Today marks the third day after the 9 day Hindu “Navratri” festival and also the second day after “Dussehara“ which is the 10th day after Navratri. For the unaware this is a festival wildly popular in the Indian tradition where every state has it’s own way of worshipping the divine Goddess of power and strength and symbolises the victory of good over evil. Numerous fasting methods along with sumptuous foods prepared in different styles using different ingredients across the country make it difficult to explain a fixed tradition that is followed by everyone. One important aspect is that except for the state of Bengal most people who celebrate this festival abstain from all kinds of meat, eggs, onions, garlic and ginger in their foods.
For me it’s missing the home cooked rice kheer , black chana and ghee laden halwa the most that my grandma and mum made every year during this time of the year. I have not been able to recreate their styles and tastes but it remains in the back of my mind to some day hopefully reproduce the same foods that they did. This year I discovered Khichuri , a rice, lentil and vegetable stew flavoured intensely with ghee (clarified butter) and aromatic spices that is supposedly very common in the Bengal region which celebrates this festival as Durga Puja. I feel it shares a very similar consistency to a risotto.
However I would make this regardless of any festival because it is a quick and easy one pot meal that can be had for lunch or dinner. It uses generous amounts of lentils and vegetables with different spices that intensify the flavour. In fact Khichri has different variations since really you can experiment with numerous vegetables and spices and adjust the ghee , rice or lentils based on your preferences. You can serve it with fresh yogurt or curried pickles or a basic garden salad of lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, shredded carrots and onions. A less spicier version served with yogurt and without the vegetables is often even giving to teething infants or individuals with upset tummies to aid in swallowing and digestion. I can eat it just like that without any accompaniments since the warm bowl of rice, lentils and vegetables with a ladle of ghee is an ideal comfort food for me.
I have used brown rice instead of white rice, broccoli instead of cauliflower and a Turkish chilli Pul Biber (a coarsely ground pepper from Turkey tossed in oil and salt) that I got my hands on from a recent trip to Turkey . But like I said you can play around with the vegetables and spices to to suit your preferences.
1 part brown rice
1 part yellow moong daal
2 carrots diced
A handful of fresh or frozen green peas
1 potato diced
Florets of 1 broccoli or cauliflower
1 teaspoon of cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon of turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon Pul Biber*
Salt as per taste
2 teaspoons of ghee (clarified butter)
Boiling Water enough to cook the rice and moong daal
For the tempering or Tadka
1 bay leaf
2-3 green cardamom pods
1 teaspoon of ghee (clarified butter)
*Use chilli of your choice like smoked paprika, fresh green chilli or chilli flakes as you may not have the Turkish spice Pul Biber easily available.
Method Of Preparation:
1) Soak the rice and moong daal in water for a while (1 hour app. or more if you are able to) so it is easier to cook.
2) Take a round deep non stick pot style pan and heat in the ghee. Sprinkle in the cumin seeds until they crackle followed by the turmeric powder, Pul Biber, carrots, potatoes, frozen peas and salt in that order. Mix well to ensure the spices are adequately coated.
3) Drain the rice and moong dal mixture and transfer into the pan. Add in at least double the quantity of water as the mixture in the pan, cover with lid and let it cook for about 20-25 min on medium heat.
4) Stir occasionally and keep checking after every 10 min. You don’t want the water to dry completely and keep adjusting for salt and water as the mixture cooks. It should be a cooked mushy rice and lentil mixture like a risotto.
5) When it is almost cooked and mushy add in the broccoli florets and some more water and let them steam for 5 min. Mix well and remove from the heat. This avoids the broccoli from over cooking and becoming totally mushy.
6) For the tempering heat the ghee and add in the bay leaf, cloves and cardamom seeds. Let them crackle for 30 seconds and pour over the cooked rice lentils. Mix well.
7) Serve with fresh yogurt or eat it just like that.