I have never visited Bengal, and know very little about Bengali cuisine, having lived all my life in the diametrically opposite corner of the subcontinent, but I do have two very dear friends who are Bengali. I turned to each of them and
This one comes from my darling friend Sutapa, who has been a close pal and confidante, acting as my multipurpose unpaid therapist for nearly a decade. She shared a recipe for Kichuri, the typical Bengali way of making khichdi- that medley of rice, lentils and vegetables that is made in its various glorious avatars in all corners of India.
Sutapa says, "Typically, this khichuri is eaten with eggplant slices fried in besan batter (which has a sprinkling of kalonji and red chilli powder) or fried fish (ilish) on rainy days. Also this is literally food for the gods since it is offered as "bhog" during the Pujas. Paired with tomato chutney and chaler payesh (good old kheer) for dessert, kichuri-beguni is a complete lunch on navami". Navami is a Hindu festival day.
1 C Basmati rice
¾ C Yellow Moong Dal
3 C mixed vegetables (Sutapa suggests using cauliflower, green beans, carrot, peas and potato; I used cauliflower florets, carrot, lima beans and potato)
½ t Turmeric powder
1 T oil
4 bay leaves (tejpatta)
4 dried chillies
2 t cumin seeds
1 inch piece of ginger, grated to a pulp
1 t cumin powder
salt to taste
1 t ghee
1 t sugar
1. Soak the rice in some water.
2. Roast the moong dal until golden and then soak in some water separately.
3. Heat a little oil in a pan and lightly fry the vegetables, with a sprinkling of turmeric, until they pick up a little color and are about half-cooked (they will finish cooking later). Set them aside.
4. Heat 1 T of oil in a large pot. Temper it with bay leaves, red chillis, cumin seeds and ginger and stir around for a few seconds.
5. Add cumin powder and salt and stir for a few more seconds.
6. Add the (drained) moong dal and stir for a minute.
7. Add 4 cups of water, cover and let it come to a simmer.
8. Add the par-cooked vegetables and (drained) rice, stir and cook, covered, until the water is absorbed and the rice is just tender.
9. Stir in the ghee and sugar gently. Do not overmix. Serve hot!
Vegan version: simply skip the ghee, or add a dollop of vegan margarine instead.
I served piping hot kichuri with some shallow-fried eggplant slices. One spoonful of this kichuri, and I knew I was eating something very special. The kind of food that nourishes body and soul. The kichuri is redolent with the flavors of cumin and ginger- spices that are warm and soothing. The very same qualities that I love and admire most in Sutapa. The only thing that would have made this meal perfect was if she was sitting at the table sharing the kichuri with me!