That Grandma is furiously finicky with her rice is an understatement.
The grains have to be perfect.
The colour needs to necessarily be a pristine dull ivory. It is incomprehensible to Dada and me, how despite her fading eyesight, she can still effortlessly distinguish shades of ivory, something we struggle with.
The age of the rice is yet another pet peeve – This has not aged enough. This looks like new rice to me.
How can you be so confident about the age of rice ? Dada and I, unable to contain our curiosity, keep bothering her.
Grandma never answers.
She just smiles.
But if Grandma is fussy over rice, she is over-critical, on the verge of being fastidious, over her chire (poha / flattened rice).
And this morning it’s poor Manikkaka’s turn to be at the receiving end. He has just got home chire from the local mill and Grandma is far from pleased.
What rice, which harvest, how was this chire prepared, Grandma fires her salvo of questions in rapid succession.
How can you buy chire Manik without being convinced about its provenance ? Grandma continues. As she picks a fistful of chire, rubs it against her palm to feel the texture and then holds it to her nose, closes her eyes and takes a deep breath.
Only to shake her head in violent disapproval.
The theatrics spill over to the next morning.
The mill-owner is summoned, with firm instructions to bring along samples of all the varieties of chire he has.
He arrives, on a rickety bicycle, his forehead laced with beads of sweat glistening in the sun, a lanky assistant hardly in his early twenties in tow carrying gunny bags of chire. The sacks are laid out in a disciplined row in the courtyard. For Grandma’s perusal.
The quality of chire is getting worse every year, Grandma complains animatedly, the one that Manik brought home yesterday was barely edible.
Dada and I are well aware that Grandma is exaggerating. We wink at each other.
The man, not new to Grandmas furious tirades, jumps to his defence – the quality of rice is deteriorating, electricity and fuel are getting outrageously expensive, demand for chire prepared from fragrant rice is plunging, so on and so forth.
But Grandma is in no mood to listen.
Finally, a good half an hour of intense interrogation later, Grandma selects a variety prepared from local gobindobhog rice harvested this winter. Grudgingly though.
And she grumbles all morning.
Maa decides to do a chirer pulao for lunch. Not just any chirer pulao, a delectable chire bhetkir pulao.
It’s the hallowed kitchens of the Tagores that added bhetki to the humble chirer pulao, she explained to me later that afternoon, and elevated the unpretentious dish to an exalted plane.
That’s Thakurbaris contribution to Bengali cuisine – taking classics that were almost holy and sacrosanct and tweaking them unabashedly, giving birth to an eclectic range of new classics.
I listen in silence.
Chire Bhetkir Pulao. Fragrant chire. Succulent bhetki cubes. A throw of roasted peanuts for crunch. Perfumed with whole spices. Spiked with mean green chillies.
The next time you yearn for chirer pulao, do try my Chire Bhetkir Pulao.
I guarantee you shall be a convert for life !!
Chire Bhetkir Pulao (Poha / Flattened Rice Pilaf with Seabass)
- 1 cup brown chire or flattened rice or poha
- 150 g bhetki cubes
- 2 tbsp peanuts fried
- 2 tbsp raisins soaked in water for 15min and drained
- 3 onion coarsely ground
- 1 tsp ginger paste
- 1 tbsp ginger finely chopped
- 2 tsp green chili paste
- 2-3 green chili finely chopped
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/2 tsp red chili powder
- 1-2 bay leaves
- 1-2 green cardamom
- 1 one inch cinnamon stick
- 1-2 cloves
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1/4 tsp garama masala powder
- 1.5 tbsp oil
- 1/2 tbsp ghee
- salt to taste
- Marinate the fish cubes with 1 tbsp ground onion, ginger paste, green chili paste, 1/2 tsp turmeric powder and a little salt. Keep aside for 10-15 odd minutes.
- Wash the chire, drain in a colander, keep aside.
- Add 1/2 tbsp oil in a pan, when smoking hot, add the marinated fish along with the marinade, shallow fry till light brown. Keep aside.
- Add the remaining oil to the same pan, throw in the bay leaves, crushed green cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and cumin seeds, allow to splutter.
- Once the spices start to release their aroma, add the grated ginger and ground onion, saute till the onions are cooked.
- Now add the chire, sprinkle in the turmeric powder, red chili powder and salt, give it a hearty mix. Cook for a couple of minutes.
- Gently add the fried fish, throw in the peanuts and raisins, continue cooking over a low flame for another 5-7 odd minutes. Splash a little water if it's getting too dry.
- Adjust seasonings. Sprinkle garama masala powder and finish it with a dollop of ghee. Serve hot.