For Bengalis, rain does not mean good books, cozy blankets or hunter boots. Nor does snow signal hot chocolate, snowmen or shoveling. No, for Bengalis, any sort of precipitation means only one thing: khichuri. Growing up, I always noticed, though never understood why on any overcast, slightly cool day, the first thing my dad would request was khichuri. I’d think to myself, in the usual teenage overly dramatic Holden Caulfield voice: Khichuri is just rice and daal cooked together…WHAT is the big deal? So, like Peter in The Snowy Day (can you tell I’ve been reading a lot of big and little people classics?), I thought and thought and thought about it.
What I noticed was this: khichuri is almost always accompanied by things you’re likely to have on hand. A quick omelet with onions and green chilis. A raw onion and red pepper bhorta (mashed with salt and mustard oil). Or any variety of pickles. Because people back home aren’t likely to venture out to the bazaar on a rainy day. Slinging through the mud when perhaps the vendors themselves might not even show up. This might be a foreign concept to someone who lives in New York, where you can find someone on a jet ski in the middle of a hurricane. But in Bangladesh, where intermittent electricity and insufficient refrigeration send most to the bazaar on a daily basis (often on unpaved roads), an excuse to stay home most welcome.
I like to use a short grain, fragrant rice called Kalijeera for my khichuri. The mung bean (moong dal) can be swapped out for red lentils (masoor dal) but will of course change the taste of the dish. And though I initially stated that Bengali precipitation associations don’t include any sort of warm or fuzzies, that’s not 100% accurate. Once the rice and lentils/beans have steamed to perfection along with all the warm spices, the aroma that wafts out of the kitchen is the olfactory equivalent of great big bear hug.
- 1 cup mung bean
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 tbsp garlic/ginger paste or 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 tsp coriander
- 6 tbsp butter
- 2 cups rice, rinsed thoroughly to remove excess starch
- 7 cups water
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 4 cardamom pods
- 4 cloves
- 4 peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tsp salt (or to taste)
- 2 green chilis
- In a medium to large stock pot, toast the mung bean over medium high heat until fragrant and slightly browned. Empty into a separate container and set aside.
- Pour oil into the pot and add the onions. After softening for 4 to 5 minutes, add the garlic/ginger, turmeric and coriander. Mix well. Add the rice, toasted mung bean and butter and mix until well combined and the butter is melted.
- Add the remaining ingredients, stir and bring to a boil over high heat. Then, reduce to a simmer over low heat and cover. Should be done in 15 to 20 minutes. Check for doneness at 15 minutes, fluff with a fork, and continue to steam for an extra 5 minutes if needed. Check for seasoning. I needed 2.5 tsp of kosher salt.
Keep in mind this recipe is the best I could do between my mother and mother in law’s recipes, where ingredients are stated in handfuls, liquids measured by the finger, and seasoning is always to taste. God bless them =)