I’ve mentioned “kichuri,” the ubiquitous Bengali dish, several times and, partly in response to my mother-in-law’s request, and partly because we’ve been served so much kichuri during this past puja that I’m surprised it’s not coming out of our ears, I decided to offer you a taste.
Kichuri, a.k.a. “hodge-podge,” is a local version of the more universal “kichari,” which is eaten throughout India and which is as common as mac ‘n cheese in the United States. It is a simple, lumpy mixture of rice, lentils, and vegetables, sometimes with spicy chilis, often served with a side of curried sabji (mixed vegetables), the gravy of which is essential when the kichuri in question is especially sticky.
At home, we eat kichuri whenever our neighbor, Bodi, brings over a heap of it on a plate â€” or in the old days, whenever our roommate, Debasish-Dada, cooked up a pot (see below for Deba’s recipe). During puja time, however, kichuri is scooped out of a bucket onto a plate of sewn-together leaves, which is rinsed off with water between diners.
During yesterday’s rounds of the pandal shrines and tents, we were subjected to three back-to-back meals of kichuri and sabji. The first was delivered to our apartment by some teenagers we’d met the previous night. The second was at the Durgabari Pandal, where we had to refuse seconds about eight times before they let us leave. And the third was less than half an hour later, inside the Kali Temple, where we were asked to remove our shoes and sit in a circle with a group of young men, all of us scooping kichuri from leaf plates with our fingers, though some of us a bit more reluctantly than others, as our bellies expanded to capacity.
The meal is as heavy as it looks and by the time we finished the last plate (once more, having to refuse additional servings over and over again), we were forced to go home and rest.
And now, as promised, I offer you a chance to prepare your own kichuri, and you don’t even have to eat it with your fingers:
Recipe: Deba-Dadaâ€™s Kickinâ€™ Kichuri
1 cup uncooked white rice
1 cup lentils
Fresh ginger, mashed with pestle
Garlic (donâ€™t be shy)
Green hot chilies, sliced lengthwise
Pinch of salt and sugar
Vegetables: carrots, string beans, eggplant, etc.
1. Place all contents except vegetables in a pot and thoroughly mix.
2. Add cut veggies and mix further, spice to taste.
3. With 5 cups filtered water, place â€œhodge-podgeâ€ into rice cooker or covered pot.
4. Cook until all the water is absorbed.
6. Belch (out loud, make sure the cook hears; a completely acceptable sign of approval).