Like many other posts of mine, this post is also past its time. We had completed the shooting of bhuni khichuri sometime in the beginning of September. However, due to paucity of time and my upcoming food festival at Mustard, Mumbai, I couldn’t complete the post. So here I am, intending to write about bhuni khichuri, which is an essential dish during most ‘pujos’ in Bengali custom.
What is bhuni khichuri and how is it different from other khichuri?
During the food festival at Mustard, I found it quite amusing that most people (who had never eaten khichuri at a Durga pujo Pandal), were completely unaware of the richness of a bhuni khichuri. I even heard a person saying that he would like to order the bhoger khichuri since it was light. I laughed and told him that the bhuni khichuri and the bhoger khichuri are far from being light. Like all khichdis, bhuni khichuri uses Gobindobhog rice (small-grained fragrant rice from Bengal) and moong dal. However, the moong dal is roasted to a deep red colour and cooked with rice, vegetables and whole spices.
In Bengal, we have a masoor dal light khichuri, which we normally have during monsoon. There is a bhoger khichuri, which has a thicker consistency. This bhuni khichuri is my grandmother’s recipe. I am sure, every other household makes it this way, with a few here and there spices. Other than moong dal, I also add a handful of chana dal to this recipe. Plus the uniqueness of this khichuri is that it is dry and the rice grains don’t stick to each other.
Kojagori Lokkhi Pujo
While the rest of the country celebrates Lakshmi Puja on Diwali, Bengalis, Odias, Assamese and a few other communities in the Eastern states celebrate ‘Kojagori Lokkhi pujo’ on a full moon night soon after Durga Pujo. It is essential to welcome the harvest after the monsoon is over. ‘Kojagori’ breaks into ‘ke jago re’ meaning, who is awake. Ma Lakshmi comes down to Earth and visits homes at night. Families stay awake and the matriarch of the family reads verses from ‘Lokhhir panchali’, quite regressive for today. So whoever is awake is blessed by Ma Lokkhi.
My Lokkhi pujo memories
I am writing this part, purely for my sake. Lokkhi pujo (Lakshmi Puja) was a gala affair at my grandparents’ home at Canning. Over the years, I have seen the scale of the pujo reducing. After my grandparents were too old to manage things on their own, the pujo shifted to our home at Patuli. With each passing year, the number of guests has definitely reduced. This year, we only had close family for the pujo. And even though I am an atheist, I always look forward to this day and meeting a few family members. In fact, the first time that Anindya met my extended family was on Lokkhi Pujo, the year before our marriage.
I remember the furniture in the living room being removed elsewhere for making space for the guests. Runners of shotoronchi (durries) were placed for people to sit. Every year, we had about 100- 150 people coming to offer their prayers at our home on Lokkhi pujo. The entire family had their jobs distributed and Dida (my grandmother) used to do all the cooking of the bhog. My grandfather was the purohit and he would chant the mantras and we would be completely amused by his style. All the cousins would huddle up behind our Grandfather and watch him chant while seated on the floor. He was a very handsome man but was bald. And while reciting, he would offer flowers to the goddess and sometimes over his own head. At the end of the pujo, he would have a ‘phuler bagan’ (garden of flowers) on his head.
What are the accompanying players with the bhuni khichuri?
Dida used to make several batches of bhuni khichuri. There would be labra on the side. Labra is a mish-mash of vegetables with panchphoron. There would always be panch rokomer bhaja (five kinds of bhaja). Chhanar dalna, a light gravy with homemade paneer and potatoes, was compulsory. A whole lot of narkel naru, tiler naru and many more sweets used to be made for the prasad. Chutney would usually be a jolpaier chutney, made with Indian olives or tomato chutney.
The preparations for the sweets would start the night before but the major prep would start early in the morning. The most time-consuming part was the chopping of the vegetables for labra and chopping of the fruits for prasad. Another key activity was to draw alpona all over the house, at the doors and in front of the goddess. This would fall upon a few who had the skill to draw an alpona. Even though I was very good at drawing, alpona was never my cup of tea. Ma would insist that I at least try. Now that I think back, I must have been pure lazy.
Coming back to Bhuni khichuri, I have tried as best as possible to explain the process. The tricky part is keeping the rice grains separate. However, don’t stress if you cannot. The taste doesn’t change if it becomes sticky.
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- 1 cup gobindobhog rice or any fragrant smal grain rice
- 1/2 cup shona moong dal or any moong dal (see notes)
- 1/4 cup chana dal split Bengal gram
- 2 nos large potatoes
- 2 nos carrots
- 1 no medium sized cauliflower
- 1 cup green peas
- 10 nos beans optional
- 1 inch cinnamon
- 3 nos green cardamom
- 4 nos cloves
- 2 nos dried bay leaf
- 1 no dried red chili
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
- 1 1/2 tbsp chopped ginger
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/2 tsp red chili powder
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp Bengali garam masala powder
- 4 tbsp mustard oil
- 2 tbsp ghee
- salt to taste
- Wash the rice and keep it soaked in water. In the meanwhile, prep the vegetables.
- Peel the potatoes, wash them and cut them into four pieces each. Peel the carrots, first give it a cut length wise and then cut into 1 inch pieces each.
- Cut the beans in one inch length. Cut the cauliflower into medium sized florets. Now wash all the vegetables, including the green peas and keep aside.
- In a kadai, dry roast the moong dal till they are deep red in colour. Keep the flame from medium to low and do not leave it unattended. It takes seconds for the moong dal to burn. Once you have achieved the right colour, take the moong dal out in a bowl and keep aside.
- Repeat the above process with the chana dal. Once done, wash both the dals under running water and then keep aside.
- In a kadai, take 2 tbsp of mustard oil. When the oil becomes hot, add the cauliflower florets. Sprinkle some salt over the florets and slowly fry them till they are soft. You need to keep the flame to a medium to low. Once you have a golden colour and the cauliflower has become soft enough to eat, take the cauliflowers out and keep aside.
- In the same kadai, add the remaining of mustard oil and let it become hot. Add the tempering spices - bay leaf, dried red chili, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, cumin and fennel, in the order mentioned here.
- Once they start to give out aroma, add the chopped ginger and lightly stir. Add the rest of the vegetables, except the green peas and cauliflower and lightly sauté. Finally add the washed rice (without the water) and stir fry in the oil along with the vegetables.
- After a couple of minutes, add the roasted dals and turmeric power, red chili powder, salt and sugar.
- Sprinkle some water and continue stir frying. Add the green peas and finally add one cup of warm water.
- Stir everything together very well and check the seasoning. Like any pulao, you need to add extra salt so that when the rice gets cooked, the seasoning is just right.
- It might look like less water but Gobindobhog rice does not need too much water to cook, especially when we want a pulao consistency.
- Cover the bhuni khichuri with a lid and reduce the flame to minimum. Let the khichuri cook on a low flame. Keep one cup of hot water ready with you.
- After 10 - 15 minutes, check the khichuri, if you notice that the bottom is sticking and the rice is not cooked yet (which it will not yet), add 1/4 cup of hot water through the sides of the kadai. Using a spatula, lightly toss the rice so that the bottom does not stick further.
- Cover and again let it cook for 10 minutes. If required, you might need to repeat the above process a couple of more times.
- Normally I require 1 3/4 cups of water in total for the cooking. I cup in the beginning and the rest through the cooking time. Sometimes, I have seen the cooking is done in 1 1/2 cups too.
- Therefore, I never add the full water at one go. This way, I ensure that just the right amount of water is added and the rice grains are cooked yet they are apart.
- When the rice grains have cooked, add two tbsp of ghee to the khichuri and add the cauliflower florets. Lightly toss with a spatula to mix everything without breaking the rice grains.
- Serve bhuni khichuri with labra, panch rokomer bhaja and chutney.