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- Published 8.07.12
Now that the rains have made a reluctant appearance in some parts of the country, I think we can raise a toast to a dish that the monsoons immediately bring to mind — khichri or khichuri. In many parts of the east, the rains are welcomed with hot khichri — served with a variety of snacks from fried and spiced fish roe and ilish maachh bhaja to aubergine fritters, crunchy parmal fries and crispy papads.
But I’ve been thinking for a while that the time has come to open our minds a bit. Khichris are cooked in different ways, with various kinds of dals and spices but the accompanying dishes remain more or less the same. How about tweaking them a bit so that you can get a whole range of innovative snacks to go with your khichri?
I asked chef Joymalya Banerjee to put on his thinking cap. Let’s do something different with the usual bhajas, I urged him. Chef Joy, who runs Bohemian in Calcutta and is always coming up with innovative dishes, at once conjured up a host of interesting recipes. What I like about his side dishes is the fact that he hasn’t turned the concept of bhajas upside down. He has stuck to the traditional dishes — but changed them in such a way that he’s ended up opening a whole new world.
Take this dish that he calls dolma fritters. Now maachh bhaja —rohu, hilsa or topshe — goes very well with khichri. And whole onions are often cooked with the khichri, giving it a mildly sweet taste. The chef has combined the two — and come up with something very different. He boils whole onions and gently places the onion layers on absorbent paper. He sautés boiled fish in mustard oil with chopped onion, ginger and garlic paste and some spices. He places a portion of the mashed fish on each onion layer and then rolls it like a cigar. He prepares a thick batter with flour, rice flour, onion seeds and water. He dips the onion rolls in this and then fries them.
Likewise, aubergine fritters — beguni or begun bhaja — are an essential part of a khichri meal during the rains. But he suggests that we first oil and roast the brinjal in an oven till soft and cooked. Remove the skin and mash the flesh. Now soak some bread slices in water, squeeze out the excess moisture, add the bread to the brinjal mash along with some chopped preserved lime and the spices that you like. Refrigerate for an hour. Make small balls out of the mash, dip in a batter of flour, rice flour, poppy seeds and water and fry. Instead of begun bhaja, you’ll have bharta bhaja.
One vegetable that has to accompany hot khichri is the parmal. Most people like it sliced and fried. But the chef suggests that we make a patty out of it. Mash parmal peels with a little bit of the parmal flesh. Sauté it with onion seeds, garlic and coconut paste. When it looks like it’s done, add chilli paste and seasonings. When the mixture is nice and dry, add some rice flour. Shape into small patties, and then shallow fry.
I like the easterner’s passion for khichri. In my part of town (and in many other regions in the north), we eat khichri when we fall sick. And the only thing that we have with it is curd. But for Bengalis, eating khichri is an elaborate ritual. The khichri is cooked with whole spices to give it a fragrant flavour. Sometimes vegetables are added to the broth while the rice and dals simmer gently.
And as the rain pours down relentlessly, the khichri is eaten noisily with all the bhajas — the crunching sounds of the crispy snacks being demolished doing a jugalbandhi with the rain. That indeed is bliss.
Crab stuffed pumpkin flowers (serves 5)
• 10 pumpkin blossoms • 150g crab meat • 2g mustard seeds • 5g sliced green chillies • 20g garlic pickle • 30g grated cheese • 100g besan • 3g baking powder • 15g green chilli paste • 10g poppy seeds • 2g onion seeds • salt and sugar to taste • 15ml mustard oil • refined oil for frying
Remove the stamens of the flowers. Wash and pat dry. Heat the mustard oil in a pan, add mustard seeds and sliced green chillies.
As the seeds starts to splutter, add the crab meat. Sauté lightly, add seasonings. Add the chopped pickle and remove. Add grated cheese and mix well. Refrigerate the mixture for 30 minutes. Stuff the pumpkin flowers with the prepared crab mixture. Prepare a medium thin batter with the rest of the ingredients. Let the batter rest for 20 minutes. Heat refined oil in a kadhai. Dip the flowers one at a time, and fry till crisp. Serve immediately with khichri.