Of the many migrant communities that make up the rich tapestry of Calcutta's modern history, the Bohra Muslims might not be the most visible, but they are a thriving culture. By some accounts, Calcutta is estimated to have under 5,000 'Bohris'. Mostly traders and businessfolk, the earliest settlers arrived in the city from western parts of India in the late 1800s
Khichro is a typically Bohra Muslim preparation. Like the more popular haleem found in Calcutta during Ramzan, khichro is made by slowly cooking meat and grains together till the meat falls off the bone. Khichro is a special dish, being most prominently consumed communally on the tenth day of Muharram by Bohras across the globe, but it is also a very homely preparation, eaten throughout the year. It is deceptively light. In spite of the fact that a lot of onions, spices, meat, milk, and ghee goes into the dish, it is, underneath all that, a very hearty porridge of various kinds of grains. The khichro is distinctive in that it is pale in colour; it doesn’t make use of turmeric powder, chilli powder, jeera powder, and other such spices. Apart from meat, its main ingredient is broken wheat (dalia can also be used), whereas haleem is made predominantly with a mixture of dals.
- 180 g broken wheat or dalia
- 30 g masoor dal
- 30 g moong dal
- 30 g chhola’r dal
- 30 g rice
FOR THE MEAT
- 800 g beef/mutton (any red meat of your choice)
- 1 kg onions
- 15 g ginger
- 10 g garlic
- 10 g green chillies
- 6 pcs cardamom (whole)
- 2 pcs cinnamon (whole)
- 6 pcs cloves (whole)
- 10 pcs peppercorns
- 2 pcs bay leaves
- 3 g shahi garam masala powder
- 33 g salt
- 1.5 kg water
- 650 g milk
- 250 g vegetable oil
- 50 g ghee
- 1 bunch mint leaves
- 40 g ginger
- 12 wedges Lime
- 6 pcs green chillies
STEP I—SOAKING GRAINS
- Take the broken wheat, dals, and rice in a bowl. Rinse them well and soak overnight, for at least 12 hours.
STEP II—FRYING ONIONS (BIRASTA)
- Slice 650g onions thinly, cutting off the root that holds the bulb together.
- Using you hand, scrunch up the slices to separate each layer. Chopping off the root will ensure that each strand separates from the rest.
- Heat vegetable oil, 3 cm deep, on medium heat. Once hot, drop a handful of the onion slices. Be sure not to overcrowd the pan; the onions must fry in a single layer.
- Using a fork, move the onions around every so often so that they fry evenly.
- Just as the onions start to turn golden (do not wait until they have already turned golden), start removing them from the pan and draining them over a perforated vessel such as a colander or jhuri. Keep a close watch, as the onions tend to burn very quickly towards the end. Remove them from the oil before they have taken on the desired colour; they will continue to cook in the residual heat.
- Allow them to cool and crisp up. This caramelised onion is called birasta and it is used in several Mughlai preparations. Raw onions weighing 650 g should yield about 165 g birasta (so about 25 per cent the weight of raw onions). It can be stored in an airtight container for 2 to 3 weeks.
STEP III—COOKING MEAT
- Using a grinder or mortar and pestle, form a smooth paste of 15 g ginger, 10 g garlic, and 10 g green chillies. Set aside.
- In a kadai, heat 35 g vegetable oil. Once hot, fry the meat in batches, from all sides, till it is golden. Browning the meat enhances the flavour of the dish.
- Remove from the pan and set aside.
- Temper the same oil with bay leaves, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and peppercorns.
- Add 350 g sliced onions, along with 15 g salt. Stirring intermittently, fry on medium heat for about 10 minutes till the onions turn brown.
- Next, add in the ginger-garlic-green-chilli paste and fry for another 3 minutes, until the smell of the raw spices is gone.
- Add Shahi garam masala powder and 35 g of the birasta we prepared earlier. Using a combination of sautéed and caramelised onions adds a depth of flavour to the preparation.
- Add the browned pieces of meat to the onion mixture and sauté for about 2 minutes.
- Transfer everything from the kadai to a pressure cooker. Add 1.5 kg of water, close the lid, and pressure cook for about 1 hour. The meat should be completely soft by this stage, such that it easily falls off the bone.
STEP IV—SEPARATING MEAT, BROTH, AND BONES
- Pick out the meat pieces from the pressure cooker. Just as they are cool enough to handle, remove the bones, cartilage, and any hard, unrendered collagen that is still in the meat. Discard these, along with the bay leaves.
- You should now be left with a gorgeous meaty broth, and some boneless pieces of tender meat. At this stage, you can put the meat and broth in the fridge and complete the rest of the preparation the following day.
STEP V—CHOPPING MEAT
- Chop the meat, against the grain, into 3-cm chunks. Chilling the meat before chopping hardens the collagen rendered from the meat, making it easy to cut into cubes.
- Divide the meat into two piles. The first will be ground along with the grains, and the second added whole to the haleem towards the end.
STEP VI—BOILING GRAINS
- Strain the water from the soaked grains, and transfer the latter to a heavy-bottomed pan. Add the broth we prepared earlier to the pan. (If you placed the broth in the fridge overnight, do not forget to first bring it to boil before adding it to the grains.)
- Also add 18 g of salt and the first pile of the chopped meat.
- On low heat, let it all bubble for at least one hour, stirring occasionally, till the the grains are soft. Boiling the grains in the broth rather than in water intensifies the meaty flavour of the dish.
STEP VII—BLENDING EVERYTHING
- Transfer the boiled grains into a blender and grind till everything breaks down. However, be careful not to reduce everything to a uniform, smooth paste, as we want some semblance of texture. Depending on the size of your blender jar, you may have to do this in batches.
- Return the haleem to the pan. Add the remaining chunks of meat, along with 650 g hot milk. Mix until uniform. Bring to a boil before turning off the heat.
- For the garnish, julienne some ginger, cut limes into wedges, split green chillies lengthwise, and finely chop the mint leaves.
- Drop ladles of the haleem into a serving dish. Top it with a generous amount of birasta and chopped mint leaves.
- Heat a pan till it is extremely hot. Add a spoonful of ghee and wait for it to smoke. Then add some julienned ginger and split green chillies. Fry for about 5 seconds and pour the contents of the pan (along with the ghee) over the serving dish.