There is nothing and yet everything special about the dish I share with you today. KHEERAJ is a simple rice, jaggery and milk dessert made by the semi-nomadic and other rural communities of Kutchh. Let me put it in another way, Kheeraj is a Kheer from Kutchh. It is such a modest preparation that most of my fellow Gujaratis will find it difficult to comprehend that it actually is eaten as mishtan/mithai in Gujarat. Food as simple as this goes on to prove that when cooked with love, food has the ability to fill our stomach and satisfy our soul, as did this dish and our meeting the charming Lakshmi Ma…..
This June Rinkal and I decided to spend a couple of days in Bhuj and around, explore the food the city has to offer, stay at the Bhuj House, explore the silver market a little more (as we have done it a couple of times in the past) shop for some food photography props and meet few artisans with whom Rinkal has worked over the years. It was a trip with no special agenda or plans, we just went with the flow of the day….. One such afternoon brought us to Khimjibhai’s home, who is an award winning weaver from Bhujodi. Khimjibhai, his brothers, his entire family and his past generations have been associated with the craft of weaving. The family was celebrating Bhim Ekadashi that day and the lunch was ‘Chala and Ambo’ (wheat crapes and chopped mango). Bhim Ekadashi is also known as Kasid no Divas meaning the families had to make an offering to Titodi or the Red-Wattled Lapwing, a bird that is believed to announce the arrival of rains. It has been a traditional belief that once the offering is made rains arrive within a week. So, what ever was cooked was offered to the Titodi. And we got talking to Lakshmi Ma, Khimjibhai’s mother on food, culture and the beliefs and how these days ‘Bhaav’ or the emotions have gone missing. “Have pehla jevo bhaav nathi, have to bus haav, haav, haav!!” Shared Lakshmi Ma. ( when transliterated it means, these days love, care, compassion have gone missing, instead greed has taken over.)And how she managed to feed her family, guests and visitors with whatever little that was available!!
Such sentiments are easy to grasp when one has grown up listening to mummy saying, “food is meant to be made and shared with love, whenever you cook make sure you do it with love and happiness because it’s this positive energy that will nurture and nourish your loved ones, you don’t need expensive ingredients to make your dish shine make it with love and it shall never fail!!” As I look back, I can’t help but wonder how timeless and priceless these lessons are!!! So unlike recent times, when cooking for self as well as loved ones seems more like a chore that we are increasingly outsourcing!!!
I felt the need to share Kheeraj with you all because it signifies the purpose of food, which is to satisfy the soul, nourish the body and share the joy. Kheeraj is believed to have evolved to meet the need of a sweet dish to mark an arrival or to celebrate an occasion amongst the rural communities. The semi-nomadic or the pastoral communities of Kutchh travel with their herds for hundreds of kilometers in search of green pastures. They are on the move for almost 8 months of the year. While away from home, whenever the need to prepare a sweet arises they buy or borrow some rice from any village in the vicinity and prepare Kheeraj. Since these communities lead a minimalist life their food preparations also reflect the same value of less is more. Jaggery is a staple they always carry along.. Jaggery, they believe strengthens bones and gives energy while sugar melts your bones… This might be a reason that most of the sweets that originate from rural areas use jaggery as a sweetener instead of sugar. Since the agrarian population need wholesome and hearty meals, the rice to milk ratio in Kheeraj is high as milk is added to give the dish a porridge-like consistency. Infact it would be difficult to fit this preparation into a recipe, hence I will just walk you through the method of preparing Kheeraj as shared with us by Lakshmi Ma when I pondered her on what they eat on special occasions and she replied, Puri and Kheeraj….
You will need:
- Ghee (2 tablespoon for a cup of rice)
- Jaggery (grated or chopped)
- Warm milk
If you need to flavor and garnish use some
- Cardamom and nutmeg powder
- Cashews, raisins and charoli sautéed for half a minute in some ghee…
- Wash and soak rice.
- In a heavy bottom patili or a deep vessel bring enough water to a boil, add soaked rice and cook it until it is slightly hard. Keep it slightly under-cooked.
- Drain the water and put back the rice in the same pan.
- While the rice is still hot add the jaggery and ghee.
- The warm rice will melt the jaggery and ghee.
- Give the mixture a gentle mix and add the milk just enough to coat the rice and bring it to a porridge like consistency. The rice grains should not become mushy.
- Mix well and warm it a bit.
- If using cardamom and nutmeg powders add it now and mix well.
- Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish if desire.
- Serve warm with hot Puri.
*Small grained rice is best suited for this dish and the measure for rice would be one fistful uncooked rice per person.
Since I have used long grained rice, the rice look prominent between short grained rice is used the consistency looks more porridge like.
The color of Kheeraj will depend on the quality of jaggery used. Since I have used organic jaggery it has a caramel colour.