| Bhojohori Manna’s take on a bhog platter. Picture by Rashbehari Das
Khichuri is as old as the hills, if not older. A simple but delicious and nutritious meal in a dish, made from a combination of rice and dal, it has many variations and one or other version of it exists in virtually every part of the subcontinent.
It is said that on a muggy August early afternoon in 1690, a hungry Job Charnock stepped off his ship on to a muddy ghat off the Hooghly river at Butani village (one of the three principal villages which became Calcutta) and was served khichuri cooked in an earthenware vessel by a wide-eyed villager.
Both the month and the time of day were appropriate because in Bengal, khichuri is traditionally a lunchtime meal eaten on a rainy day. Necessity being the mother of invention, khichuri is supposed to have evolved because of a lack of provisions. If the housewife found that pouring rain meant that marketing could not be done, she turned to her monthly stock of rice and dal. Onions and potatoes, also usually “in stock”, were thrown in as well.
The sheer success of khichuri, however, was such that it is, and has been for aeons, cooked irrespective of availability of provisions and apart from the basics, vegetables such as bottle gourd (lau), ridge gourd (jhinge), aubergine, cauliflower and peas are also used. A whole range of accompaniments heighten the excellence of this dish. These are deep-fried items and could be jhuri bhaja (needle-thin potato juliennes fried to a crisp) or potatoes simply sliced into circles and fried or waxgourd (potol) halved lengthwise and fried or beguni (aubergines cut lengthwise into slices, dipped in batter and fried) or simply smeared with turmeric and salt and fried or fried fish (hilsa) or fried roe of the same fish or deep-fried bori (small, sun-dried lentil cakes). In Bangladesh, khichuri is also cooked with meat.
Moong dal is the most commonly used dal for khichuri but there are recipes for masoor dal, as well as a combination of dals (moong, arhar, split dried red gram; chhola, split dried Bengal gram and matar, split dried peas).
The success story has also meant that khichuri is eaten around the year now, especially during community lunches during practically every puja or festival. It is a first-class choice for bulk cooking and serves perfectly for what is basically a single-course meal with accompaniments. Practical and easy.
Later this week, on Saptami and Ashtami, all over Bengal and wherever else in the world community celebrations of Durga Puja are held, lunchtime bhog of khichuri with vegetarian accompaniments will be served. Apart from the deep-fried knick-knacks that go with khichuri that have already been mentioned, a favourite add on is a dryish curry of cabbage and potatoes.
There will also be doi-mishti to round off the meal. On Mahanavami, the menu will be different. It will be a non-vegetarian meal since fish is a must. A more elaborate lunch this time, with a course-by-course rice-based meal replacing khichuri in many localities. Shukto, Bengal’s celebrated bittersweet vegetable dish, must be there and maybe another vegetable dish cooked with fish head and also a fish curry.
In large households where Durga Puja is celebrated on a scale almost similar to para pujas, guests will also be served luchi-tarkari as a mid-morning snack. The tarkari is usual alur dom (a dry potato curry) or the cabbage potato dish I mentioned, or even a cauliflower and potato concoction. And if you stay on for lunch, khichuri, of course.
How do you like your khichuri'