The autumn puja season is officially over, the weather is now cold, and the leaves lie in crushed, swirling patterns on our lawns and streets. As a follow up to my begun bhaja (fried eggplant) and mamlet (omelet) posts, I would like to blog about khichuri. Loosely translated, it means “all mixed up” in Bengali (Bengali: খিচুড়ী khichuri).
Despite its versatility, Khichuri has two distinct identities (and many, many variations). One is rainy day khichuri, a little on the runny side, with large hunks of potatoes, occasionally onion and cauliflower, seasoned with a generous amount of butter/ghee and a wedge of lemon. My parents associated this khichuri with the monsoon. It is the one pot meal that provides warmth and comfort in the endless wet rains, when the weather becomes damp and what they might have described as cool.
One constant: The rice and dal are not cooked separately but all mixed together. Classic accompaniments might include begun bhaja, maach bhaja, or egg mamlet.
The second type of khichuri is served during a Puja, and is known as Pujar Bhoger Khichuri. This type of khichuri is made with mung dal, without onion or garlic, and tends to be a more elaborate, fragrant dish. When younger, I preferred my mom’s Pujar Khichuri, with green peas and cauliflower cut into small pieces, browned until just sweet and a little crispy.
For this post, I made an in-between khichuri, with mung and mushur dals, and smaller florets of cauliflower that I sautéed first.
Butter/ghee or oil for sautéing
1 two-inch stick cinnamon, broken into pieces
1-2 green or dried red chilies (optional)
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
1-2 tej leaves
½ cup mushur dal
½ cup mung dal
1 cup white rice
¼ cup sliced onion
3 cups sautéed cauliflower florets
½-1 cup green peas
2 tbsp grated ginger
½ teaspoon ground cumin
Salt to taste
3-4 cups water
Dry Toast the Dals
Combine the mung and mushur dals in a skillet over medium-low heat and dry toast for approximately 10 minutes; stir or shake the pan occasionally to redistribute the seeds evenly They will release a fragrant, nutty smell and turn a slightly darker shade when ready. Set aside.
Note: The dal can be fried in a little bit of butter or ghee for a richer flavor.
Sauté cauliflower florets in a skillet with a little oil and ghee, salt and turmeric. Cauliflower should be virtually cooked through, a little brown and crispy on the edges. Set aside.
Prepare the Phoron (oil and seed) Mixture
Add ghee/butter to a large, heavy-bottomed pan, heat for a minute of two and then add the chilies, cinnamon stick, tej leaf and cumin seeds. Make sure green chilies are sliced in half or vented with a small incision on one side. Heat the oil until the chilies begin to blister and pop.
Mixing It Up
Add onions and sauté until translucent. Next, add dal and rice and fry with the onions in the oil-phoron mixture for 5 minutes. Add 4 cups water, grated ginger, salt to taste, a pinch of turmeric. Allow dish to come to a boil. At this stage, add an extra half cup of water if needed. Turn heat to low, cover dish and set timer for 20 minutes. Check dal for doneness, stir, add ½ cup of water again only if needed. Cover and reset timer for another 1o minutes.
Add sautéed cauliflower and green peas and stir, taking care not to break the cauliflower. Set timer for another 10 minutes. Khichuri is done when the dal is soft, the rice is cooked and the dish has a creamy texture, much like a finished risotto. Serve steaming hot with a dollop of butter or ghee and a wedge of lemon. Savor that first bite. Add more butter and lemon if you’re tempted. Feel warm all over.