Indian Comfort Food

Those of us with food sensitivities often are confronted with social food situations where we know “if I eat any of this, I’ll be sorry later” . . . but we want to be polite.  So we pick the things that seem “relatively safe.”  I’m pretty good at avoiding the likely culprits.  And lucky for me, I won’t end up in the hospital if I am accidently exposed to gluten, dairy, or corn.  But that doesn’t mean I won’t suffer: intestinal distress (gluten), sinus trouble (dairy), hives (corn).

My choice when I need to rebalance and cleanse my system is what I call Indian Comfort Food, two ayurveda-inspired porridges that soothe and restore: Kichari (aka kitchari, khichdi, and many other variations) and Savory Farina.  Try one or both of these recipes and your body will thank you!  (Recipes adapted from information obtained at an Ayurvedic Cooking class at Health Through Ayurveda.)


Kichari with Sweet Potato and Chard


  • 1/2 cup split yellow lentils (moong dal) or red lentils (masoor dal)
  • 1 cup white basmati or long-grain rice
  • 6 cups boiling water
  • 1-2 Tablespoons oil or ghee (I use coconut oil)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 pinch baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 cinnamon stick (or 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon)
  • 8 cloves (or 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves)
  • 10-12 cardamom pods (or 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom)
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 4 cups chard (swiss, red, or rainbow, about 1/2 bunch), stems removed, sliced or torn into bite-sized pieces
  • Salt to taste


  1. Rinse split lentils until water runs clear. Soak 4 hours or overnight; drain and rinse.
  2. Get water boiling if it isn’t already.
  3. Warm oil in large sauce pan or Dutch oven. Add cumin seeds and ginger and sauté for 1 minute. Add drained lentils. Sauté for another few minutes. Add 4 cups of boiling water and pinch of baking soda. Bring to a boil and then turn down heat to low. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile measure out remaining spices (cumin, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, clove, cardamom), prepare sweet potato, and rinse rice.
  5. When beans are mostly cooked (after about 20 minutes), add rice and sweet potatoes. Add remaining 2 cups boiling water.
  6. In a separate small pan, heat 1 Tablespoon oil. Add spices. Warm over low heat just long enough to release aroma. Be careful not to burn.  Add to bean/rice/sweet potato mixture.
  7. Continue cooking at a simmer until rice is done, 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  8. Add chard. Cook until greens are wilted and combined with the rest of the ingredients (5-10 minutes).
  9. Salt to taste.
  10. Enjoy!

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  • The original recipe called for a pinch asafoetida (hing) added with the cumin seeds.  I tried to find hing that didn’t also include gluten and/or corn starch.  Unfortunately, my body reacted to the one product I found that said it was gluten-free in a way that told me there was something in it that I shouldn’t be eating . . . so even though this is a traditional “healling” ingredient in Indian/Ayurvedic cooking, I omit it.
  • If you can’t find small split lentils, you may be tempted to use regular split peas (yellow or green).  Unfortunately, those require MUCH longer to cook.  I’m really not sure how to best modify this recipe to use them.  There may be other kichari recipes on the web that use those larger split peas. (See slideshow above for a picture comparing the different types of lentils.)
  • Kale, spinach, or other leafy greens can be substituted for the chard.
  • Sometimes I heat all the spices at the beginning (with the cumin seed and ginger) rather than waiting until later.  The flavor is a bit different and there’s a greater danger of burning the spices, but it can work (and leaves one less pan to wash and frees up one more burner).
  • The original recipe claimed that this recipe “Serves 2-3.”  I usually get 5-6 serviings out of it.
  • [2021 update] I never figured out what the baking soda was supposed to be doing, so I now omit it and add 1/2 tsp of Ajwain instead. Ajwain is an Indian seed that “tempers the effects of a legume based diet” 🙂

Hearty Breakfast Farina (Uppma)

Savory Hot Farina


  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1/4 cup brown rice farina (I use Bob’s Red Mill “Creamy Brown Rice Farina”)
  • 1/2 cup vegetables (I use 1/4 cup finely chopped carrots and 1/4 cup frozen peas)
  • 1-1/4 tsp Breakfast Spice Blend (see below) (OR 1/2 tsp coriander, 1/4 tsp cumin, 1/4 tsp turmeric, and 1/4 tsp cinnamon)
  • 1 Tablespoon coconut oil or ghee
  • Salt & Pepper to taste


  1. Start the water boiling in your kettle.
  2. In a small cast iron or non-stick pan over medium heat, lightly the brown rice farina, stirring frequently until the farina is light brown in color.  Remove toasted farina to a bowl and set aside.
  3. Melt the coconut oil or ghee in the pan over low heat.  Add the Spice Blend.  Let spices warm for 10-15 seconds.  Add vegetables and a small amount of water.  Stir. Cover and cook vegetables for 5-7 minutes.
  4. When the vegetables are cooked, add the toasted farina and stir to coat.
  5. Add 1 cup boiling water and a dash of salt.
  6. Cook for approximately 5 minutes, stirring frequently as farina thickens.
  7. Enjoy with a cup of Chai Tea!

Breakfast Spice Blend (makes approx 1/4 cup, enough for 6 individual servings)

  • 2 Tablespoons ground coriander
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 Tablespoon ground turmeric
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon

Combine all the spices in a glass jar.  Use 1-1/4 teaspoons (or a heaping teaspoon) for each serving.


  • I’ve only made this dish one serving at a time, but it should work if the ingredients are doubled/tripled/quadrupled.  You might need to adjust water quantity, spice quantity, and/or cooking times.  [2021 update] I now always double this recipe (so 2 cups water, 1/2 cup farina, 1 cup veggies, 2-1/2 tsp spice blend all in a slightly larger pan or sauce pan). Works fine and somehow doubling gives me 3 servings instead of two.
  • Other vegetable options: chopped onion, minced ginger, chopped yam or sweet potato, asparagus, leafy greens, or whatever else sounds good.
  • I’m guessing this dish could be made with other grains (e.g., wheat farina or grits), but I haven’t tried that.  You might have to adjust cooking times.
  • [2021 update]  I’ve also made the double recipe with 2 cups of leftover cooked rice instead of the farina (reduce the water).  And I sometimes throw in a couple of scrambled eggs to make a really yummy Rice Bowl.

WOW!  That’s quite a bit of information.  Please let me know (in the comments) if anything needs clarification.


Indian Delights

Rogan Josh and Saag Aloo
(Lamb Stew and Spinach with Potatoes)

Over the summer I bought some lamb from Sheepy Hollow at Native Oaks Farm when I was at the Midtown Farmer’s Market.  Last week I finally got around to using it.  And now I am finally typing up the recipes.  These are gluten-free and dairy-free versions of two classic Indian dishes.  I served them with basmati rice.

Rogan Josh

adapted from recipes found in Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking (1982), Good Cooking from India by Shahnaz Mehta with Joan Bravo Korenblit (1981), and on the jar of Rogan Josh spice blend from Penzey’s Spices.

Rogan Josh is a popular lamb dish from Northern India/Persia/Kashmir.

This recipe makes 6-8 servings; can be halved.


  • 2 lb. lamb shoulder or stew beef, cut into small cubes (1/2″-3/4″)
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 2″ piece of ginger root, peeled & grated
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2-4 Tablespoons Rogan Josh seasoning (see note)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2-1 cup water (see note)
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk (see note)
  • 2 Tablespoons coconut manna (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Heat a Dutch oven (or other large pan that can go from stovetop to oven) over medium-high heat. Brown the lamb in 1 Tablespoon of the oil.  Remove the meat.
  3. Add 1 Tablespoon oil to the pan.  Add onions and sauté for several minutes, until transparent.
  4. Add Rogan Josh seasoning, salt, ginger, and garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes.
  5. Return meat to pan. Slowly blend in water, coconut milk, and coconut manna.  Bring to a simmer.
  6. Cover and place in the pre-heated oven.  Cook for 1-2 hours or until very tender.  Stir occasionally and add more water if necessary.


  • Rogan Josh seasoning is a blend of paprika, garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, black pepper, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and saffron.  I buy mine at Penzey’s Spices.  Feel free to create your own blend from a combination of these spices.
  • The original recipe used yogurt instead of coconut milk & coconut manna.  This recipe is a dairy-free version.  I use Nutiva Coconut Manna™.
  • You may want start with a smaller amount of water and add more later if needed.  If the sauce seems too thin after cooking, you can always thicken it a bit before serving.  Simply return the pan to the stovetop and stir in 1-2 Tablespoons of flour mixed with 2-3 Tablespoons of cold water. (I use a gluten-free flour blend, but any standard “thickener” will do (arrowroot starch, corn starch, etc.).  Heat & stir until thickened.

While the Rogan Josh is in the oven, prepare the Saag Aloo.

Saag Aloo

(Indian Spinach and Potatoes)

adapted from recipes found in Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking (1982), Good Cooking from India by Shahnaz Mehta with Joan Bravo Korenblit (1981), and the local coop sale flyer

Serves 4-5

  • 10 ounces fresh or frozen spinach
  • 1 pound potatoes
  • 4 Tablespoons oil
  • 1 cup yellow onion, diced
  • 1/2-1 fresh jalapeño pepper, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons lime or lemon juice
  • 3 Tablespoons water


  1. If using fresh spinach, chop roughly, then sauté in a bit of oil until wilted.  If using frozen spinach, thaw and drain using a sieve or by squeezing in your hand to remove most of the water; then heat in microwave or sauté pan.
  2.  In a medium-sized pot bring 1-2 quarts of salted water to a boil.  Peel and cut the potatoes into bite-sized chunks; add them to the boiling water and cook for about 7 minutes.  (You’re just parboiling them; they will cook more in the skillet.) Remove them from the heat, drain, and set aside.
  3. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onions and pepper and sauté for a few minutes until limp.  Add the parboiled potatoes and fry for about 8-12 minutes or until they begin to brown.  Turn down the heat;   Add the garlic and spices; sauté for 1-2 minutes until fragrant.  Add the spinach, lime/lemon juice and water; cook, stirring frequently, until all is combined and hot. Serve hot.

©2012 Lucinda DeWitt