Food

What is your favourite kanji?

Rani Gopalakrishnan makes a kanji mix from millets and heirloom rice varieites in Tiruchi. Photo: M. Srinath/THE HINDU

Rani Gopalakrishnan makes a kanji mix from millets and heirloom rice varieites in Tiruchi. Photo: M. Srinath/THE HINDU  

more-in

The ethnic porridge’s revival seems to be driven as much by nostalgia as by the need to cook wholesome food at home

First-time mums and dads these days are quite eager to show how figured out they are with their new routine. Usual cereal powder out of a tin won’t do any more for their darling. They want something new. So, it HAS to be specially formulated flour fortified with nuts and grains and meant to be served as a porridge. They may be a bit surprised to know that there’s nothing new about this. The oldies call this kanji and, along with its culinary cousins from across the world, it is one of the oldest dishes known to mankind.

Before the arrival of cornflakes and rolled oats into our lives, there was (and continues to be) kanji; a dish that boils up rice, pulses and millets in inventive ways to form a hearty meal, especially in southern India. In the north, ‘Daliya’, a delicious spicy kanji made with broken wheat, pulses and vegetables remains a popular meal, especially during winter months.

Nothing new

While readymade kanji options have proliferated, it is nice to know that our it was all the rage with our ancestors ages ago. Indeed, the kanji’s revival seems to be driven as much by nostalgia as by the need to cook wholesome food at home.

Kanji mixes are being seen as diet food, especially by people with lifestyle diseases like diabetes or heart problems. Many new mothers are preferring to replace commercial baby cereals with these native porridges,” says Rani Gopalakrishnan, who runs a home-based organic and ethnic food business called ‘Millet-In’ in Tiruchi.

Using the coarsely ground meal of millets like Samai, Thinai and Kuthiravalli and heirloom rice varieties like Mapillai Samba, Rani’s kanji mix is seasoned with salt and pepper and is meant to be cooked for 15 minutes (One measure of mix to six measures of water) on an open flame or in the pressure cooker for five whistles. “I source all the raw material from certified organic farmers based in Theni and Kumbakonam. Since the kanji is rich in protein and fibre, it delays hunger pangs,” says Rani.

In ethnic Tamil cuisine, kanji is often clubbed together with koozhu (gruel) and kali (a semi-solid mass of flour cooked in hot water). While most of us in the south tend to associate the dish only with the Islamic month of Ramzan, when nonbu kanji is served to end the dawn-to-dusk fast, it has actually got many other avatars. Leftover steamed white rice is soaked in water overnight, and then served the day after as pazhaya (old) kanji. Livened up with some buttermilk and green chillies, this slightly fermented dish is accompanied by the previous day’s tamarind-based curries, reduced to a thick sauce.

Interestingly, when the soaking rice is placed in a cloth-covered earthen pot and buried underground, a few days later, it is reborn as the country liquor sunda kanji, the subject of many a Tamil film song.

Sudu Kanji
  • Serves 2
  • Ingredients
  • ½ cup rice of choice
  • 2.5 cups of water (adjust according to the rice variety)
  • 10 cloves garlic, peeled
  • ¼ teaspoon fenugreek seeds (vendayam)
  • Salt to taste
  • Method
  • Place all ingredients except salt in a pressure cooker and cook for at least 10 minutes (around 3 to 4 whistles).
  • Switch off the stove, and check when the steam has been released. The rice should be mushy and swollen in the broth.
  • In case it is underdone, mash the mixture with a flat-spoon/spatula, add some more water, and cook again for a further two whistles.
  • Season with salt and serve with chutney or gravy of choice.

The sudu (hot) kanji, a mushy porridge consisting of rice, garlic and fenugreek seeds boiled in water and seasoned just with salt, is served with toasted dried and salted fish (karvadu) or a thuvaiyal (thick chutney) of coconut, green chillies and split gram.

“Avoiding food wastage is inherent in our cuisine. A dish (similar to pazhaya kanji) exists in East Indian cuisine called the panta bhat, poita bhat or pakhala. The rice soaked overnight is loaded with more micro-nutrients than its fresh counterpart. Also, the resistant starch in rice feeds the good bacteria that are healthy for the gut. This also highlights the fact that long ago, we understood how controlled fermentation of rice improves its nutrition profile,” writes chef Ranveer Brar in an email interview.

A long heritage

Freshly cooked kanji also has a long heritage, says MS Rajmohan, chef and head, Department of Hotel Management and Catering Science of GTN Arts College, Dindigul. “Kanji is made of either pulses or cereals, or a combination of both which break down into small particles through slow cooking. Since it does not require many ingredients and is easy to prepare, it can also be consumed as a health drink or given to patients.”

Kanji is like a cultural badge of every community, says Rajmohan. “The type of porridge we make shows us the kind of food grains that a particular piece of land has produced. We have actually forgotten the traditional recipes that once were part of our regional identity,” he rues.

While the methods may vary, kanji remains an integral part of Indian cuisine. Chef Ranveer recalls, “I once tasted an East Indian kanji curry, flavoured with coconut, coriander paste and leftover seafood; it was one of the best I have ever had. Across the western coast, pez is a popular kanji in Konkan cuisine and is typically served to convalescents, as it is light on the stomach. Similarly, Kerala has the Karkidaka Kanji, a medicinal gruel prepared during the monsoons. It’s nice to know that amidst the rediscovered rage for probiotics, we are making a transition back to our classics like the kanji.”

Rani Gopalakrishnan can be contacted at 9865915508

Sudu Kanji (served here with ‘Thuvaiyal’) has been a popular meal in ethnic Tamil cuisine for ages. Photo: Nahla Nainar/THE HINDU

Sudu Kanji (served here with ‘Thuvaiyal’) has been a popular meal in ethnic Tamil cuisine for ages. Photo: Nahla Nainar/THE HINDU  

Why you should pay for quality journalism - Click to know more

Recommended for you
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Dec 10, 2019 4:44:47 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/the-ethnic-porridge-kanji-is-finding-a-new-life-as-a-wholesome-diet-food/article30116165.ece

Next Story