Are we Durgas or Daminis? Does Durga eat Mangsher bhuna khichuri?

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Ya devi sarvabhuteshu, shanti rupena sangsthita

Ya devi sarvabhuteshu, shakti rupena sangsthita

Ya devi sarvabhuteshu, matri rupena sangsthita

Ya devi Sarva Bhooteshu Buddhi Roopena Samsthita

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She is preparing for her annual visit. Photo courtesy: Sanchari Sur

She is omnipresent as the symbol of peace, power, and intelligence. She is Gauri, who sheds light on our lives and she is Narayani who makes us conscious. We take refuge in her when in distress and she accomplishes all our objectives. She is Maa Durga, the universal mother. We bow our head to her and worship her power to fight against the evil.

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Maa Durga will be coming home soon with all her kids to visit her parents. She must be counting the days like we all do. She must be packing her bags, buying gifts and making sure she has everything in place before she leaves. She must have called her mother and given her a list of things she wants to eat while she is home. I cannot help but think that she must also be having a tough life dealing with all the craziness around her. Just handling Shiva, her clearly bipolar husband must be sufficient to keep her busy all the time. Ganesh, the lovely son with a big tummy must be constantly nagging her for food. And what do you do if you have two unmarried adult children at home? She must have tried a zillion times to convince her son Kartik and daughter Saraswati to get married and settle down. Poor Saraswati, being too highly educated acted against her as she thought too highly of herself. Being excessively handsome didn’t work well for Kartik either. Thank goodness, Lakshmi was there for her mother. Being the epitome of goodness (and also having found an excellent husband in Vishnu) she must have been be a huge relief to the much-hassled Durga.

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Photo courtesy: Sanchari Sur

But, she is Durga, the indestructible. She is Trinayani, and with her three eyes can easily keep an eye on everything around her. She is Durgatinashini who can eliminate any misfortune. She is Dashabhuja who with her ten hands can handle a thousand jobs simutaneously. Don’t we expect a lot from her? My troubles are not even a fraction of hers, but already I am dead tired. I really need eight more hands and two extra eyes to deal with all the things around me.  I really cannot handle life the way it is now. I can only dream of visiting home and my parents annually. I haven’t been home for a while (I mean quite a while) and I always wonder and ask my friends “Is India still the same? The way it used to be?”. The answer, unfortunately, is probably not. On one hand we are planning for Devi Durga’s annual visit and on the other hand we are blocking roads because a real-life Durga, someone’s mother or sister was raped and molested. Someone has killed another female baby because they will take chances with a male child who may turn out to be an Asura (demon) rather than a Durga. I can’t open the daily news anymore without having to read about rape, molestation and domestic violence against women. Maybe in the minds of a certain section of Indian males, mortal women do not deserve to be treated as Durgas. Are we going to fight with these demons all our life but fail? Are our real life Asuras so destructive and powerful that they are invincible? Maybe not, as I read somewhere that divine power is slow but efficient. I believe one day we will all unite and with our divine power kill the demons. Their abode is already known- they reside in the darker recesses of our own minds. We can all celebrate a very real Durga Puja in our lives then.

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Anyhow, being modern-day Durgas, we are also allowed to play with sociocultural rules a little bit, aren’t we?  So I have added a little bit of meat to the traditional khichuri served at Durga Puja. Go ahead and break this one taboo- you will be OK, Durga is a mother and she knows that her kids get hungry.

You can read more about Durga Puja here, my last year’s post.

Recipe:

It’s a festive dish and requires a little bit of patience and time. The end result is delicious, so why not? The recipe was given to me by my friend Mita di who is from Bangladesh and it’s a delicacy in her home. Originally it’s her mom’s recipe . I have tweaked it very little. If you do not want to break any rule, you can make this traditional khichuri.

Ingredients:

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Short grained fragrant rice (like kalijeera/gobindobhog/kamini atop/chinigura) or basmati rice: 1 cup. I used short grained rice but basmati will work fine too. The rice has to be fragrant.

Chicken (bone in preferred): 1 pound. Cut into medium pieces (you can use beef/mutton too, you just have to cook it longer)

Red lentils/masoor daal: 1/3 cup

Yellow lentils/mung daal: 1/3 cup

Yellow split peas/motor daal: 1/3 cup

Water: 3 cups.+1 cup

Onion: One large, one small

Garlic: 4-5 fat cloves

Ginger: 2” piece

Or, two table spoons of ginger garlic paste

Cinnamon: 2”X 2 pieces broken in one inch pieces

Cloves: 6-8 nos.

Cardamoms: 6-8 nos.

Bay leaves: 4 nos.

Turmeric: 1 tsp.

Red chili powder: 2 tsp.

Cashews: a handful

Oil: 6 tbsp.

Fresh green chilies: as per you taste (I use 3-4 depending how hot they are)

Sugar: one big pinch

Ghee/clarified butter: 1 tbsp. or less.

Salt to taste

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  • Soak the split peas in water for about an hour and then drain.
  • Dry roast the mung daals very lightly until fragrant and then wash several times, drain.
  • Wash the rice several times and then soak it in water for 15-20 minutes. Drain and let it be a bit dry.
  • Wash the masoor daal and drain it as well.
  • Heat up 2 tbsp. oil in a wok or deep pan. Turn the heat to medium and add 2 one inch cinnamons, three cloves, three cardamoms and let them sizzle in oil a little bit. Add the bay leaves and let it sauté in the oil a little bit too.
  • Slice the large onion real thin and sauté the onions with the whole spices until the onions turn a little brownish.
  • Add the ginger garlic paste (if you are using fresh ginger and garlic, make a paste of them), chili powder and sauté the spices in the oil very oil. The spices should not have any raw smell.
  • Add the chicken (make sure they are patted dry), the turmeric and mix everything well.
  • Cook it on medium flame until oil starts leaving the edge of the container.
  • Add a cup of water (hot), salt and bring the meat to a boil. Reduce the flame to medium and cover the meat. Cook it until the meat is tender and reduce the sauce. The sauce should cling to the meat, not soupy.
  • While the meat is cooking, heat up three tablespoon of oil in a separate pot which can hold all the rice, lentils and meat.
  • Once the oil is hot, add the rest of the whole spices (cloves, cardamom and cinnamon) and the two bay leaves. Reduce the flame to medium and let them release the fragrance.
  • Add the small onion (very thinly sliced as well) and sauté until light brown.
  • Add the rice and sauté the rice in the oil until a bit transparent.
  • Add the daals and mix them well with the rice and again sauté them for couple minutes.
  • Add three cups of boiling/hot water and bring the water to a rolling boil again.
  • Add the meat with all the sauce/gravy, mix very well, add two tsp. or so salt, the sugar and the cashews and give it a gentle stir. Just enough to mix everything uniformly.
  • Reduce the flame to low and cover the pot. Let the whole thing cook for 10-15 more minutes.
  • Check in between to check if the rice is cooked or not and also for seasoning.
  • Once the rice is cooked, turn the heat off and keep it covered for another ten minutes. The excess water (if any) will be absorbed by this time.
  • Open the lid and fluff up the rice very gently and add the ghee and chopped green chilies. Cover for few more minutes and then serve with a side of salad.

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The texture will be dry (bhuna=dry) unlike a traditional khicuri which is more moist.

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The modern day Durga praying to the Goddess.

The modern day Durga praying to the Goddess. Photo courtesy: Sanchari Sur

Many modern day Durgas. Photo courtesy: Sanchari Sur

Many modern day Durgas. Photo courtesy: Sanchari Sur

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Brishti bheja dine Khichuri/Khichdi /Lentil and rice mishmash on a rainy day

 

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:

Recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 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

Roasted mug daal/bhaja mug daal

 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.

Payesh/Payasam/Rice and milk pudding

I think every community in India has their own payesh recipe. The recipe below is roughly a Bengali recipe. I didn’t follow anybody’s recipe but followed the basic cooking procedure of a Bengali payesh. I do not have a sweet tooth, so the sweetness is moderate. You can adjust it to your taste.

Ingredients:

Whole milk: 1/2 Gallon/8 cups

Evaporated milk: 1.5 cups

Atap or any short grain rice: a little less than 1/2 cup

Sugar: 1 cup (Less or more according to your taste)

Green cardamom: 3 nos.

Bay leaf: 1 no.

Cashews: around 15 nos.

Raisin: 10-15 nos.

Ghee/clarified butter: 1 tsp

A pinch of salt

How to cook:

  • Wash the rice and drain all the water. The rice should be dry.
  • Soak the cashews and raisins in water for 15-20 mns. and then chop the cashews.
  • Mix the milk with the evaporated milk and start boiling it on mdeium flame. Be very careful, otherwise it might either stick to the bottom of the pan or spil over. You have to bring the volume to 2/3 of the original volume. You can totally omit the evaporated milk. I add it to save time. You can use regualr whole milk and bring the volume down.
  • Heat up the ghee and add the bay leaf and cardamoms to it. Saute them for a minute or so and then add the rice. Saute for 2-3 mns. and then add them to the boiling milk.
  • Add sugar and a pinch of salt.
  • Let the rice cook.
  • Once the rice is cooked, add the chopped cashews and the raisins. Cook the rice and milk to your desired consistency. I like a little bit of liquid in it (not a lot) but some people like it really thick. Again, go for your instinct.
  • Chill before you serve.

The quintessential Muri Ghanto/Rice cooked with fish head

 The diversity in India always amazes me. I often think that it’s no less than a miracle that India still survives as a ‘united’ country in spite of all the differences in language, culture, ethnicity and religion. Bengal is no exception, and especially Calcutta is like a melting pot of all the states. However, coexistence does not automatically translate to mutual appreciation, and conspicuous differences exist even between close geographical neighbors. A prime example of this comes from Bengalis, who generally belong to two sub types: ghotis (people who are originally from West Bengal) and bangals (people originally from East Bengal, now Bangladesh). More than forty years after the latest wave of bangal migration into India, the Bengali zeitgeist shows no inclination towards a unified ghoti-bangal culture. Personally, I was very proud of my bangal heritage and used to engage in long heated arguments with my ghoti friends to prove that we were the superior when it comes to food and hard work. I was stupid and ignorant. I blindly repeated things which were told to me by my close and extended family members (and so did my ghoti friends as well). We didn’t learn to rationalize or discern if there was any truth to these arguments.

Over time, my rigidity in this matter has lessened. Part of this may be due to the location of my childhood home. Till the age of sixteen, I lived in a ghoti neighborhood with very few bangals. However, despite the distinct sociocultural differences, there were no animosities, no exclusions and definitely no negative feelings. We lived together happily and learned from each other, sharing food with our neighboring jethimas and kakimas (aunts) and distributing the prasad (offering during the religious occasions) to our ghoti neighbours during kojagori Laxmi pujo (autumn festival of the goddess Laxmi). I loved the knacha narkol bhora sedhdho puli (steamed rice dessert filled with raw coconut and eaten with liquid molasses) made by my neighboring jethima (elderly aunt). I loved it so much that my mother had to learn from her and it’s a staple in my household now. Even though both of my parents are bangals, we have a distinct ghoti influence in some things we eat, as my mother was a newlywed bride when she moved to that neighborhood and she learned much of her early cookery from our ghoti neighbors.

However, things may gradually be moving in the direction of integration. Younger people from both communities are sharing each other’s food. Still sometimes jokes about bangals and ghotis creep into adda (pointless chitchat unique to the Bengali race community) but it’s more for fun than to claim cultural superiority. In keeping with this spirit, the recipe I am sharing below on this does not belong to any particular group and has no identity except that it’s a Bengali recipe and this is how my mother makes it.

Ingredients:

Fish head/Muri/Muro: Half a large head or one small head, preferably from a freshwater carp

Cardamom: 2-3

Cinnamon: 2-3”, broken into smaller pieces

Cloves: 4-5

Bay leaves: 2

Turmeric: ½ tsp

Garam masala: ½ tsp

Ghee: ½ tbsp

Mustard/vegetable/corn oil: 3-4 tbsp

Potato: 2 medium or one large

Gobindobhog rice: 11/2 cup

Ginger-garlic paste: 2 tbsp

Red chili powder: 11/2 tsp

Tomato: One medium

Green chili: 3-4

Garam masala powder: ½ tsp

Salt to taste

Chopped potato

Gobindobhog rice/Kaalijeera rice and whole garam masala

How to cook:

  • Wash the rice with several changes of water and then soak with water for 15-20 minutes. Drain all the water or as much as possible.
  • Marinate the washed and clean fish head with salt and turmeric and keep it aside for 15-20 minutes.
  • Add chili powder to the ginger-garlic paste and make a paste of it (GGC paste).
  • Heat up the oil and add the cinnamon, cardamom and cloves. Sauté them a little bit and then add the bay leaves.
  • Once the bay leaves change color, add the chopped onion. Sauté until translucent.
  • Add the GGC masala paste, cook on medium flame for few minutes.
  • Drop in the chopped tomato, add turmeric, half a tsp of salt and then cook it until the oil separates.
  • Throw in the potatoes in the masala paste and coat the potatoes with the masala and let it cook for 5 minutes or so.
  • Finally add the drained rice and cook it for 5-10 minutes.
  • Add water, salt to taste, stir and cover the pot. Let it come to a boil and then reduce the flame to medium.
  • After around 10 minutes, uncover the pot and add the fish head and add the green chilis.
  • Cook it on low flame and after few minutes, break the fish head a little bit to incorporate the flavor into the rice. Mix well.
  • Cook for few more minutes until all the water is absorbed and both the rice and the potatoes are cooked.
  • Mix the ghee with the garam masala powder and add it to the rice mixture. Mix it well and immediately cover the pot so that the aroma doesn’t escape.
  • Serve hot.

PS: My husband eats this with rice. I eat this by itself. That’s how we ate it at my parent’s place. If you do not find the above mentioned rice, you can cook it with any atap rice you find, but the best is the Gobindobhog variety. It is sold as Kalijeera rice in the Bangladeshi stores here in the US. I prefer the tomatoes to be red, plump and juicy. I absolutely hate the thick skinned, hard, pale red roma tomato variety. But if you have only that in hand, go ahead.

Muri or muro is the Bengali name for fish head. Ghanto is a preparation where individual components of the dish is not completely intact. It’s like mishmash. You can find two more murighanto recipes here and here.