Celebrations on Noboborsho – the Bengali New Year is considered incomplete without a spread of authentic Bengali dishes. Basanti Pulao is one of the star dishes gracing the Noboborsho (the Bengali New Year’s day) spread.
Basanti Pulao is a form of ‘pulao’ prepared with a fragrant variety of rice called, Gobindo bhog, typically grown in Bengal. The pulao appeals to our senses – sight, smell and taste. The heavenly fragrance of the cooked Gobindo bhog rice along with ghee (clarified butter) and spices (cloves, cinnamon, cardamom), the rich taste of cashew nuts and raisins along with its mellowed yellow colour sum up to make me feel absolutely out of the world.
Bengalis are known for their sweet-tooth. Basanti Pulao, too, is slightly sweet in taste. The pulao is usually served with dishes like – Kosha Mangsho [a spicy mutton curry on the drier side], Chingrir Malaikari [prawn in a thick gravy of coconut milk] and Chhanar Dalna [a curry prepared with soft homemade cottage cheese balls (very close to but not exactly paneer)] and, of course, with Aamer Chutney [a tangy dish prepared with raw mango] and signing off with Bengali dessert like Misti Doi [sweet curd] – makes my Noboborsho (the new year day) truly special.
Gobindobhog Rice – 2 tea cups (~150 gms).
Ghee (clarified butter) – 2 tablespoon.
Whole garam masalas (spices):
Cinnamon stick – about 1 inch long
Cardamon (green) – 4 pieces
Cardamom (black) – 1 piece
Cloves (laung or lobongo) – 8 to 10 pieces.
Bay leaf – 1 or 2 pieces.
Ginger – chopped, 1 tablespoon
Green chilli (optional) – 3 to 4 pieces.
Cashew – 10 to 12 pieces (whole or broken).
Raisin (seedless) – 2 tablespoonful.
Salt – 2 teaspoon (or according to taste).
Sugar (white or brown) – 4 tablespoon.
Wash & dry the rice: Wash the rice thoroughly (3-4 times), drain the water and spread out the rice to dry it naturally. Generally, it will be dry in about 45 mins.
Marinade the rice with ghee and spices: Add 2 tablespoon of ghee, whole garam masalas, chopped ginger, 1 tablespoon of turmeric powder, 2 tablespoon of sugar, and one tablespoon of salt in the rice. Now, mix everything very well with the rice and set it aside for an hour.
Add ghee in a kadai (wide cooking pan) and fry the cashew nuts for about a minute.
Transfer the rice in the kadai, and fry it for about 10 minutes on low heat. It is absolutely necessary to fry it in low heat to avoid burning the rice. Keep on gently folding the rice from bottom to the top. Add raisins in between. Frying the rice well is important as that will break the starch and prevent the rice from getting soggy or lumpy afterwards.
Add warm water. Now comes the million dollar question – what should be the right quantity of water added to boil the rice? According to the thumb rule that I generally follow, the water level should be about one and half inch above the level of rice.
While the rice starts getting boiled add 1 more teaspoon of salt and 2 tablespoon of sugar and continue cooking without putting on the lid. Once or twice in-between gently fold the rice from the bottom to the top so that the rice gets evenly cooked. This will also help you to understand whether the water has been completely evaporated. You may chose to reduce the sugar level slightly but, remember, that the taste of pulao should be on the sweeter side.
Once the water is no more visible check whether the rice has been perfectly cooked. If you feel that the rice is yet to soften, add about a quarter cup (~40 ml.) of lukewarm water and cook it with the lid on for about 5 minutes more (or till the rice is perfectly cooked and there is no water left). At this stage just remain careful about the water in the pan because apparently water may not be visible at the top but may remain underneath. If there is water underneath then there is no need to add more water. Add water only if it is completely dried up but the rice is yet to be completely cooked.
Slit and add the green chillies. Though optional but I prefer to add chilli, not only to make it slightly hot but for its typical ‘chilli-cious’ fragrance as well.
After few minutes switch off the heat but, still keep the lid on for at least for 15-20 minutes more.
Transfer it to a bowl. It is definitely now ready to be savoured. However, I think that basanti polao, prepared a day before, tastes better.
Wash the rice thoroughly, say – four to five times. [Please keep aside the water for your plants, Mother Earth will bless you].
Personally, I feel – the Pulao tastes best if prepared at least a day in advance.