Daily Recco, August 2: The ultimate comfort of Panta Bhaat
Fermented rice along with a spicy and tangy side dish is the quintessential comfort food across the subcontinent. The variations might be many, but the emotion remains the same.
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Recently when MasterChef Australia contestant Kishwar Chowdhury whipped up the “Smoked Rice Water” as her finale dish, our jaws dropped. For, it was our good ol’ Panta Bhaat flavoured with smoked red chilli and served with smoked sweet-and-spicy, crusty sardines, along with the unmissable and Aloo Bhorta.
Panta Bhaat: The ultimate comfort food. (Photo courtesy: Masterchef Australia)
The final episode of what could arguably be one of the most-watched television cookery series of our times transported us to the land of evergreen nostalgia. The nostalgia of the quick breakfast you gobbled before going to school, that comfort food when your tummy wasn’t behaving itself — even the smell of it is associated with a misty smile for many of us. On hot and/or humid days, add a dash of curd or buttermilk to it for a wholesome, cooling and hydrating meal, that is great for the gut and easily digestible. Come pandemic, the need for this comfort food has grown manifold.
For days after the episode was telecast, Panta Bhaat was trending on social media. Understandably so, for the reasons we just told you. However, this dish is not unique to Bengalis and Bangladesh — where Kishwar’s roots lie. The simple, humble and rustic dish has variants all over the subcontinent — India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.
In India alone, you have versions from every region — Poita Bhaat in Assam, Pakhala Bhaat in Odisha, Pazhaya Sadam in Tamil Nadu, Geel Bhaat in Bihar, Chaddannam in Andhra and Telangana, and Pazham Kanji in Kerala. Call it what you will, the comfort of fermented rice remains the same irrespective of the name.
Pazhamkanji with an assortment of side dishes. (Photo courtesy: Facebook / Kappa Chakka Kandhari, @kckfoods)
With no further ado, allow us to share the recipe that will shoo away your Monday blues.
All you need:
Two cups of cooked rice, immersed and soaked in cold water overnight. The water should be half an inch above the rice.
One finely chopped onion
A tablespoon of mustard oil (for the flavour)
A few wedges of lemon
Salt (as required)
Add the rice (along with the water), the onion and the oil. Mix well.
To serve with it, try making smoked sardines the Kishwar Chowdhury way.
Wash and dry eight fresh sardines (scaled and gutted). Crush two long red chillies with 50 grams of fresh ginger (peeled). Grate and extract the juice from another 50 grams of ginger. Mix the chilly-ginger juice mixture with a teaspoon of honey and a quarter cup of white soy sauce. Rub the sardines with this mixture, ensuring the cavities are also well-coated. Marinate for half an hour.
Dry roast two teaspoons of cumin seeds and two teaspoons of coriander seeds, and once they turn fragrant, remove from fire, cool and grind. Set aside.
Heat two tablespoons of mustard oil on medium heat, fry the marinated sardines until a char forms on the skin and flesh is just cooked through to the bone. This should take about three to five minutes. Take off the heat, add a dash of lime juice and sprinkle the ground spices.
For variants from the South, try skipping the mustard oil, and adding a dash of buttermilk, a tadka of mustard seeds, a few crushed mor milagai (green chillies soaked in curd and salt, sundried till crispy and then fried).