Friday, August 09, 2019

Bengali Rice Congee or Phenaa Bhaat

Bengali rice Conge or Phenaa Bhaat

Phenaa Bhaat in all Bengali Homes == Bengali Rice Congee in a restaurant.

Few days back, I was talking to Pritha Di( the famous Pritha Sen) about typical Bengali breakfasts served in Bengali middle class homes until a few years back.

" Don't tell me about Luchi, Parotta, Kochuri. Tell me something else, " I said.

That is when memory of this ubiquitous dish, ever present in our childhood mornings, came back.

For the first ten years of my life, I remember rushing through the morning, sleepy eyed and grumpy to catch the school bus somewhere around 8 AM. What I cannot fathom is, how I managed to eat a hot breakfast of soft cooked rice, mashed potatoes and boiled eggs with a pat of melting Amul Butter, that early!! My daughters can barely finish a bowl of cereal in that time.

But it wasn't me alone. Millions of Bengali kids fortified themselves with a similar breakfast and probably still do. It is a healthy, one pot meal. easy for the mothers to cook and definitely good for the kids who swallow the soft morsels hurriedly in the morning.

In PrithaDi's home it was known as "Jau Bhaat". In mine "Phenaa Bhaat" and if the starch was drained then "Seddho bhaat" or "Bhaate Bhaat".

In those days, we had no idea that other Asian kids, strewn around China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Philippines, Myanmar are probably eating a similar gruel called Congee as their breakfast.

The key to the Bengali "Phenaa Bhaat" is the rice. It has to be a short grained rice and if a fragrant one, all the more better. So the natural choice is Gobindobhog rice. In its absence you can use Kalijeera or any other local short grained rice. The rice is to be cooked with lots of water and vegetables to a starchy gruel like texture. The vegetables vary with season and shouldn't overpower the dish. During summer it is usually potatoes, and then you pick couple of choices from okra, pumpkin, radish and green papaya. In the winter, there is carrots, sweet peas, cauliflower and of course potatoes.

Once cooked, the vegetables can be mashed separately and served with the dish. Some of the vegetables like pumpkin, potatoes and papaya can just be roughly mashed into the rice itself. My mother used to also serve fried fish with the seddho bhaat when she was pressed for time. All of this would be topped with Ghee or a pat of golden Amul butter.

I like it when the dish has a silky and smooth texture and served with eggs. I also like to dress it up with some green chili and ginger slices fried in mustard oil.

Phenaa Bhaat or Bengali Rice Congee

Short grained rice (gobindobho/Kalijeera) -- 1/4th Cup
Masoor dal (my mother never added lentils to phenaa bhaat but I do) -- 1/4th Cup

Vegetables - wash and chop the following

Potato -- 1 Large chopped into quarters
Papaya -- quarter of a bigger one chopped into medium sized cubes. To chop Papaya , peel and remove the seeds, the core and the thick flesh around it.
Carrots/Pumpkin -- chopped into medium sized cubes
Radish -- 4 red radish chopped into halves
Okra -- 4-5 okra whole

For Dressing up

Ginger -- 1" ginger chopped in thin slices
Green Chili -- 3-4 depending on how you like it
Mustard Oil -- 1 Tbsp
Boiled or fried egg

Salt -- to taste

How I Did It

Wash rice and lentils.

Put in a pressure cooker with about 6 times the water.

Add the chopped vegetables.

Pressure cook for 2 whistles or 5 minutes in InstaPot.

Let the pressure release naturally

Open the lid, add salt and couple of green chilies slit through the middle.

Put the pressure cook (with lid now open) back on simmer for another 10-15 minutes. Check the texture of the dish to see that it is soft. With the back of the ladle roughly mash the soft vegetables into the pot.If you have added okra or cauliflower, take it out and mash separately.

Once you hav eserved the "phenaa bhaat" in individual plates, mash with the tip of your finger

In a separate frying pan, heat 1 Tbsp mustard Oil. Add the slit green chilies and the ginger. Fry for a few minutes.

Add this to the Congee while serving.

Add 1 tsp Ghee to the bowl of steaming "phenaa bhaat" and enjoy.

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1 comment:

  1. Good God!!! This is what my late wife Soma used to make and feed us on occassions. She called it "ALO CHALER BHATE BHAAT"!


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