This is where super spicy meets satisfyingly simple. Rich with tomato, onion, and classic Indian spices, our spicy masala eggs are fired by cayenne peppers and brightened with lemon juice. Those big-hitting flavors are paired with the creamy, softly spiced, rice-and-lentil delight called khichdi.
If you combine cumin with cinnamon, coriander, green cardamom, and cloves, you’ll have the five-fold essence of one of India’s best-known and widely used spice mixes, masala.
I say you’ll have the essence of the mix because there are many combinations of spices that can be used in a masala blend. The variations include additions like nutmeg, fennel, mustard seeds, garlic, turmeric, tamarind, star anise, and even saffron.
Other spices and herbs frequently added to the essentials are bay leaves, fresh ginger root, and black pepper. For the foundations of our masala sauce, those are the extras we’re bringing in to build on the deep, savory flavors of gently fried-and-simmered onions and tomatoes.
The ‘secret’ ingredient: fenugreek
Black pepper, ginger, and bay leaves all fit into the category of being familiar seasonings. Fenugreek? Not so much.
Ground fenugreek seeds often give Indian curries their typifying taste of India. So typical that I’ve heard it said that fenugreek tastes like curry powder.
That observation really does ring true. In her cookbook, The Spice Tree: Indian Cooking Made Beautifully Simple, Nisha Katona says that using fenugreek ‘will give a dish that instant curry house hit’. She’s such a fenugreek fan that she ranks it in her favorite, top-five Indian spices.
Now, straight from the pack, ground fenugreek can taste harshly bitter. But, as it cooks, the bitterness mellows considerably to something akin to the burnt-sugar taste of blackstrap molasses. And that’s joined by a nutty undercurrent of vanilla-like sweetness that’s often compared to maple syrup. For me, in this sauce, fenugreek is a bitter-sweet, must-have ingredient.
Once it’s simmering away, the sauce’s boldly spiced, tomato-and-onion base is enriched with caramelly dark brown sugar and receives a fair blast of heat from fresh, thinly sliced, red cayenne peppers. Then, right at the end of its slow simmer, the sauce gets plenty of tart lemon juice to give all its bold flavors a sharp, bright boost.
Khichdi – a calming balance for the masala sauce’s big, bold flavors
The wonder of khichdi is that it’s so reassuringly nourishing and soothing. Adored right across India, it has a long-standing reputation for being deliciously good for you as a sort of gentle, tasty dish of concentrated kindness.
Although rice, lentils, and ghee (a.k.a. clarified butter) lie at its heart, khichdi comes in many different guises. It can range from particularly plain-and-simple, right up to party-time lavish, and it has a variety of names, like khichri, kitchari, and khechudi.
As for the mightily nurturing appeal of its texture, khichdi is like a creamy, sticky, dense-ish risotto. And since ours is being paired with such a powerfully flavored sauce, we’re keeping it comfortingly mellow, and only spicing it with a little turmeric and cumin as it cooks.
Those two oh-so-Indian spices are added to finely chopped onions as they slowly soften in buttery oil. All that then remains to do is add the rice, lentils, a few vegetables and slowly cook the lot in some salted water. Once the water is absorbed by the rice and lentils, your khichdi is done. It’s that deliciously simple.
For the vegetables, I went for bite-size cauliflower florets, roughly diced carrots, and bright green garden peas. But, since khichdi is such an adaptable, make-it-how-you-like-it dish, you could happily swap any of those for, say, sweetcorn, snap peas, waxy potatoes, or green beans.
Aside from being so satisfyingly down-to-earth, khichdi comes with another bumper bonus, it’s a glorious companion for so many other seriously hot and spicy dishes.
No matter how I was serving it, what I’d certainly add are some thin, garnishing slices of fairly mild, fresh chili. Green serrano peppers fit the bill because their crisp, nicely warming bite emphasizes all the delicate tastes of the khichdi.
And speaking of garnishes, the fiery, rich masala sauce is just grand with a scattering of cilantro and a little fresh lime juice squeezed over it.
The elegance of simplicity
The ingredients for our masala eggs with khichdi are pretty commonplace and making it all is really simple, but there’s a bonanza of very different tastes and textures in this dish that come together with plenty of laid-back, good-looking style.
And that’s what puts it into a rather unusual class – it’s a simple enough dish for every day, and elegant enough for a special one.
Like this recipe? You’ll love these too:
- Anda Bhurji — Spicy Brunch Eggs: This is a brunch dish that will certainly impress with its flavor.
- Bacon, Egg, And Cheese Quiche With Serrano Peppers: A classic quiche with the delicious bright bite of serranos.
- Chili Buttered Eggs, Roasted Ratatouille, And Napoletana Sauce: Another stunning brunch option – a cacophony of ingredients and flavors.
Spicy Masala Eggs With Khichdi
For the eggs
- 8 eggs large-sized, use them at room temperature.
For the masala sauce
- 4 fresh red cayenne peppers thinly sliced, seeds and all. The nicely plump ones I used were about 3 inches long.
- 2 yellow onions medium-sized, peeled and finely chopped
- 12 ounces red cherry tomatoes quartered
- 2 cans chopped and peeled Italian tomatoes 15-ounce cans, with all their juice
- 1 heaped tablespoon fresh ginger root grated skin and all
- 2 heaped teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 heaped teaspoons ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground green cardamom
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground fenugreek seeds
- 6 cloves finely ground
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 heaped teaspoons dark brown sugar I used muscovado, but demerara works fine too.
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground sea salt
- 2 tablespoons sunflower oil canola will also be just fine
- 4 tablespoons water
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
For the khichdi
- 3/4 cup basmati rice soaked for 30 minutes or so in salted water
- 1/2 cup lentils soaked with the rice in salted water. I used an equal-ish mix of red and yellow lentils. These are often referred to, and labeled as, masoor dal (red lentils), and moong dal (yellow lentils.)
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 yellow onion medium-sized, peeled, and finely chopped
- 1/2 cup cauliflower florets bite-sized, with the thickest stalks trimmed off
- 1/2 cup carrots peeled and chopped into a roughish 1/3-inch dice
- 1/2 cup garden peas frozen are fine, and don’t need to be defrosted
- 2 tablespoons salted butter
- 1 tablespoon sunflower oil canola will also be fine
- 2 heaped teaspoons ground sea salt separated, 1 for cooking the khichdi, and 1 for soaking the rice and lentils
- 3 cups water plus enough for soaking the rice and lentils
- 4 fresh green serrano peppers thinly sliced, seeds and all. The ones I used were about 2 ½ inches long
- 1/2 ounce fresh cilantro roughly chopped, stalks and all
- 4 fresh limes quartered
Soaking the rice and lentils
- The rice and lentils for the khichdi need to be soaked in water for 30 minutes or so before you use them – and that can happen while you’re making the masala sauce. So, add the rice, lentils and 1 heaped teaspoon salt to a mixing bowl with enough water to cover by 2 inches. You’ll drain off the water before you add the rice and lentils to your khichdi.
Making the masala sauce
- You want to use a large pan that’s easily big enough to hold all the sauce’s ingredients. Set your pan on medium heat and add the oil. Let it heat for a minute, then add the onions, cumin, ginger, and salt. Stir thoroughly so that onion gets a coating of the spicy, salty oil.
- Let the onions sizzle away gently on that medium heat for about 6 minutes with the occasional stir. You want the onions to soften and begin to pick up a little darkish gold color around their edges.
- As soon as that happens, add the cherry tomatoes and give the pan a good stir. You’re now looking for the tomatoes to start softening and to lose some of their body as they release most of their juice. With a few encouraging stirs, that will take about 5 minutes on medium heat.
- Add the cayenne peppers, bay leaves, cumin, cinnamon, coriander, cardamom, fenugreek, cloves, black pepper, and brown sugar. Stir thoroughly, and when the juicy mixture quickly comes up to a brisk bubble, stir in the water and chopped canned tomatoes with all their juice, and drop the heat to low – it’s simmer time.
- Let the sauce gently simmer on low heat for 25 minutes. This low-and-slow simmer is important. It allows the sauce to thicken slightly and develop a jammy gloss as the flavors meld and intensify.
- Turn off the heat and let your masala sauce sit while you make your khichdi and cook the eggs. Before that, check the sauce for saltiness and add more if that suits you. Bear in mind that the lemon juice doesn’t go in yet. That only happens right at the end when you re-heat the sauce ready for serving,
Making the khichdi
- Set a saucepan (one with a good lid) that’s big enough to hold all the khichdi’s ingredients on medium heat and add the butter and oil. Once the buttery oil starts to foam, stir in the onion, cumin, turmeric, and salt.
- Drop the heat to low-medium and let the onion fry with a few watchful stirs until it softens and takes on a very light golden color. That’ll take about 5 minutes. For the onions, soft and pale are the watchwords here – you don’t want them to darken or crisp at all.
- Now stir in the carrot and cauliflower and let the mix gently fry on that low-medium heat for another 3 minutes with a few careful stirs so as not to break the cauliflower apart.
- Add the soaked and drained rice and lentils, and gently stir the pan, so they get a coating of the spicy, buttery oil. Add the water, stir gently, and raise the heat to medium-high.
- As soon as the pan starts to boil, drop the heat to low and cover the pan. You now want the covered pan to run at a very low simmer, with a couple of stirs, for 10 minutes. That’s when you gently stir the peas into your khichdi, and check for saltiness. You may find you want more salt, and now’s the time to add it.
- Keep your covered pan on that low, simmering heat for another 2 minutes or so, until all the water has been absorbed and the rice and lentils are thoroughly softened. Once that happens, turn off the heat – your khichdi is done.
- It can now sit warmly covered in its pan while you cook the eggs and re-heat the masala sauce – with its lemon juice added – so it’s ready for serving piping hot over the khichdi and topped with the eggs,
Cooking the eggs (see notes as well)
- Lay the eggs in your saucepan in a single layer. Cover them with cold water and set them to boil on high heat.
- As soon as the water starts to boil, drop the heat to low, so the water runs at a barely-bubbling simmer for 4 minutes.
- Turn off the heat, drain the water from the pan, and cover the eggs with cold water. As soon as they are just cool enough to handle, crack the shells (this makes them easier to peel cleanly), and leave the eggs to finish cooling in the water until you can comfortably peel and halve them with a sharp knife.
Serving your fiery, rich masala eggs and khichdi
- I’d use a big, warmed platter for this and begin by covering its center with a layer of warm khichdi about an inch thick.
- Now cover the center of the khichdi with your re-heated, piping hot, lemon-just-added masala sauce, so that it’s ringed by the khichdi. Sprinkle the khichdi’s edges with the sliced serrano peppers and the roughly chopped cilantro.
- Arrange the halved eggs yolk-side up on the masala sauce and present your platter with the lime quarters alongside. Folks can then happily help themselves.