Basanti pulao – paint it yellow, this Summer your festive spread with beautiful and arresting ghee laden yellow colored rice, interweave with magical aromas of mace, cinnamon and cardamom stipple with plump raisins and golden brown cashews. The enchanting aroma of gobindo bhog rice wafting slowly in the air as you finished cooking this beautiful sweet pulao is truly mesmerizing.
Presenting here – the ever enchanting Bengali Basanti pulao for your Poila Baisakh spread.
In my home this pulao is almost synonymous with Bengali Saraswati puja. The name “Basanti Pulao” truly justifies the ethereal beauty of season Spring too.
Bengali basanti pulao has its roots in Odisha’s kanika, a sweet rice bhog that is being prepared as part of lord Jagannath’s 56 bhog. Very similar to north India’s “meetha chawal” too which is prepared on the day of Saraswati puja / Vasant Panchami and is offered to Ma Saraswati.
Or it may have been derived from the Persian or Kashmiri Zarda pulao, a royal and lavishly ornamented highly fragrant sweet rice dish with nuts, dried fruits and prized kashmiri saffron, elevating it to a almost dessert status.
Whatever may be the connections, each of them is class apart, has its own rich history and has their own characteristic and charm. From saffron, turmeric, oranges to yellow food color everything plays their role to bring out that lively and delightful yellow color, that can instantly charm you, for which this pulao is so famous.
In my home when I make this for Saraswati puja, I do not pair it with any spicy curries. This dish can be enjoyed alone if it is well made and sweet enough, like dessert. But for other occasions, when I have to pair it with spicy curries, I reduce the amount of sugar and it still taste fine and good.
The key elements of preparing Bengali Basanti Pulao –
Rice – the highly fragrant short grain Gobindo bhog or Gopal bhog is indispensable here. You can also try this dish with other fragrant rice varieties from Bengal like kamini bhog, or kalijeera rice. But a good quality gobindo bhog rice, that will fill the air with its fragrance is almost non existent where I live. The supermarket’s gobindo bhog rice is just un palatable.
Having left with no other choice, I have made this basanti pulao with good quality basmati rice. The glutinous texture the gobindo bhog rice imparts to this dish was however missing. But taste and flavour were equally good.
The color – some are of the opinion that the yellow color of the rice is inherited from saffron, some says it should be turmeric only and some even uses food color to get that rich look. I think choice is purely on individual preferences. I however use good quality turmeric to get that color, but only a pinch so that the rice should not absorb the flavour of turmeric.
Turmeric will impart a pale yellow color and not rich color like the one you will get if you use food color.
Why not saffron? Saffron to me is a royal spice and Bengali basanti pulao is however good on its own and is a delicacy but I think flavour of saffron is well matched with kewra and rose water, the flavour profile which I am clearly not looking for in this subtle and humble pulao. But if you wish, you can certainly use it.
A word on Saffron – the most expensive spice in the world. A good quality saffron is distinguished not by its color only but by its flavour also. Most of the saffron available in the Indian markets are nothing but dyed safflower , a cheap imitation which can bring color to the dish but not flavour.
Sugar – this is a sweet rice recipe. A quarter to half cup of sugar can be used for two cups of rice to make this pulao. Yes, it is that sweet , almost like a dessert. But as I told you before, you can cut down on the sugar level, the pulao will still taste fine and you will need to pair it with a curry.
Dried fruits and nuts – only raisins and cashews please. I will keep almonds, walnuts and pistachios for zarda pulao and not for this.
How to cook this pulao –
The rice need to be washed first, many times with changes of water so as to get rid of as much starch as possible.
Then it need to be dried out at least one hour so that very less moisture remains on it. I usually rub the rice with turmeric and two tablespoon of sugar and leave it for one-two hour. If you are using saffron, then soak the saffron in little warm milk, mix it with the rice and leave it for an hour.
Raisins and cashews are usually fried in ghee first and then it is added to the pulao.
Pulao can be cooked in many ways. I usually cook the pulao in microwave, it is way simpler and needs little monitoring. Rice grains are usually separated but the pulao always turn out to be little on the dry side. For many, this is the best texture of the pulao. But this is not preferable to my kid.
Instead, I steam the pulao in pressure cooker, without the pressure valve. Pulao made this way always turn right for her and she loves it. Texture will be soft but not mushy, grains will remain separated and is not too dry.
Bengali basanti pulao is a beautiful yellow color sweet rice dish usually made for saraswati puja or on special ocassions like poila baisakh
- 3 cup Basmati rice / Gobindo bhog rice / flavoured rice
- 1/4 cup Ghee
- 1/4 cup Sugar (adjust as per your preference)
- 1/2 tsp Salt
- 1/2 tsp Turmeric powder (use best quality turmeric for color)
- saffron or food color optional (use in place of turmeric)
- 1/2 cup Raisins
- 1/2 cup Cashews halved
- 1 tsp Ginger, minced
- Cloves, Cardamom, Cinnamon and Mace (4, 3, 1, 2)
- 2 Bay leaves
- 1/2 cup Milk warm
Wash the rice thoroughly with few changes of water till it runs clear.
Air dry the rice on colander for 15 minutes.
Spread the rice thinly and evenly on a wide plate. Rub the rice with salt, half of sugar, turmeric and leave it for an hour.
Heat a wide pan, warm up half the ghee. Fry the raisins and cashews. Add cloves, cinnamon, cardamoms and mace. Add grated or minced ginger. Fry everything for 3-4 minutes.
Add the rice now , mix it well .
Fry the rice till it turn opaque or changes slight color. Add sugar and let it melt.
Keep stirring in between.
Stir in warm milk and cook it on low flame till the rice absorbs the milk completely.
Transfer everything from the pan into the pressure cooker. Spread it evenly. Tip in the bay leaves .
Pour 6 cups hot water (use the same cup measure for rice) . Stir in the remaining ghee.
Close the lid of the pressure cooker, but do not use the pressure valve.
Steam the pulao in pressure cooker on lowest flame for 30 min or till the rice becomes soft.
Do not open it immediately. Fluff the rice gently and carefully. Rest it before serving. Serve warm.
What To Serve With Bengali Basanti Pulao?
Bengali basanti pulao can be best enjoyed on its own if it is well made with enough sugar.
These curries goes equally well with the Bengali Basanti Pulao –
Bengali Kosha Mangsho/ Spicy Mutton Curry