The Bengali knows when Durga Puja is in the air. The air she breathes starts smelling of Balsams and Marigolds. The morning sun she basks in is a glorious hue of gold, and the evenings are nippy.
In between the glory and the nip, she makes trips to Suleiman Tailor to haggle with masterji for not giving her halter neck blouse the right fit. She then rushes to Fabindia to get her husband a new kurta in royal blue for Ashtami. She knows he will wear it just once, but what the heck. He too needs new clothes, which are ethnic.
Far, far away, about seven thousand miles West of this Bengali is another Bengali who is terribly homesick, cursing the Fall chill, trying to keep her home warm with colors, candles and the flavor of Durga Puja delicacies like Khichudi and Labra along with Tomator Chaatney.
Now, khichudi, labra chorchori, tomato chutney and chaaler payesh are the essential items which are offered to Goddess Durga as Bhog (food offerings). They are always made by Brahmins (not necessarily cooks) and the Goddess gets it first. When the Mother Goddess is done “eating”, it is then shared with her children (us mortals).
Anyone who has had Bhog will say you cannot re-create those flavors and taste at home. Which is exactly the truth. Bhog is special because it is the God’s food, its marked by purity and dedication you put in the process of cooking. The methods are simple and the ingredients even simpler.
Ingredients for Bhoger Khichudi are:
1 cup Basmati rice, washed and sieved
Half cup yellow mung dal
2 medium size, ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
2 medium size potatoes, peeled and diced
Half a cauliflower, flowerets separated
Half cup green peas
1 heaped tablespoon of ginger paste
Half tablespoon green chili paste
2 teaspoons coriander powder
2 teaspoons cumin powder
Half teaspoon garam masala powder
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon red chili powder
2 bay leaves
2 black cardamoms
1 small stick of cinnamon
3-4 tablespoons ghee
Dry roast the mung dal on low heat until the kernels are lightly browned. Keep an eye on it, as the dal may burn easily. Keep it separate.
Heat oil in a thick pan, add the cumin seeds, bay leaf, cardamoms, and cinnamon. Sauté for a few seconds. Now add the cauliflower and potatoes. Get some color on them by frying them on medium-high heat for five minutes. Add the rice and mix well. Now add the spices – red chili, turmeric, coriander, cumin powders and the ginger and green chili paste. Mix everything well.
Add the roasted dal, chopped tomatoes and the peas. Pour enough water to cover all the ingredients. Season with salt and sugar.
Let it cook on medium-low heat for 20-25 minutes, stir continuously. If you need to add more water, please do so. The Khichudi should not have to be dry, it should have a porridge-like consistency. Turn the heat off when the vegetables are cooked. Sprinkle garam masala powder and a little more ghee. Mix well again.
The Bhoger Khichudi should be served with this mishmash of vegetables called Labra. An authentic Labra recipe has seasonal vegetables like sojne data, raw banana and sweet potato, but I made it with vegetables which were easy to find in a supermarket.
Ingredients for Labra are:
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
Half a cauliflower, cut into flowerets
1 medium size eggplant, cubed
200 grams pumpkin or pepper squash, peeled and cubed
250 grams spinach, thoroughly washed and coarsely chopped
2-3 green chilies, broken from the middle
1 teaspoon paanch phoron
2 teaspoons turmeric powder
2 bay leaves
3-4 tablespoons mustard oil
Heat mustard oil in a big pan, add the paanch phoron, bay leaves and broken green chilies. Sauté for 20-30 seconds and then add the hardy vegetables first – potato, pumpkin, cauliflower and eggplant.
Fry the vegetables on medium heat, till they get coated with the oil and paanch phoron. Add the turmeric powder. When the vegetables settle down in the pan a bit, add the chopped spinach, sugar (about 1 teaspoon) and salt. Cover and cook.
The salt will help the vegetables release water by this time. Keep mixing everything well and make sure the spices do not stick at the bottom of the pan. Add a little water if needed. Finish cooking when the vegetables are a little mushy.
The Labra should have a thick gravy clinging to the vegetables.
Hope you are liking the ongoing Durga Puja celebrations on PreeOccupied. Please leave your feedback and comments here on what recipes you’d like to see during this festive month. Or send in your family recipes and watermarked photos at firstname.lastname@example.org.