Bengali Fried Rice Recipe



While I was growing up in the 80s and 90s in Calcutta, biriyani was yet to capture popular imagination. Nor was it found in every nook or cranny or as we say in Bangla parar dokan. It was still a pretty exclusive dish, reserved for those rare eating out occasions in Aminia/Zeeshan/Sabir after maybe a bout of shopping in New Market or a Hollywood movie at Globe/New Empire or a trip to Chandni Chowk in central Calcutta. 

So for the rice eating Bengalis the popular 'fancy' rice dish was either the saffron hued Basanti pulao, so named after it's golden yellow colour or khichuri or  fried rice.  By the 80s Chinese food had become popular in Calcutta. Joints were no longer confined to Tangra, Kolkata's China Town, rather spread over in other parts of the city. Being rice lovers, Kolkatans took to fried rice like duck to water. Soon home cooks started experimenting and Chinese fried rice and chilli chicken became a birthday party staple.

The other variant was Bengali fried rice. When I quizzed my mother about this Bengali fried rice, her explanation was 'it is so called to distinguish it from the very popular Chinese fried rice'. This Bengali fried rice is a favourite of my mother's. Come winter she makes it often. It's a very versatile recipe and my mother uses the fresh winter produce generously in her fried rice. Like all Ghoti dishes this rice is slightly sweet and generously sprinkled with fried cashews and raisins soaked in water to plump them up. Those are my favourite bits of the fried rice. It goes a treat with Bengali vegetarian recipes like dhoka ar danla, chana ar danla, aloor dum or with non vegetarian dishes like maach er kalia, murgi kosha, kosha mangsho. Sometimes my mother also adds eggs, shrimps, chicken. According to her whatever ingredient is available can go into the fried rice.

In my kitchen I have tried making this fried rice plenty of times, but have never been able to achieve the perfect look. During frying  the rice usually break up and turn into pulp. It tastes fine but doesn't look good. When I ask my mother, she smiles and says 'That's where the skill and patience comes into this otherwise simple recipe'. 


Not being the patient sort I devised a short cut.  I tried the recipe  in  the pressure cooker and much to my delight the rice turned out perfect. Sharing my pressure cooker recipe with you today. Please note this is slightly different from the traditional recipe where my mother cooks the rice to 90%, cools it down and then fries it in batches.  I have reversed the process and fry the rice grains before hand just like pulao. Also she uses powdered garam masala, while I stick to the whole ones.

You may ask what is the difference between vegetable pulao and this fried rice? Well the sweetness for starter, then the raisin garnish on top. I am yet to meet a friend who has not grown up in Bengal who has not shown surprise at the raisins. Also in the traditional method they fry the rice in batches just like Chinese fried rice. I have adapted the easy, less skilful method. 
This is how I make Bengali fried rice.

Ingredients
1. 1 cup Basmati or any other fragrant rice. In my childhood Dehradun rice was a very popular variety used to make pulaos and fried rice.
2. 1 carrot, peeled and chopped finely
3. A bunch (7/8) green beans, chopped finely
Other vegetable options 
i. 1/2 cup peas
ii. 2 sprigs of spring onion
iii. 7/8 florets of cauliflower
[Somehow I have never seen my mother add cabbage. That is reserved for Chinese fried rice.]
If you are using all the veggies, please reduce the quantity of each veggie, there is only so much rice. The rice still needs to be the star of the show.
4. 1 medium onion, finely chopped
5. Whole Garam Masala
i. 4 cloves
ii. 4 green cardamoms
iii. Half an inch of cinnamon
iv. 1 bay leaf
vi. 2 whole red chillies
vii. 1 petal of the star anise flower
viii. 1 little feather of mace
ix. 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds
6. 1 table spoon of ghee
7. 7 to 8 cashew nuts, halved
8. 7 to 8 raisins
9. 1 tablespoon of sugar (can reduce the amount of sugar if you so desire)
10. Salt to taste
11. 2 green chillies, snapped in half


Method

1. First of all wash the rice throughly till the water runs clear (takes about 4 to 5 washes) and then soak it for 20 minutes. It is essential to wash the rice before soaking. Once soaked rice becomes soft and can break during the washing process.

2. Prep the veggies ~ finely chop the onion, carrots, beans and any other veggies you are adding, add the green chillies to the pile.

3. Gather the whole garam masala and slightly bruise them using a mortar and pestle.

4. Once 20 minutes is up, drain your rice and leave it to dry on a sieve or a kitchen towel. Be very gentle with the rice from this stage on. It's already rather fragile and prone to breakage.


5. Switch on your smart cooker, alternatively can also use your pressure cooker.

6. Heat one tablespoon of ghee

7. Fry the cashew nuts till light brown, drain them and keep them aside

8. In the same pot, add the whole garam masalas, give them a couple of minutes to brown. Soon your kitchen is going to fill up with amazing aroma of garam masala frying in ghee.

9. Now add the chopped veggies and a pinch of salt. Mix everything well and continue to fry for 3 to 4 minutes till the onion turns translucent

10. Now carefully add the rice. It should have dried by now. Stir in the rice gently and leave it to fry for a couple of minutes.

11. Add 1 and a 1/2 cup of water if using smart cooker, alternatively 2 cups of water in an Indian pressure cooker.

12. Add salt and sugar and the green chillies. Give it a final mix. Close the lid and put the smart cooker in Rice mode for 6 minutes. In an Indian pressure cooker, one whistle is all it takes.

13. Once the pressure has release, take out the pot, using a fork fluff up the rice. I skipped this step during a party few days back, left in the pot the rice had become clumpy.

14. Garnish with the fried cashews and golden raisins and your Bengali fried rice is ready to be served.



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