be. There is no fear of overcooking or oversaturating your rice here. You will not fail your huggi. Much like with Chinese congee, Filipinio arroz caldo, and other rice-based porridges, it’s the silky side of the grain you’re after, along with equally compliant dal.

Chitra likes topping her huggi with tangy and spicy condiments, like yogurt or lemon. Or the achaars—spicy-tangy-funky-unforgettable sauces—she sells at Brooklyn Delhi (once you start, you will want to put them on everything else, too). Or you can eat it the traditional way, with more melted ghee or butter on top. “This,” Chitra says, “is when people go to town.”

(1) For more on this foundational Indian technique of frying spices (and sometimes other aromatics) in hot fat to toast and infuse their flavor into a dish—known as chaunk, tadka, baghaar, and many other names across India—read this story by Chitra over at Epicurious.

(2) If you’re missing any of the spices or dal and would like to keep them on hand in your pantry, Kalustyan’s carries ingredients from all over the world and ships fast.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps something perfect for beginners? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. As an Amazon Associate, Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.
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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Lisa London
    Lisa London
  • JV
    JV
  • Regine
    Regine
  • bibliophile
    bibliophile
  • Elizabethdx
    Elizabethdx
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I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."

21 Comments

Lisa L. July 7, 2020
Love it and loved making it! I enjoyed seeing the rice/lentil mixture magically puffed up when I lifted the pot lid. I cooked it slightly less time that the instructions read &, by the end, it was not soupy..not like a well-made risotto. When I reheated it later for dinner, I added water which made it creamy and wonderful. We mixed it w/chutney and yogurt for a delicious dinner.
 
JV July 6, 2020
This was such a pleasure to watch! I’ve started looking forward to these weekly videos. This one was especially lovely - Kristen you are so relatable, I have the same perfectionist tendencies and reaction when I make minor mistakes! I loved Chitra’s calm cool solutions hahah. It’s so nice to see Indian cooking represented on here... my mom used to make the North Indian version (kitchari) growing up :)
 
Regine July 5, 2020
I made a vegan version of this, using coconut butter as recommended. It was delicious, and will become a staple in my house. Thank you very much.
 
bibliophile July 2, 2020
Also want to add, that it's comforting to see that folks who have way more experience than me sometimes make a "mistake" when cooking. I love that the video is there for those of us who may be making this for the first time so we can follow along too. This recipe reminded me of my own cultural "comfort food" of Bubur Ayam (Indonesian) which was made for me by my mom when I was under the weather, and then became what I made for my own children when they did not feel well.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. July 2, 2020
I haven't had Bubur Ayam before but it looks so comforting—thank you for sharing it. And thank you for being open to my mistakes—I definitely make them all the time, especially shooting videos, when it's not as easy to refer to the recipe as often as I like to when I'm cooking on my own (and even then, I still mess up plenty).
 
bibliophile July 2, 2020
This looks delicious. I've added it to my "What's For Dinner?" list for next week.
 
Elizabethdx July 1, 2020
I’ve made this recipe and it is absolutely wonderful. Now I want to eat it all the time.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. July 2, 2020
I agree, Elizabethdx—thanks so much for your comment.
 
zaini July 1, 2020
This is khichdi. The Indian mac and cheese. As in comforting everyday food. But much healthier ofcourse. Mom used to make this every alternate day. It's easy and cheap. Especially if you had to feed 6 children like my mom.
Anyway, this is khichdi. Just wanted to say that.
 
Chitra A. July 1, 2020
Hi Zani, thanks for your comment. In the video I say the other name for this dish is khichdi and that the recipe is prepared by different names depending on the region but khichdi is the name most people know.
 
Panfusine July 1, 2020
Perfection on a plate, Definitely calls for a delicious fire roasted 'eggplant' 'Gothsu' (Baingan Choka, and other equivalents from different regions of India) to pair with. As familiar as pongal is to the point of making it without a thought. It's always great to get a POV from someone else's method.
 
Saul July 1, 2020
OOP maybe get this recipe from a South Indian person next time!
 
Lissi July 1, 2020
OOP Chitra Agrawal, the source for the recipe, was born to a father from Northern India and a mother from Southern India, so, maybe not be so judgemental?
 
Rosalind P. July 1, 2020
???? Do you have a pedigree and genetic history of the person who was the source of this recipe? Do you need one? The real test is the dish itself. If you have another version, or you find that it lacks "authenticity", just say so, although like so many other foods, there are probably countless variations within the original culture. The text and narrative were extremely clear on where the dish comes from and its place in the culture it serves. Good job trying to create division here. I thank all the Food 52'ers for trying to bring the magnificence of the world's food, in all of its variety, to us.
 
Panfusine July 1, 2020
Opinion from a Native South Indian here - the recipe is absolutely spot on the money. Food52 also has the recipe for Pongal if you want to compare. the only difference is using Masoo vs. Mung dal
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. July 1, 2020
Saul, as you can see from the community response, it would be good to read more closely before commenting next time. We completely stand behind Chitra and her work. Please also review our code of conduct: https://food52.com/code_conduct
 
Saul July 1, 2020
OOP maybe get this recipe from an South Indian person next time!
 
Wolfe O. July 1, 2020
The header of the article points out that it's Chitra Agrawal’s recipe...
 
Wolfe O. July 1, 2020
The header of the article points out that it's Chitra Agrawal’s recipe ;)
 
David H. July 1, 2020
Great video. Would you please show us how your scallions are growing from the last video too? Thank you.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. July 2, 2020
Hi David, thanks for asking—the video from a week prior, when I started my scallions regrowing (while making Edna Lewis's Skillet Scallions) is here: https://food52.com/blog/25376-why-edna-lewis-skillet-scallions-are-genius A couple weeks later now, they're still slowly, but sturdily, growing!