Friday, July 13, 2012

Ragi Ragini -- recipes made of finger millet

What do poems,stories and food have in common?

The answer could be many and very subjective. But ask me now, and the answer would be Anjali Purohit. The Mumbai-based writer-artist—among other things—is better known as the author of the Commonwealth Short Story Competition winner, “Bitter Harvest”—she won that distinction  over three years ago.

Now Anjali brings us a very off-beat and charming book, titled, “Ragi-Ragini Chronicles from Aji’s Kitchen”. 

Bahinabai Choudhary

The book has a collection of recipes where the main ingredient is…no marks for guessing.. ragi. 

“Ragi, a much –neglected wonder food has been variously called Nachani, Nagli, Kelvaragu, Mutthari,Corcano and finger millet; an indigenous grain that has been grown and consumed in India’s rural areas for centuries. Considering the amount of nutrients it packs in, there is much to warrant making a song and dance about the humble grain,” says the author in the prologue.

Ovi with English translation

For readers  passionate about cooking, with a substantial focus on healthy ingredients, indigenous crops and traditional recipes, the book is a godsend gift. For apart from orally passed on stuff, there is not much material available on ragi or finger millet, for the self-styled chefs.  The songs come in the form of poems—ovis.

 As Anjali explains, an ovi is a poem in a couplet form put to an easy tune, which were traditionally sung by women throughout Maharashtra as they went about their chores.

The heroine of the book learnt much from her masi—mother’s sister—and grandmother, who together raised her, making her the Ragini who has now chosen to “make public my romance with Ragi”.

For those who don’t know, ragi is very much like mustard in appearance, a wee bit smaller perhaps. It is ground on a “chakki” traditionally—cold grinding. The flour, as well as the cooking of ragi soaked overnight— are popular among a certain generation of people in South India. “Ragi kanji”—a porridge made of ragi—is considered a cure all!

Ragi or finger millet

From ragi custard to ragi cake, ragi dosai and scores of ragi dishes, they are all there in the book that is illustrated with kitchen essentials that have long vanished, but evoke tremendous nostalgia.

Published by Yodapress, the book has 100 pages. The Marathi verses by Bahinabai Choudhari(1880-1951) , an unlettered woman , have been translated beautifully.


You will need

Ragi flour-3 cups
Powdered sugar-1.5 cups
Ghee-3/4 of a cup
Chopped seedless dates-one cup
Almond, chopped and preferably roasted-1 cup
Cardamom powder-a generous pinch

Add the chopped dates to the chopped almonds and cardamom powder till they are evenly mixed(or oddly mixed, but mixed nevertheless)

Add the date and almond mixture to the basic Laddo mix

For this mix, dry roasted ragi flour till it changes colour a in a heavy bottomed wok or pan. Add one tablespoon of ghee, and continue to turn till the ghee is evently distributed and the flour becomes a dark brown. Allow it to cool, and then mix in the powdered sugar, ensuring it is not lumpy, then add the cardamom.

Heat the rest of the ghee to just under smoking point. Remove from heat and pour the ragi-sugar mixture into the gheer. Stir well, to incorporate the ghee evently. Shape tightly into balls using your  hands, before the mixture  cools down.

If the mixture is too dry and the laddoos are breaking, grieve not. Just heat and add some more ghee to the mixture. Arrange in a wide plate and show off ! Allow the laddoos to cool completely before storing them in an airtight jar.

I loved the illustrations in the book...every one of them a collector's item as Indian kitchens even in small towns get a makeover.

All  those who read this post, do join me in thanking Anjali for this unique effort, and of course, the recipe , which I have yet to try.

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