Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Khichuri and Cucumber Raita

A friend of mine rang me up yesterday and told me he was expected to fly in today. Knowing that he will have endured a long flight (Calcutta to Delhi, not so bad. Delhi to Chicago - now that's a loooong flight), I decided I was going to make dinner. Winter came roaring back into the Triangle area, dumping ca. 4 inches of snow, and it was really cold outside. Never mind that the sun was out for most of the day. So I decided that after a long flight and arriving back into the melting winter wonderland, comfort food would be the way to go. The Bengali version of comfort food is khichuri, which according to Bharti Kirchner in her book The Healthy Cuisine of India, literally means "a mixture of the unexpected". My friend tells me the charm of khichuri is that anything can go in it, as long as the dal/rice ratio is at least 2:1. He looked at the consistency of it and decided that I got it right. He also mentioned that he equates this dish with frightful weather, which includes monsoon rains and cold (for Calcutta in winter) weather.

I followed Kirchner's recipe, except for a few modifications on my part because I was missing those particular ingredients.


vegetable oil for frying
1/2 large onion, sliced thinly into half-moons

Heat oil in pan and add the onion slices. Fry over medium-low heat for ca. 6-8 minutes or until the onion is nicely brown and carmelised, but not burnt. Remove from pan and set aside for later use.

(N.B.: Kirchner characterises this step as "optional", especially if you want a lower-fat dish. I wouldn't skimp on this though. The onion when prepared this way adds a sweetness and a body of flavour to this dish.)

1/2 c rice (I used Basmati. Kirchner recommends brown rice, either short- or long-grain)
1 c musurir dal (red lentils)

Pick over for stones and other debris, and then wash. Allow to drain thoroughly.

vegetable oil for frying
2 bay leaves
1/4 tsp kalo jeera (nigella seeds)
ca. 1 tbsp minced fresh ginger
ca. 1 tsp minced green chilli (I prefer the Thai variety)
1/4 tsp turmeric
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tomato, diced
1 1/2 c baby carrots, sliced into rounds
3 1/4 c water
2 tbsp lemon juice
ghee (clarified butter; optional)
hard boiled eggs, cut into wedges, to garnish (also optional)

(N.B.: in Kirchner's recipe, she calls for 1 c of sliced carrots and 1 c of cauliflower. Since I didn't have cauliflower, or green beans on hand, I just increased the sliced carrots by 1/2 cup. Also too - I didn't have any ginger, having used up the last for salabat. So I added 1 1/2 tsp ground ginger. My advice: go get the ginger. Ground ginger doesn't even begin to approximate the flavour of fresh ginger. Also: kalo jeera literally translates to "black cumin"; however it is my understanding that to Bengalis, it is not black cumin but instead is the nigella seed. If you can't find nigella seed, then try subbing with the black cumin, which I assume to be more readily available at your neighbourhood Indian store.)

Heat the oil, and add the bay leaf and the kalo jeera. When the leaf starts to turn brown, add the chilli and the ginger. (N.B.: to reduce the heat from the chilli, remove the seeds and the vein before you mince it.) Fry for about a minute or until the ginger is nicely browned. Add the turmeric, cumin, and coriander and fry for about a minute. Add the drained rice/dal mixture. (Do be sure it's dry, or you'll get an unpleasant surprise if water touches the oil. Believe me - turmeric is a very potent yellow dye!) Stir and fry for about a minute, coating the rice and dal with the mixture in the pan. Add salt, sugar, carrots, tomatoes, and water and bring to a boil. After the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low/simmer, cover and let cook for ca. 40 minutes or so.

Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and browned onion. Garnish with egg wedges (if using).

When serving, sprinkle a few drops of ghee. Believe me, it really adds a lot to the dish!

I'm going to try to make this again as I found cauliflower on sale at Kroger. (Speaking of which - at least in the Durham Krogers, they are selling ground turkey for $1.00/lb ... that, as far as I understand, is an excellent price for that.)

I thought of possible dishes that will go along with the khichuri. I quickly ruled out any meat dishes - the khichuri is protein-laden as it is already. I thought a nice raita would go along with it. I had cucumber and coriander leaves on hand, so here is the raita I whipped up.

Cucumber Raita

1 cucumber, peeled and cut into dice
2 tbsp coriander (cilantro) leaves, minced
2 c plain yoghurt
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp ground roasted cumin
pinch chilli powder

Into a bowl, pour 2 c plain yoghurt and stir until smooth. Stir in garlic, cumin, and chilli powder. Stir in cucumber and coriander leaves and mix until well-blended. Refrigerate before serving to ensure blending of flavours.

Those of you who know me in RL know I am a garlic fiend, but for this, I limited the garlic because I didn't want it to overpower this dish. This raita ended up being a really nice accompaniment to the khichuri.

I discussed this with my friend, and he said other things that will go well with the khichuri include fried vegetables (for example, begun bhaja or fried eggplant), scrambled egg, or fried hilsa (fish). I'll remember that for next time.

And there you have it. If you try this, please let me know what you think of it.

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