Ragi resurgence

Ragi is finding favour on menus in the city

November 26, 2015 04:02 pm | Updated 04:02 pm IST - Thiruvananthapuram

Ragi 'kurukku' is a traditional porridge given to infants Photo: Indu Sathyendran

Ragi 'kurukku' is a traditional porridge given to infants Photo: Indu Sathyendran

There must be a grain of truth in it, if ragi is everywhere and if everyone, not just the health conscious, is finding innovative ways of eating it these days. The humble ragi (finger millet), kooravu in local parlance, always only a superfood for infants, is, of late, enjoying a resurgence on menus in the city and beyond. And how!

Swapna K.V., a 35-year-old lawyer who “believes in healthy living”, for example, now turns to ragi flour to make everything from dosas, chappatis and idiappams to puttus, orattis and even pizzas! “Ragi is supposed to be rich in iron and I started eating it to bring up my haemoglobin level. As such, for the past few months now, I’ve been substituting ragi wherever I needed to use rice, wheat or maida flour. My two-year-old daughter, Angel, is particularly fond of it as a pizza and loves to eat it dipped in sauce. Every few days I have a version of ragi for breakfast teamed with an omelette. It’s actually really tasty a flour, not to mention quite filling,” she explains, adding that she finds ragi chappatis a little more chewy than wheat ones. “Also, ragi dosas have the consistency of wheat dosas, only it’s slightly grainier and tastes rather earthy. Initially I found ragi a bit difficult to digest, perhaps because I was not used to eating it, but you quickly get used to it,” she adds.

Tarun Jacob, 28, who works in real estate insurance, meanwhile, has been eating ragi for a couple of years now. “We started buying ragi when my sister’s son was born – to give him kurukku [porridge of cooked ragi flour that’s traditionally given to infants, which, supposedly, builds up their strength],” he says. At the time his family had returned home after a stint in Bengaluru where they had seen ragi used more as a food item – ragi mudde [ragi balls, a traditional dish in Karnataka, that’s eaten with just about everything], for example.

“Ragi puttu soon became a regular breakfast item. I find that ragi puttu goes well with banana than the traditional accompaniment of kadala curry. I would say it is midway between rice and wheat in terms of heaviness,” he says.

Aswathy Ashok, a 28-year-old homemaker, took to the millet after sampling a ragi vazhakkappam (banana fritters) at a tribal food fete at Kanakakunnu. “Apart from vazhakappam, they had ragi idiappam, ela ada and fried ragi balls with chicken curry, all of which I tried. My mother tells me I loved kurukku when I was a baby. Perhaps it was that long forgotten taste but it sent my taste buds into overdrive. I enquired further and they told me that ragi is a staple in their diet,” she says.

It brings to mind an episode on TV in which foodie and food travelogue host Raj Kalesh visited the Chokramudi Muthuvan settlement in the interiors of Idukki and sampled the tribe’s various ragi recipes. “Their main dish is ragi flour cooked with a local variety of spinach. They call it kepaverakiyathu ,” says Kalesh. In fact, food and agriculture expert S. Usha, director, Thanal, a city-based sustainable agriculture NGO, says that ragi once used to be a staple part of Malayali diet. Thanal is one of the first to bring about the millet’s revival by retailing ragi flour through its monthly Organic Bazaar.

“Firstly, the millet is packed with nutrients – iron, vitamins, calcium, fibre, amino acids, phosphorous and the like, which makes it a good option for weight loss, improving bone density and for people with diabetics. Secondly, it’s a plant that doesn’t need much of water for cultivation and so it was the crop of choice during the dry season. Thirdly, it is a comparatively cheaper grain to grow and also to buy. When I was a child I recall ragi being extensively cultivated in Kerala. When the green revolution happened, wheat and rice came to occupy the millet’s – and muthira’s (horse gram) – place on our diet and that’s how it went out of fashion in the last few decades,” she explains.

While many, particularly old-timers, like to buy the millet (it looks like mustard seeds, only deep red) as a whole and make the flour themselves [a laborious process, at best] it helps that nowadays ‘organic’ ragi flour is readily available in grocery stores across the city. “I find the flour to be very versatile,” says Aswathy. Her friends swear by her ragi tea cakes, ela ada and ottada, idli, pancakes...

Also, in sync with contemporary tastes, ragi is now available as processed foods such as breakfast cereals (ragi flakes), biscuits, snacks, cake mixes, malt, instant idli/dosa mixes and the like. “I believe ragi went out of fashion because of a lack of innovation. What we did was to (re)package the millet in such a way as to appeal to urban customers, all the while retaining its intrinsic qualities,” says entrepreneur Prashant Parameswaran of Soulfull, one of the first brands to bring ragi back to kitchens, with its organics cereals and instant mixes. Bon appétit!

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