A wicker basket laden with luscious plump oranges greets me this morning.
The grey winter man, a shroud of mist around him, has long taken a bow; young spring, chirpy and vivacious, has taken center-stage. The carnations are abloom in all their pompous splendor, the flame of the forest is a frenzied riot of red and the rejuvenated frangipani in my garden readies herself for a plume of green.
What do I do, I ponder, as I brew myself a Darjeeling, with what’s most likely one of my last consignments of Indian oranges ?
A komola pulao, I hear myself whisper, a dish that celebrated the onset of winter in those merry days of yore.
Cut to the past.
Autumn melts into mellow winter in the sleepy town of Karimganj.
Bapi brings home the first oranges of the season from the local market.
The oranges are washed. Peeled. Segmented and de-seeded. Before being offered by Grandma at the altar. As is the custom in the house for any first crop of fruit or vegetable of the year.
I wait patiently outside the thakurghor, looking longingly at the segments of orange, resting in-front of the gods.
Grandma is deeply absorbed in her prayers.
What are you waiting for, my princess ? I hear her ask.
Nothing, I lie.
How did she know ? I muse. She didn’t even turn back.
Grandma must have eyes at the back of her head too, the child in me concludes.
And then, through the dense smoke of incense, I notice Grandma picking up a couple of orange segments from the platter.
Take these and back to your homework now. More once I have finished my pujo.
My eager fingers lift the oranges in a flash.
And before I know, my taste buds are alive with a burst of citrus.
The orange season continues. And the kitchen keeps churning delicacies celebrating the orange.
Moong Dal cooked with oranges.
A cauliflower and orange curry.
Chicken with oranges and onion stalks.
Maa’s delectable Koi Komola.
A sublime orange kheer, one that I would badger Maa to prepare every other week.
And of course Grandma’s sublime komola pulao !!!
Komola Pulao. Basmati rice cooked in orange juice. The fragrance of green cardamom and cinnamon. The heat of black peppercorn. The tart of orange zest. The sin of fried cashewnuts and plump raisins. And that blissful kiss of saffron.
This is food heaven !!!
Komola Pulao (Narangi Pulao or Orange Pilaf)
- 2 cups basmati rice
- 3 cups orange juice freshly squeezed
- 2 tsp orange zest
- 2 tbsp cashew nuts fried
- 2 tbsp raisins soaked in water
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 2-3 green cardamom
- 1 one inch cinnamon stick
- 2-3 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp black pepper freshly ground
- 2 tbsp milk
- few strands of saffron
- 2 tbsp ghee
- 3 tbsp oil
- sugar to taste
- salt to taste
- Soak the rice for 30 odd minutes. Wash properly, drain the water, keep aside.
- Soak the saffron strands in warm milk, keep aside.
- Heat the oil and 1 tbsp ghee, add the bay leaves, crushed cinnamon, cardamom and black peppercorn, saute till the spices start to release their aroma.
- Add the rice and a sprinkle of salt, mix well, saute for a while.
- Pour in 1 cup of warm water and 3 cups of orange juice, cook over a medium flame.
- When the rice is about 80% done, throw in the fried cashewnuts and raisins, sprinkle in the fresh ground black pepper powder, salt and sugar. Give a gentle stir, you would not want to break the rice grains.
- Adjust seasonings. Cook till the rice is 90% done and the water has almost been absorbed. Do not over-cook the rice.
- Switch off the flame, add the saffron soaked milk and the remaining ghee, sprinkle in the orange zest. Fluff the rice gently using a fork.
- Cover the pan, leave it to rest over the hot oven for a further 10 minutes.
- Serve hot.