Monday, August 25, 2008

Comfort Me with Khichuri

If my mother were to read this post, she would probably burst into peals of uncontrollable laughter. Well, knowing her it would be more like guffaws from the very pit of her stomach, moving her to the point that you would distinctly be reminded of a rather jolly English pudding. But, given my childhood distaste for khichadi, if I were my mother, I would be prone to break into a few mirthful chortles too.

The bright yellow mushy concoction, commonly known in Marathi households, as "pivali khichadi" was anything but soothing to my childhood palate. Perhaps, it had something to do with the fact that my mother doled it out in epic proportions, even if the neighbor's cat had a sneezing fit. Or maybe, it was simply because my younger sibling, a "kora varan" and spinach zealot, would happily bolt down bowls, without a single protest. And she is known to be very opinionated, especially with matters pertaining to food. I, on the other hand, wouldn't touch the stuff with a ten-foot barge pole. Or a fork for that matter. Sick or not, in my opinion, khichadi and its assorted kin were not meant to be invented, let alone consumed by living entities. Needless to say, I never understood then, what exactly was the comforting brouhaha about boiled moong dal and rice that tasted like it had a holy dip in turmeric laden water.

Some 20 years down the line, I understand. I guess, something happened between here and adolescence, a quiet revolution of sorts. Wrought about by some hyper culinary god, I suspect, working hand-in-glove with my persistent mother and that pesky sister of mine who cannot have enough of varan and such. I think it was sometime between the first and second year of college, right around Durga Puja, that I first heard hushed, exalted praises of something called khichuri that was served as bhog or an offering to the goddess.

This was a new concept for a Maharashtrian kid such as myself. I had grown up seeing my grandmother and the rest of the women in my house spend entire mornings during Ganesh Chaturthi, bent over huge vats of coconut stuffing, and rice-flour dough meant for modaks. After the main offering of 21 dumplings was placed before our favorite Elephant god, there would be a mad scramble among the women to mold perfect little modaks for our entire clan of at least 50 people.

So, when I came across the novel Bengali idea of serving something as simple as boiled dal and rice as bhog, I was fairly certain that a lazy priest or his conniving better-half must have thought this all up in order to save themselves time and energy during the festival.

Of course, it came as quite a shock when I discovered the true Bengali khichuri during a pandal visit with a friend. This was nothing similar to the yellow version, I had grown up detesting. It wasn't yellow, certainly not gloppy, and it was served with deep fried aubergines. Here was something delightfully simple and extremely delicious.

I had almost forgotten about that afternoon rendezvous with the delectable dish until this week. After an entire day of entertaining our four-and-half-month old, cooking was the last thing I wanted to do. I needed some comforting. That's when it suddenly came to me. The taste of that simple khichuri I had on a long-gone autumn afternoon. The distinct taste of hot mustard oil. Moong dal and rice cooked to perfection with whole spices and a medley of vegetables, alongside golden steaks of eggplant or begun bhaja -- such a happy blend. Indeed meant for the gods above.

Note to mother: It's khichuri. Not "pivali khichadi."

I guess I am having the last laugh after all.

♣ Bengali Khichuri

Loosely adapted from Indrani Sen's wonderful piece on lunch at her grandmother's table in the September 2006 issue of Saveur.
I absolutely love masoor dal, so when I read this recipe using one of my favorite lentils, I jumped for joy. It not only lends itself beautifully to this dish, but gives it this other dimension that truly makes it as comforting as slipping on a soft, raggedy-old t-shirt on a hot summer day.

You need:

1/2 C Basmati rice, moong dal and masoor dal, each
1/2-a-potato, diced into chunks
A handful of cauliflower florets
A large pinch of turmeric
1/2-inch of ginger, blended to a smooth paste
A couple of bay leaves
1-2 green cardamoms
2 cloves
A small stick of cinnamon
1/4th tsp of cumin
A tsp of cumin powder
1-2 tsp of chili powder
A pinch of hing
1/4th tsp of sugar
Salt to taste
1-2 tsp of vegetable oil
A tbsp of mustard oil
1-2 tsp of clarified butter or ghee


To begin, wash and soak Basmati rice and masoor dal together and set it aside for about five to 10 minutes. Then, wash moong dal and empty into a medium-sized pot, dry roast until the dal begins turning slightly reddish-brown, and remove onto a plate.

In the same pot, heat a couple of teaspoons of vegetable oil and stir in the bay leaves and whole spices, except for cumin seeds, for a minute or so. Now, toss in the roasted moong dal and drained masoor-dal-Basmati rice mixture and stir it for a good five to seven minutes.

Spoon in a nice-sized pinch of turmeric and the cumin powder, give it a couple of whirls, dump in the potato chunks and cauliflower florets, and stir around to coat with the spices. Spoon over salt to taste and the sugar, give it a good stir or two, and transfer to a pressure-cooker vessel. Pour in about two cups of water and pressure-cook for three whistles.

Once the dals and rice are cooked, remove again into the pot in which you did the initial cooking. In a small pan, heat mustard oil until it is just about to wisp, sprinkle in the hing and cumin seeds. Stir in the ginger paste for a couple of minutes and switch off flame. Deftly, spoon in chili powder, quickly moving it around to combine with ginger and cumin seeds, and pour over the khichuri. Give the khichuri a couple more stirs, check seasoning, top with clarified butter and relish every bite.

Note: You can add as many or as few vegetables, as you like. Either way, this Khichuri will not disappoint.


bee said...

i'm a recent khichdi convert too. haven't tried the bengali version, though.

Sheetal Kiran said...

oh, but you must bee! It's a nice in-between pulao kind of dish. I especially love the fact that it can take almost any vegetable.

Dinesh Desai said...

Rarely have I asked Kanchan to cook a meal of my choice... but for dinner tomorrow it’s surely Bengali Khichdi..:)

Khichdi with ghee... (Kya karu, Jiju Gujju che.. ha ha ha)

I am keeping it one recipe a day... Can’t wait till tomorrow evening.

Sheetal Kiran said...

I thing you are going to love it Jijaji :D

kanchan said...

hi sheetal khichuri is dilicious.i just loved it.looking forword for some more variations....

Sheetal Kiran said...

Hey Tai,
Thanks :D We absolutely loved the tip you gave me for biryani as well. Turned out finger-licking goooood!

Divya said...

Hey Sheetal, appreciate your gesture. Of course, I am more than okay (I am happy) to get into your blogroll :)
Did you just start blogging? That question because I just see August posts...

Sheetal Kiran said...

Thanks Divya :D appreciate it!

Yes, I am just a month old into blogging ... after sitting on the duff for three long years, decided enough was enough and thence started the blogging :D

Manasi said...

just tied your 'khichuri', its a potful of comfort! i can't stop eating it, with pandhra tup on top

Sheetal Kiran said...

That's so the way to have it ... I love it with pandhra tup too :D