Kissa Khichuri Ka
It was Saraswati Puja yesterday — my first since I moved to Delhi. In between setting up house, settling down and finding my feet at work in a new city, I haven’t managed to do much cooking for pleasure lately. Saraswati Puja is a special day, however, a day redolent with childhood memories. Memories of the Puja at my aunt’s house, of my mother draping me in a small-sized “basanti” (yellow) saree, which invariably came unstuck after a couple of hours. Of murmuring “Jaya Jaya Devi Charaachara Shaare…” before the resplendent idol. And most of all, of the glorious food that was to be had after the puja was done. There was khichuri and begun bhaja, luchi, kheer, kuler aumbol, murir moa, khoiyer moa… Since my Mom’s family came from east Bengal, there was also the delightful ritual of jora ileesher biye, followed by lots of dishes featuring the peerless fish.
The chilly winter morning in Delhi yesterday brought back those memories sharply. I longed for the airy luchis, that thick creamy kheer, those perfectly wrought khoiyer moa… I needed to cook something to feed my nostalgia — and feed myself! The easiest and the most basic Saraswati Puja fare is, of course, the khichuri. Which is what I did. Khichuri, with potatoes, cauliflower and peas — full of flavour, full of heartwarming memories, and a comfort food like no other.
I cup basmati rice
2/3 cup moong dal
I small cauliflower cut into largish florets
2 onions peeled and halved
2 potatoes, peeled and halved
250g fresh peas, shelled
1 spoon of red chilly powder.
1/2 spoon turmeric powder
3 dried red chillies
A few sticks of cinnamon
2 bay leaves
Oil for frying
Salt and sugar to taste
1 tablespoon of ghee
In a dry wok, roast the moong dal till it is a light golden brown. Wash the dal in several changes of water and keep aside.
Heat some oil in the wok and lightly fry the cauliflower. Keep aside.
In a deep saucepan (dekchi) put water onto boil. The quantity of water should be according to one’s judgment.
Now put the wok back on the fire. Add some more oil. Drop the red chillies into the hot oil. Once they have darkened, add the cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and the bay leaves. Then add the rice and the dal and fry for a few minutes. Now transfer the contents of the wok into the saucepan of boiling water. Give it a good stir and keep the flame on medium to high.
After about 10 minutes, add the potatoes, peas, onions and fried cauliflower. Add the salt and sugar too. Mix the chilli and turmeric powder in a little water and stir it in.
Keep the dish on a rolling boil, stirring occasionally, till the rice, dal and vegetables are all cooked. Taste and adjust the salt and sugar. Add some hot water if you feel the dish needs some more cooking. I start with less water in the pan because you can always add it later if required. Too much water will ruin a khichuri, turning it into a vapid gruel. That’s okay if you’re suffering from an upset tummy, but is a total fail otherwise. Ideally, the vegetables should be cooked through and yet retain their form, and the rice and the dal should have a soft, grainy texture.
Once the dish is done, take it off the fire and stir in a tablespoon of ghee. It’s fattening, yes, but what good thing is not? And it does give the khichuri that extra smoothness and dimension.
Serve with some fries — fried brinjals, fried fish, fried potato straws — whatever you fancy and whatever’s handy.