Cookbook author Chitra Agrawal calls this creamy, gently spiced rice and lentil dish “the ultimate comfort food.” This vegetarian South Indian staple is so restorative, versions of it are often fed to babies and the unwell, but it’s also easy to brighten or spice it up as you’d like (see Chitra’s serving suggestions below).
In Vibrant India, Chitra writes, “Fittingly named, huggi is the ultimate comfort food. You definitely feel like you’re being hugged when eating it. It’s made from rice, yellow lentils called moong dal, which are split mung beans without skin, and black pepper and cumin seeds fried in ghee or butter. The lentils and rice cook together, making a creamy, rich dish resembling risotto. Traditionally, this dish is served with additional melted butter or ghee on top. I usually pair it with tangy accompaniments, like raitas, my green beans palya, cilantro coconut chutney, Brooklyn Delhi tomato achaar, or even a dash of lemon juice. Feel free to substitute red lentils for the yellow variety if that’s what you have on hand.
“Similar rice and lentil dishes exist throughout India, and are known by different names. This rice dish is also known as pongal in South India and is often served during the Hindu harvest festival or Sankranthi. There are spicy and sweet versions. You can make the sweet version by omitting the black pepper, cumin, asafetida, and ginger and adding sugar, golden raisins, and ground cardamom.”
A few additional tips: If you can’t find moong dal, you can substitute other split, hulled lentils that are quick to break down and turn creamy, like masoor dal. If you don’t have enough rice or you’d like more protein, Chitra has also used a mix of quinoa and rice. 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.And a final note from the editor’s husband: Make a double batch. Leftovers are delicious reheated to a porridgey consistency, but also sliced and crisped in a pan with a little oil, similar to leftover polenta.
Recipe from Vibrant India: Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Brooklyn (Ten Speed Press, March 2017).
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- Prep time 30 minutes
- Cook time 40 minutes
- Serves 4
basmati rice, preferably Dehraduni or jasmine rice
moong dal or masoor dal
peeled grated ginger
plus ½ teaspoon ghee or unsalted butter, divided
cashews, broken into large pieces
cumin seeds or ground cumin
whole black peppercorns or freshly ground black pepper
dried unsweetened shredded coconut
1 1/4 teaspoons
Big pinch of asafetida (hing) powder
- Wash the rice in several changes of water until the water runs clear. Soak the rice in water, generously covered, for 30 minutes. (This is optional but results in softer, more evenly cooked rice.) Drain thoroughly with a fine-mesh sieve.
- In a large pot over medium heat, cook the lentils, stirring constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes, until golden brown and have a nutty aroma. (This step is optional but reduces the stickiness of the dal.) Thoroughly wash the lentils with a fine-mesh colander. Return to the pot and add the rice and 3½ cups of water. Bring to a boil, skimming the foam off the top. Add the ginger, turmeric, and 2 tablespoons of the ghee.
- Cover and cook over low heat for about 20 minutes, until the rice and lentils are completely cooked. At this point, the grains will look separate. Add another ½ cup of water and continue to cook over medium-low heat, partially covered, for about 5 minutes. When you stir the mixture, it should have a creamy consistency. Feel free to mash the rice and lentils with a spoon. The consistency should be similar to a risotto. Remove from the heat.
- While the rice and lentils are cooking, in a tempering pot or small pan over medium heat, heat ½ teaspoon of the ghee. Add the cashews and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 to 3 minutes, until fragrant and golden brown. Set the cashews aside to cool in a bowl lined with a paper towel. If using cumin seeds and peppercorns, roughly crush them in a mortar with a pestle. Set aside.
- When the rice and lentil mixture is cooked, mix in the coconut, salt, and fried cashews, reserving some cashews for garnish.
- In the tempering pot or small pan over medium heat, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of the ghee. Add the crushed black peppercorns, cumin seeds, and asafetida. Fry for a few seconds until fragrant. Immediately pour the spiced ghee over the rice. To get all the spiced ghee out of the pot, put a spoonful of the rice mixture into the pot, stir, and spoon it back into the remaining rice mixture. Taste for salt. Garnish with the reserved cashews. Serve hot.
- When reheating, add a little water to loosen up the dish, as it has a tendency to dry out.