Boro Din (Big Day), which I think referred to both Christmas and New Year, were celebrated at home during my growing up years in Calcutta. And birthdays of course. I don't think we made a big deal of the Bengali New Year in our house. Possibly due to the fact that folks in my mother's side of the family were Dilliwallahs.
The fare on these days was standard. Chicken curry or murgir jhol. Beguni or sliced egg plants, deep fried in a gram flour batter and fried and pulao.
Since then I moved to Mumbai at the other end of the country. It's been a decade since I have been home for a big day or a Boro Din. I make a fairly good chicken curry. But pulao, or polau (Bengali pronunciation), eluded me. I tried making a version initially in a sauce pan but it would get a bit soggy. I then hit upon a fairly easy method when I had guests and realised that one of them thought there would be biriyani for dinner. It was nice but it wasn't my granny's or mother's polau.
That's when I came across this blog post by Pree. I scrolled down and stopped in my tracks. I saw the photos she'd taken of her pulao. The cooking process looked like the way my mom makes it. Turned out that it was Pree's mom's recipe too!
I decided to give the pulao a go. One of the rare occasions when I almost followed a recipe to the T. After all I liked the promised dish and wasn't sure how to make it. Pree's version involved the microwave. I never make rice in the micro as I believe in draining out the water. I posed a question to Pree. Got my answer. A few small modifications and I set off on the yellow pulao road. (Turned out that the micro was a brilliant suggestion as the rice didn't stick to the vessel unlike in a stainless steel pan.)
Can't tell you how thrilled I was at the end. The final dish was the pulao that I used to so look forward to on special days. The pulao which is still a permanent fixture when I go home. Didu, my granny, makes it for me when I visit her. Her recipe includes aching knees, failing eyesight, kidney stones and loads of love. My mom adds beans and carrots to her pulao in an attempt to make me eat healthy. I guess that you are never grown up enough for your mother! especially if you are a Bengali boy. I make it a point to eat the pulao well beyond saturation point as I know that these ladies wait for months to make it for me.
One bite into today's pulao and I knew that this was it. A kaleidoscope of images began to flash in front of me. The small pack of Gobindo Bhog rice that my mom and Didu would buy and bring home during my visits home. Gobindo Bhog is a small grained, fragrant, rice which Bengalis use for special dishes. The little bag of cashews and raisins which would be bought, dipping into their pensions. And the look of joy as they saw the subject of their efforts wipe clean his plate with gusto.
And another very different memory of a College December Social where Pramod da of the Presidency College Canteen had prepared mangsho and pulao. Dancing to 'kaali kaali raate' from Baazigar. Complimented on my dancing steps! "Do you go to night clubs regularly? You dance so well" Well I didn't and actually had four left feet. Gosh, some of those first year girls must have been really scared of us final year folks :)
Well here's the recipe of the quintessential yellow, sweetish, vegetarian, memory soaked Bengali Pulao. Pree thanks for putting this up. Glad I could do justice to it.
Take a tablespoon of ghee in a non stick pan and heat it
Add a tablespoon of raisin and broken cashews to this and stir till the dry fruits darken
Add half a cup of soaked Basmati rice. Being an adulterated Bong, I prefer the long grained Basmati to the smug nosed Gobindo Bhog
Add half a teaspoon of turmeric, one ablespoon of salt, and a teaspoon of sugar, one teaspoon of fresh grated ginger, one tablespoon of curd, a small bowl of green peas. Stir till the rice seems a bit fried
Transfer this to a microwave cooking dish. Add 1.5 times the original amount of rice. So if you started 0.5 cup of rice then add 1.5 cups of water. This is where I was nervous. I wasn't sure if the rice would remain firm and crisp. I threw a question to Pree in the comment section and she talked me through it.
I added a few drops of rose water and a few shreds of saffron which we had at home
I put it in the micro for 14 minutes. Less time than the 20 minutes prescribed by Pree as my portion was a lot less. I took it out. A miracle! It seemed almost there. The water had largely dried up. The rice was still a bit damp.
I followed Pree's tip. Squeezed a slice of lemon on the rice. Stirred the rice gently and put it back in the micro for another minute. Did it work? Did the rice turn out to be firm and dry the way I like it? Well scroll down and decide for yourself :)
I must admit that I was mighty thrilled with the pulao. The the aroma which spread across the house reminded of the impatiently waited for days of my growing up years. And of the smiles that welcome me when I head home now. For a moment I was not a husband. Not a corporate denizen. Or someone with a driving license. Or an adult voter.
I was a son. And a grandson. Indulged. Scolded. Babied. Loved.
What a wonderful Sunday afternoon.
Update, 1st April
Samil wanted me to elaborate on 'Boro Din'. Here's what I wrote:
"What follows is anecdotal. So don't hold me to it.
Calcutta was once seen as the second city of the empire. And its citizens saw themselves as the natural inheritors or the Raj. Part of becoming Brit involved celebrating the rituals of the Shahebs. Christmas and New Year were seen to to be the most secular. They were referred to as 'Boro (big) Din (Day)'.The first 'o' is pronounced like the 'a' in call. The second like the 'o' in the 'Big O'.The festival would be celebrated in Bengali households. Typical activities would be a family trip to the zoo or to the Maidan. And 'Christmas cake' often made in humble bakeries and sold deep in the middle class suburbs of Bengal.
All of what I wrote is based on memories from Calcutta of the 1980s and 90s. Also known as the pre Bipasha Basu era"