As a child I detested Basanti Polao with a vengeance, because it was sweet and rice put together. For me, till I was around 8 or 9, every taste needed to be segregated – sweet stuff belonged to mishti or chocolates or chutney, while rice had to be… well… not sweet. Imagine a scene: a five-year-old girl, running around like the hounds of hell are after her, with her mother running right behind her, holding a small bowl filled with payesh. That particular day, my mother finally gave up after I took one spoonful of that payesh and promptly threw up all over her sari. That was also the year my mother learned to bake and made me a cake shaped like 5 for my birthday, to avoid such disasters.
Then one day, things changed. My grandmother introduced me to the glory of mishti polao. A petite woman, she would sit and sort the rice, sift it briskly, wash, drain, and then dry it out in the sun. After that, she would roast the rice in a plain, flat tawa, and then, carefully pour it in a clean, glass jar with some whole cardamoms, cinnamon sticks, and a generous hit of turmeric powder. Although she hated putting turmeric powder and preferred raw, fresh turmeric, for this application, she had explained, it was far easier to use turmeric powder than anything else. The rice would stay like that for weeks and months – and it would be her secret to making polao within half an hour. She would heat some ghee, fry the rice, add whatever else she wanted to add, pour in boiling water, and within the next half an hour, voila, polao!
The recipe of basanti polao is actually pretty easy – especially if you do the prepping before. I have realized that putting the rice out to dry under a whirling ceiling fan does help in hastening the drying process, and you can always wash and dry the rice and then put it in a clean jar with some whole garam masala and turmeric powder for the future. Its a great investment, and I do it to save time.
MAKING BASANTI POLAO
Okay, so this is probably the easiest way anyone can make basanti polao, and I would give you two versions – over an open flame, and in the microwave. You can pick what you like. But, remember this – for the microwave version, it is a good idea to fry the rice in a pan before adding water and microwaving it. You can do the entire thing in the microwave, but I personally feel it compromises the taste of this rice recipe.
Start by prepping:
Take 250 gm. gobindobhog rice and wash it well. Carefully pick and discard any small stone or particles, and drain well. Spread out on a plate and let it dry out. It is quicker under a fan. This is a rather annoying process, and this is why you should do it in bulk and store whatever you won’t be using in a glass jar. It lasts for ages.
Now, this recipe is wonderful with short-grained, starchy rice, but you can also use Basmati rice. However, it needs to be said here – the cooking time may differ by 1-2 minutes – basmati cooks rather quickly.
Once the rice is absolutely dry, sprinkle a touch of turmeric powder. Now here is the deal – you can add as much or as little as you want, but as I like my basanti polao yellow (because hyalo, its supposed to be yellow, its in the name!), I tend to add a quarter teaspoon per 250 gm. rice. That amount seems to be enough to me, but if you want more/less, its your party. Once you have mixed the rice well with the turmeric, let it rest for a bit while you contemplate cooking.
Cooking Basanti Polao
Heat about 3 tablespoon ghee in a pan. Here, you can be a genius and mix in 1 tablespoon refined oil with 2 tablespoons of ghee – it increases the smoking point of ghee, ensuring that it doesn’t burn too quickly, which is a good thing. To this add 50 gm. raw cashew nuts, kept whole or broken (I like them broken, but hey, its your party, use whichever kind you like), 25 gm. raisins, and fry till the cashews are reddish brown and beautiful. Remove the cashews and raisins from the hot fat. Add another tablespoon of oil and/or ghee (now, now, I like my polao quite greasy, but you can add more/less as per your liking). Let the ghee melt and start sizzling.
On another saucepan or in an electric kettle, heat half a litre water over medium heat till it boils. You should do this simultaneously as you start adding your whole ingredients to the hot oil/ghee combination, it really helps in the end.
Now, add to the hot fat 4-5 whole green cardamoms, crushed slightly, 3 bay leaves, 3 inch-long sticks of cinnamon, and 4-5 cloves. At this point, many people add some mace as well, but I prefer adding it later, in a powdered form, because that gives this dish more flavour. Now add the rice, and stir fry it well, till it is slightly translucent in colour, and the fat is thoroughly mixed in with the rice.
Make a rough powder of 2-3 whole green cardamoms, a medium blade of mace, 1/4th nutmeg, 6 cloves, 10 peppercorns, and 1/2 inch cinnamon stick. Add this to the frying rice, along with the cashews and raisins. I like cooking them with the rice, but many people don’t like it, so you can always add the cashews and raisins later, after the rice is done cooking.
To the frying rice, add salt and sugar to taste. Ideally, basanti polao is supposed to be sweet so I generally add 1 tablespoon sugar per 250 gm. of rice along with 2 teaspoon salt. Mix this in, and then add the powdered masala and the water. Let the water come to a boil, cover tightly, and cook for 15 minutes over simmering heat, after which, turn off the heat, and let the rice rest for another 20 minutes before opening the lid and serving. This resting is crucial – it helps the rice absorb all the excess water and become moist and fluffy.
If you want to finish this in the microwave, then find a microwave safe bowl with a lid, put the rice in it, and add 400 ml. of the hot water. Cook, covered, for 7 minutes at high (full power), and then let it rest for 15 minutes in the pan before you take the pan out and serve.
My favourite thing to have with Basanti Polao is a well-made kawsha mangsho, my favourite Niramish Mangsho, or some lovely Paneer Shahi Korma like I did. By the way, if you are vegan, you can always substitute ghee with oil of your choice and savour this delicious dish.