Every now and then, I pause my game of hopscotch, dart to the ancient iron gate, embellished lately with coats of green paint and eagerly scan the horizon for Manikkaka’s bicycle to appear.
Manikkaka has gone to the local baajaar to pick up the day’s supplies, a daily ritual for him, Grandma is extremely fussy about fresh produce and a refrigerator is yet to grace the household, wonder why I am so restless and excited this morning.
Ever since our last vacation in Calcutta (not yet rechristened to Kolkata), biryani has emerged as the undisputed favourite Sunday lunch for me.
And not a weekend goes by without me imploring Maa to cook a biryani yet again.
And this morning Maa has indeed promised to cook a Kolkata style chicken biryani for lunch.
Manikkaka is expected to be bringing the bird home.
The bicycle bell heralds Manikkaka’s arrival.
I run to the gate.
Ignoring the paint that now scars my arm.
My euphoria doesn’t last too long though.
The chicken shop is closed this morning, Manikkaka announces to Maa, I’ve got a gorgeous Katla though. Manikkaka proceeds to lift the gill covers with his thumb, proudly revealing the red gills below, the litmus test of fresh catch.
But I don’t want fish this morning, I revolt sharply, much to Manikkaka’s surprise. Maa promised me biryani.
I shall get chicken tomorrow, Manikkaka consoles.
Tomorrow I have school, I protest. I want Biryani today.
No raising your voice, Maa warns me.
But you promised us biryani Maa, I complain. Dejection stark in my voice.
Yes I did, but if the chicken shop is closed, Manikkaka cannot help, right ?
But you promised me, I reiterate obstinately.
Let me check if I can get mutton instead, Manikkaka offers an alternative.
And off he goes scouting for mutton.
But as luck would have it, the shop has downed shutters already and not due to resume business till evening.
The obdurate me still cannot yet reconcile to the fact that it shall not be biryani for lunch.
I keep insisting.
Maa keeps explaining.
An finally the threshold of her patience is breached by my incessant mindless grumbles.
Stay hungry if you don’t want to eat. Maa says sternly and storms away.
Just old enough to be proud to not succumb to Maa’s rebukes and start crying, I sit on the floor, forlorn. Looking listlessly into the backyard.
Grandma, in the thakurghor while all this drama had been unfolding, enters the scene.
What’s all this hullabaloo? She enquires.
Your granddaughter is becoming insolent, Maa responds, no lunch for her today.
Why, what’s happened today, my princess ? Grandma asks.
Grandma’s nudge is all that is needed to propel my lacrimal glands to go into overdrive.
I start crying.
Maa promised me Biryani, she’s now breaking her promise. I seek refuge in Grandma’s arms, sobbing continuously.
Ok, Let me see what I can cook for my princess this morning, Grandma offers.
And Grandma cooks a sublime gondhoraj ghol pulao, I sit beside her on a pniri playing with my khelna baati, watching the truant sun rays flirt with the kansa, mimicking the hawker shouting his ware and chuckling as the Bournvita jingle plays on Manikkaka’s transistor.
Finally it’s time for lunch.
Close your eyes, Princess. Grandma requests.
And now take a deep breath.
I do as instructed.
My olfactory senses dance into wild ecstasy as a burst of citrusy perfume diffuses into the air.
I am in a trance.
Didi cooks a fish kalia to accompany the delectable gondhoraj ghol pulao.
Lunch is a super hit.
Gondhoraj Ghol Pulao. A symphony of gobindobhog rice and gondhoraj ghol. The fragrance of gobindobhog elevated to ethereal levels by the perfume of gondhoraj lebu.
This is what I call a match made in heaven !!!
Cook and enjoy my Gondhoraj Ghol Pulao !!! One thing I can guarantee, it is a feast for the olfactory senses !!
Gondhoraj Ghol Pulao
- 2 cup gobindbhog rice
- 1 cup yogurt
- 2 tbsp raisins soaked in water for 20 minutes
- 3 tbsp cashew nuts
- 2 tbsp juice of gondhoraj lebu
- 8-10 gondhoraj lebu leaves or kaffir lime leaves
- 1/2 tsp zest of gondhoraj lebu
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 tbsp ghee
- sugar to taste
- salt to taste
- Wash and drain the rice, keep aside
- Add 1 cup of water to the yogurt, stir in the gondhoraj lemon juice, whip well, ensure there are no lumps. Keep the gondhoraj ghol aside.
- Heat the vegetable oil and 1 tbsp of ghee in a pan.
- Sauté the cashewnuts and raisins till they turn a gorgeous golden, keep aside.
- To the same oil, add the rice, give it a gentle stir, taking utmost care not to break the grains. Saute gently, some 3-5 minutes, over a medium flame.
- Add 2 cups of ghol and 2 cups of warm water to the rice (golden rule - rice and water should always be in a 1:2 ratio), add sugar and salt to taste.
- Throw in the gondhoraj lebu leaves, add the fried cashewnuts and raisins.
- Cover and cook over a medium flame, till almost all the water has been absorbed. By this time, the rice should be almost perfectly done.
- Switch off the flame, add the lemon zest and the remaining ghee, cover, allow to rest for a further 10-12 minutes. Serve Hot.