In West Bengal, the monsoon is a much anticipated season after a long and scorching summer. Of all the sights and smells of this lovely season, the one that lingers in my mind is the unique smell after the first few drops of rain touched the hot soil. We used to call it “sNoda gandho” (the aroma of fresh rain-soaked soil). We ran to the terrace to drench in the rain and my mother used to scream fearing that we might catch a cold. Sometimes it rained all day, sometimes for an hour and then a complete clear sky. Sometimes it rained incessantly for days on end. I think all Bengalis have only two things on their mind when monsoon arrives….their beloved khichuri and ilish machh bhaja (a wholesome meal of rice and lentil cooked together with a little bit of spice and fried hilsa fish). In days gone by, it used to be hard to shop for groceries when it was pouring outside, so the women would cook whatever possible with dry goods like rice and lentils. Now, rather than convenience or compulsion, it’s more like a tradition. Although it’s still a monsoon tradition, I could eat my mother’s khichuri everyday. Whenever I saw a few drops of rain, I used say “Maa khichuri banabe?” (Maa can you make khichuri?). Maa used to say “roj brishti porle ki roj khicuri khabi?” (Do you have to eat khichuri even if it rains everyday?). We were hit by the hurricane Sandy and it rained for whole three days. It reminded me of monsoon and I couldn’t stop myself from making khichuri.
The history of khichuri goes back a long. It is said that Job Charnock was offered khichuri when he arrived at Sutanati (the previous Calcutta). The pre-Aryan Bengali cooked something similar to the present day khichuri probably in an earthen pot. Like chicken tikka masala, ‘curry’ and many other Indian dishes, British took the khichuri hangover to England after the colonial rule. It’s called ‘kedgeree’ which is eaten during breakfast. It is quite different from the Indian khichdi and probably a modification of the original one.
The recipe below is my husband’s didima’s (maternal grandmother). She was the most elegant lady I have ever seen. Like her, the recipe is also very nice and the khichuri turns out to be really good. When my husband was leaving India for the US, at the last moment she wrote him 2-3 recipes on a piece of paper. Every time I cook khichuri, I remember Didima. I never cooked anything in India, and I didn’t even like the thought of cooking. Didima, knowing that her grandson loves to eat, used to ask me “Soma, don’t you ever feel like cooking?” Promptly my answer was “No, didima” and I could see the disappointment on her face. When I started cooking and made the khichuri from her recipe, I called her and said that the khichuri I made from her recipe turned out really good. She was so happy that finally her grandson is getting to eat something good.
Bhaja mug daaler khichuri/ Roasted mug daal khichdi:
- Gobindobhog rice/atap rice: 1 ½ cups
- Mug daal: 1 ½ cups
- Water: 6 cups
- Ginger paste: 3 tbsp
- Cumin powder: 2 tsp
- Red chili powder: 1 tsp
- Turmeric powder: 1-2 tsp
- Salt to taste
- Sugar: 1-2 tsp (depending upon your taste)
- Green peas: ½ cup
- Potato: 2 medium
- Tomato: 1 medium, chopped
- Garam masala powder: 1 tsp
- Bay leaf: 2-3
- Whole cumin seeds: 1 ½ tsp
- Dry red chili: 2-3
- Green chili: 2-3
- Ghee (optional): 2 tbsp
- Mustard oil/vegetable oil: 1 tbsp
How to cook:
- Dry roast the mug daal until they release a nice aroma and they turn to golden brown. Then won’t roast evenly, some of the grains will be a little darker than the others, it’s perfectly alright.
- Let it cool and wash it with several changes of water. Drain the water and keep it aside.
- Wash the rice and keep it aside too.
- Halve the potatoes into two-four pieces (depending upon the size).
- Mix the ginger paste with the cumin and red chili powder.
- Heat up half the ghee and half the oil in a deep, heavy bottom pot.
- Add the cumin seed. Let them darken a little bit. Add the bay leaves and the whole red chili.
- Once they change color, add the ginger-cumin-red chili paste. Sauté them for few minutes and add the chopped tomato. Let the tomato get mushy and the paste will start oozing oil a little bit. Add the potatoes and mix them well with the spices. Sauté them for around 5 minutes and then add the rice and the daal.
- Add turmeric powder. Mix well and keep on sautéing for another 10 minutes or so.
- Add around four cups of water, salt and the sugar. Cover the pot and put the flame to medium (if you would like to add cauliflower, add it here).
- Let it cook for another 10 minutes or so and then uncover. If the water is all absorbed and the rice, lentil or the potato is still uncooked, add the remaining water.
- Add the green chilis and the peas. Mix it well and let it cook covered for few more minutes or until everything is properly cooked.
- Uncover and check for salt. If it tastes ok, add garam masala powder and the ghee. Give it a good stir. Cover for few more minutes to let the flavors integrate.
- Uncover right before serving.
There are many types of khichuris. This is the version mainly cooked during religious occasions and tastes like the so called “bhoger khichuri” (Bhog= khichuri offered to the God). The addition of ghee is entirely optional but it adds a ton of flavor. My Baba doesn’t like the flavor of ghee, so my Maa doesn’t add it to the khichuri while cooking. We used to add it to our portion before eating.
Khichuri can be eaten either by itself, with fried egg/fish or with vegetable fritters and papor/pappadam. A khichuri can be simply with rice, lentil, potato or green peas and/cauliflower added to it. Most of the times the khichuri is made of the atap rice variety, usually short grained like Gobindobhog. It can be thin, thick, medium consistency or dry (bhuni khichuri). Although it is a simple recipe, a good khichuri takes a little bit of skill to make it perfect. I prefer to see the individual grains of rice and lentil, but my husband doesn’t mind if it becomes completely mushy, so it’s a matter of personal preference.
PS: Do you remember the advertisement of Lijjat Pappad from the old times on Doordarshan? Yesterday when I was taking the papad out of the packet to eat with the khichuri, I suddenly remembered the commercial. I could still remember the puppet saying “Lijjat pappad…hne hne hne…hne hne hne”. For those who would like to indulge nostalgia, here is the link.