Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Kesaria Meetha Pulav (Bengali Sweet Saffron Rice)

It was Sunday evening. We had just returned from a visit to the local supermarket for the weekly grocery and household stuffs. As a matter of fact it was more exciting in reality than it sounds.  We had just discovered a great restaurant serving amazing Rajasthani and Maharashtrian vegetarian cuisine during the lunch hour. Well my hubby was totally hostile about the idea of going out for the weekly chores when there was an India-Pakistan 20-20 match in the evening. Hence we decided we will go to the supermart before lunch, have our lunch in the adjacent restaurant, finish the shopping and return as early as possible. Since it was a weekend I was in mood for something non veg (a hardcore Bengali after all!). We had observed the beautiful village like restaurant whenever we went shopping but never really cared to find out more about it. But now since that was the only convenient option considering we had limited time, hubby started googling about it. Rest all apart the fact that it was a pure veg restaurant was a good enough damper for me. But hubby was insistent and I agreed while still grumbling.

We entered the village themed restaurant. They charged us 500 for 2 for a buffet meal all inclusive. We stepped in through the door and found us in the middle of a traditional Rajasthani Village. There were charpais all around but we chose the princely divans for better cosiness. The food was awesome (any veg food which can satiate me has got to be fabulous)! We had chats, chai, appetizers, maincourse, sweet dish and of course ice cream from the ice-cream vendor biking around and ringing the small bell announcing his arrival. Kids were running all around after him. It reminded me of the childhood days and how crazy we were about those Rs.1 ice cream cones back then.

After such a super lunch and a very tiring shopping when we reached home I was simply pooped. Had already prepared dhaniya chicken in the morning so didn't have much headache to think about what to serve in dinner. A simple rice would go well. We freshened up and took positions before the TV for the match to start. We had all the munchies handy for the big game. The match turned out to be super exciting.  Sometime midway through the game, we heard thunder. It was pretty humid in the afternoon but such thunderous clouds were a surprise. Within minutes it was pouring like anything with cold lashing winds. Almost something similar to "Kalbaishakhi" of Bengal. We forgot about the game momentarily and was staring at the lightening strike again and again. It was kind of deadly yet romantic. The rain gradually slowed down but the weather was still all breezy- curtains flying and stuff. I was like a simple rice wont do much justice to such a weather. It demands something more romantic, love filled, royal. And royal doesnt always mean hard work. I looked into the pantry, did a inventory check and knew what I would be making - the meetha pulav or the misti polao as we call it in Bengali. It has this mellow yellow colour which makes it more interesting.

This is a super easy recipe just you need to have the ingredients handy. It doesn't go through the elaborate process involved in making a biryani but is almost as delicious if not more.

Preparation Time: 2 hours (mainly for drying the washed rice) 
Cooking Time: 20 mins

Cuisine: Bengali

  • Basmati Rice - 250 gm
  • Milk - 1/2 cup
  • Saffron - 4-5 strands
  • Whole Garam Masala (Hot Spice Mix) - ( 2 cloves, 2 cardamom, 1/2 inch cinnamon stick, 2 black peppercorns)
  • Sugar -  3-4 tbsp (can vary if you like the rice more sweet)
  • Ghee - 4 tbsp
  • Raisins (Kismis) - 15-20
  • Cashew - 4-5
  • Coconut - 3 tbsp (chopped in small pieces)
  • Almonds - 3-4
  • Saffron Food colouring - 1 tsp
  • Kewra essence - 1/2 tsp


1. Wash the rice and drain the water. Spread it on a muslin cloth and let it dry. Leave it for 2 hours like that so that all the dampness goes by the time you cook. Place it under a fan if you wish.

I didn't have Basmati Rice at home, so I used simple Kolam rice instead. But since this recipe demands a fragrant rice, hence I used a camouflage method and it really worked better than I expected. I simply added a few drops of Kewra essence usually used in biryanis and it gave the perfect outcome.

2. Take the milk in a bowl and drop the saffron strands. Let it stand for a while for the flavour to infuse in the milk.

3. Chop the almonds, coconut, cashew and almonds in small pieces. Try to make them of uniform size.

4. Grind the Whole garam Masala coarsely  and keep it aside.

5. Heat 1 cup water and boil the sugar with it to make a uniform dense sugar syrup. You may skip this step and directly add the sugar, but I made syrup as it mixes easily with the rice. Preserve this for later use.

6. After the rice has dried, heat 2 tbsp of ghee in a non-stick kadhai. Once you smell the ghee, toss in the garam masala and raisins.

You can fry the raisins along with the other nuts as mentioned in Step 12. But simply frying the raisins make then a bit rubbery hard. I prefer soft raisins in my preparations, hence either (1) keep the raisins dipped in water for about an hour before you fry them or (2) fry them and mix with the rice and then pressure cook it, so that the raisins are soft and  sweet. For this preparation I followed the later process.

7. When the garam masala gives out the flavour pour the rice into the kadhai. Fry for a 2 minutes.

8. Add the saffron colouring and mix well. You will see some of the rice are dark coloured and some are light. Dont worry about it as after pressure cooking the whole rice takes a uniform hue.

If saffron colouring is not available you can use turmeric as well. Though I haven't tried it but I have read people using turmeric in rice for giving it a yellow hue. Although use optimum turmeric as I am not sure if using turmeric in large proportions would mess up with the smell of the preparation or not.

9. Add the Kewra essence and sugar syrup and fry the rice for 5 minutes.

10. Take the rice out of the flame and put it in the pressure cooker. Add the saffron milk from Step 2. Add enough water on top of it required for cooking the rice. Adjust the sweet level if you think its not sweet enough. Note: The rice will turn out be as sweet as the water so adjust the taste accordingly. But also note that too much sweetness would also kill the taste.

Instead of adding plain water use chicken broth if possible. I had used it for this recipe and it enhances the taste of the dish. Vegetarians may use vegetable broth.

11. Pressure cook for 2 whistles or as much time required to cook the rice well. Keep in mind the rice should not be over boiled. Keep the lid on for a couple of minutes more so that excess water if any will be absorbed by the rice.

12. In the meanwhile, take a skillet and heat 2 tbsp of ghee. Toss in the chopped nuts and coconut pieces into it. Fry till golden brown.

13. Take out 2 tbsp of cooked rice in a small bowl and pour 1/2 tsp of saffron colouring. Mix well. These rice will have a darker shade than the rest of it in the pressure cooker.

14. Take out the rest of the rice in a big serving bowl. Now add the rice from Step 13 and mix well. So now you will have bi-color rice. The two different shade gives a nice restaurant like effect :) [This step is optional. You can skip it if you think its too much work]

15. Add the fried nuts, coconut and 1/2 tsp of ghee and mix the rice well so that the nuts are spread evenly.

The nuts could have been fried along with the rice and pressure cooked but that it the taste of the nuts is lost. Hence always fry the nuts and sprinkle it over the cooked rice to retain their aroma and crunchiness.

The Meetha Pulav is ready for you to relish!

Serve it with a non-veg dish like traditional mutton or chicken gravy. I served it with Dhaniya Murg. Vegetarians can serve it with a rich Paneer preparation.

As you shove the first spoonful of the pulav into your mouth, the sheer sweetness of the raisins, coupled with the crunchiness of the fried coconut and assorted nuts and lingering aroma of ghee and Kewra would take you to a different level of indulgence. It would make you feel warm and fuzzy and of course ....loved - the feeling that is most essential on a romantic rainy evening like this.

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