The article first appeared in The Hindu.
The first time I had to describe Tehri to someone, I was at a loss. More difficult than explaining the simple one-pot rice dish was accepting the fact that there was someone who did not know what Tehri was. After all I had grown up eating it every other day.
As luck would have it in the years to come I had to describe the dish many times over, to many people. And so I adopted a simple short cut: I called it ‘The Yellow Pulav’. It is another matter altogether that Tehri and Pulav are as different as chalk & cheese: their only similarity begins & ends with being a one-pot rice dish. And that difference is something I usually leave for my culinary skills to explain.
Almost a staple of the vegetarian households in dusty small towns of Uttar Pradesh, Tehri is a potent one-pot meal that owes its origin to the vegetarian employees of the Nawabs of Awadh who could not eat the meaty Biryani and invented a vegetarian counterpart, which was much simpler to make. Another story goes that during the time of famine, when meat was hard to find, the cooks of the royal kitchen substituted mutton with potatoes & thus was born Tehri.
Unlike it’s celebrated cousin Pulav, or the aristocratic Biryani, Tehri is neither rich, nor ceremonial, but an ordinary meal for ordinary people. And in that ordinariness lays its specialty. Although cooked throughout the year, it is in spring that the true character of the dish comes out, when other than potatoes, peas and cauliflower are also added to it.
One does not know if the rice dish got its colour from spring or if spring adopted Tehri for its rich yellow colour, but during every Spring Season, when bright yellow flowers blossom on the rich soil of the Hindi heartland, a pot of Tehri is certainly being cooked somewhere closeby.
Here is how I make mine.
2 cups long grain basmati rice, soaked for 20-30 minutes
1 cup shelled green peas
1 cup cauliflower florets
1 large onion sliced
1 large potato cut into 4
Cooking oil (mustard oil preferred) – 50 ml
Bay Leaves 2
Cumin ½ teaspoon
Turmeric 1 teaspoon
Coriander Powder ½ teaspoon
Red Chilli Powder 1 – 1.5 teaspoon
Garam Masala Powder ½ teaspoon
Salt – to taste (1-1.5 teaspoon)
Ghee – 1 teaspoon
Water – 2.5 cups
In a large, thick-bottomed pressure cooker pour the oil and let it smoke. When the oil begins to smoke, add bay leaves, cumin seeds, and onion. Stir.
When the onion turns translucent, add the potatoes and the cauliflower. Stir for another couple of minutes and add the Turmeric, Coriander Powder & Red Chilli Powder.
When the vegetables turn a light shade of brown, and the spices are cooked, add the soaked rice & stir gently for about a minute, until every grain is covered in oil. Make sure the rice does not break.
Add shelled peas and water.
Finally add salt, garam masala & ghee, and give it another stir. Shut the cooker.
Turn the gas off after the first whistle and let the rice cook in its own steam.
Open the cooker after about ten minutes; serve immediately – with plain curd, fresh coriander chutney, or pickle.
Best eaten in the warm spring sun, among flying kites and playful banter.
Note: In summer, the dish can easily be made without the peas and cauliflower: just increase the quantity of potatoes from one to two-three. Soaked soya Nuggets can also be added.