Niramish Khichuri, Bengali Style....
Living so far from home, celebration often takes the form of food. This is what happened to Saraswati Pujo this year, which was celebrated just before the Valentine's Day. More on the pujo in another post. This post is dedicated to the food.
In our home in Kolkata my family does the pujo, so I have been hearing about the preparations from my parents over the phone. My brother flew to Kolkata to help them with the pujo and also to spend his birthday at home which closely followed the pujo.
Since we were not doing the pujo, though my husband did briefly contemplate the idea, only to be rejected by me (a pujo in London, when we have none of the necessary stuff, no way). So I decided to celebrate the day by cooking the traditional meal-- khichuri (rice and lentil cooked together with spices), tele bhaja (literally means fired in oil...actually what has become famous in the curry houses as bhajis...we usually do aubergine, cauliflower, cabbage and potatoes bhajis for this pujo), papor or what is know as poppadam in Indian restaurants and kool/berry or tomatoes chutney.
Like most Indian dishes, there are multiple ways of making khichuri, depending on who is cooking it and in which part of India. This is how we Bengalis make it for the saraswati pujo. Usually in Bengal everything has a touch of the maach/fish or meat. But this is a purely niramishi/vegetarian since Ma Saraswati is in our homes and this Goddess likes her food vegetarian or so I am assuming!
1 cup rice--Usually gobindho bhog chal is used or which is commonly known as bhalo chal. Now this is the most awesome variety of rice ever to be found on the face of earth, it is long grained (though not as much as basmati), have a lovely smell (your neighbours can easily understand you are cooking something nice when you cook this rice) and awesome flavour (most Bengalis are used to just eating this rice with a bit of ghee)! I used basmati rice since I do not have any gobindho bhog here. Clean the rice throughly till the water runs clear and soak the rice in water for twenty to thirty minutes.
1 cup lentil-- it can be done with any variety, but for saraswati pujo Moong Dal or Green Gram is used. First roast the dal in a hot frying pan till lightly brownish in colour and a roasted smell comes out and then soak the dal for at least half an hour in water.
3/4 table spoons of vegetable oil
1 table spoon of Bengali ghee/clarified butter, which is different from the North Indian version made of buffalo milk since it is made of cow's milk and much lighter and less dense. I skipped the ghee since I am hoarding the little that is left in my ghee bottle for days when serious nostalgia hits!
2 medium potatoes, sliced into four pieces
Half a cup of peas
1 big tomato, chopped
1 tea spoon of haldi
2 bay leaves
1 tea spoon of red chilli
2 tea spoons of ginger paste
1 table spoon of garam masala power
2 table spoon of dhaniya/coriander powder
1 table spoon of sugar
Preparation time: 30 mins
Cooking time: 1 hour maximum
The process: Take the bottom of an Indian pressure cooker or a heavy bottomed pan which we call karai in Bangla, add two table spoons of oil, once heated, added the pieces of potatoes, fry them till they turn lightly brown, drain the water from the lentil and add it in the pan. Fry for lentils along with the potatoes for five minutes, then add the rice after draining away the water. Also add the green chillies after snapping them at the centre, the bay leaves and the peas. Add about two to three cups of water and turn the heat low letting it cook itself.
In a frying pan, take the rest of the oil, once heated add the ginger paste, the chopped tomatoes, the haldi, red chilli and the coriander powder and the sugar. Fry till oil starts separating from the masala. Add some salt and keep the mixture aside till in the other pan the rice and the lentil becomes soft. You may need to keep adding water, so that the mixture does not burn at the bottom of the pan. Once the rice and lentil is cooked roughly in 30 minutes time, add the spice mixture and mix it well. Just before finishing add the spoonful of ghee and sprinkle some garam masala powder and voila your khichuri is ready.
Mother's Tip: While cooking any rice preparation always add sugar at the very end, otherwise the rice will not cook!
Suggestion: Cauliflower and fresh coconut are also added to the khichuri. For both of these, you need to fry them lightly and add along with the peas to the rice and lentil mixture.