Mahanandi

Living in Consciousness ~ Indi(r)a’s Food and Garden Weblog

Of Being and Becoming~ Ragi Idlis

by Janani Srinivasan

Students and Rasikas of Karnatic classical music who fondly (or not :) ) recall their first tentative forays into “Sarali” and “Janta Varisais” might also remember that the credit for a creating a pedagogy of Karnatic classical music goes to Sri. Purandaradasa. And if your mother was a particularly determined woman, you may even have dutifully trotted out works from his corpus to bored admiring relatives come socio-religious occasions like Navarathri and Varamahalakshmi Vratha gatherings.

Whether it is Ratnakara the bandit turned into the Adikavi Sri.Valmiki Muni, or Angulimala the grisly finger-slicing highway terrorist turned Buddhist monk, tales of what can fairly be called instantaneous and extreme spiritual makeovers have captured the imaginations of generations of Indian story tellers and their listeners for centuries. The narrative arc usually progresses along the lines of hopelessly-and-diabolically-evil-person reaches the apogee of his (supported usually by a silently long-suffering her) evilness when a chance encounter; usually in the form of divine grace; completely awakens and transforms said individual. They then attain a sort of mythic stature and are held up as role models for future generations to emulate. Indeed, the story of the rapaciously greedy miser-turned musician-mystic Sri Purandaradasa is a familiar and inspiring one to many of us who grew up listening to these tales. Wiki weighs in with a more complete history of Sri Purandaradasa.

Stamp Commemorating Sri Purandaradasa
Stamp Commemorating Sri Purandaradasa

In our family, one of our all-time personal favourites from his oeuvre remains the haunting “Ragi Tandira”. Kannada speakers will identify with the clever punning on the word “Ragi”. Much like a Zen koan, the lyrics here have layers of meaning couched in seemingly quotidian references.

Indeed it is not hard to surmise that Purandhara dasa, once he became a wandering minstrel after giving up his former materialistic life, must have still been intimately familiar with the kind of people that once made up his close family and friends circle. Hence, his desire to show them the path to a more richer inner life must have been tempered with the practical consideration that they might reject his message if he was too heavy handed or preachy.

This composition opens with the poet singing, “Have you brought Ragi for alms?” He then goes on to describe Ragi in glowing adjectives “Yogyaragi , Bhogyaragi” and so on… While in one sense, it can be read as an extolling of Ragi, the staple local grain, the sustainer of life itself with various adjectives: Yogya (worthy) + Ragi, Bhogya (enjoyable) + Ragi ; on another level, it is a veiled injunction to the householders themselves to become “worthy”, “Yogyaragi” as one word.

Here the notion of “Yogyatha” like many words in the vernacular, defies simplistic translation. It is a conflation of many shades of meaning conveying a sense of worthiness, deservingness, etc. The rest of the song progress in the same vein exhorting us to various acts of goodness like offering food to the needy (anna chatrava nittavarAgi), attaining fame for the right reasons (kyathiyali migilAdavarAgi) and cautioning us to stay away from inethical practices (anya varthegaLa bittavarAgi) and so on.

So as homage to Sri Purandharadasa, his beloved Vittala and the ancient grain sustaining generations of his people; here is my mother’s recipe for Ragi Idlis. What a song and dance over a simple grain you say? Well, just try these. Like a mother’s love, these are earthy and wholesome. In a word, Perfect!

Ragi Grains Ragi Batter for Idlies
Ragi Grains ……………………. Sprouted Ragi and Rice Batter for Idlies

Recipe:
(Makes atleast 2 dozen of the standard sized Idlis- but quantity yielded depends on the Idli mould size.)

Whole Ragi Grain- 1 cup
(I sprouted these for added nutritional benefits. But it’s not strictly necessary)
Idli rice (parboiled) – 1 cup
Whole skinned Urad dal – ¾ cup
Methi seeds -1 tablespoon
Salt to taste
Sesame oil- to grease idli moulds (I used “Idhayam” brand)

After multiple washes, soak the Ragi for a day. Drain and let it rest for another day till you see tiny white sprouts. Alternatively, you can skip the sprouting and just soak the ragi for 3-4 hours longer than you soak the rice. Soak rice, whole urad and methi seeds in separate containers for 4-6 hours or overnight.

In a wet grinder or a mixie /blender, grind the urad dal till light and fluffy. A test for fluffiness is to keep a bowl of water and drop a tiny pinch of batter. If it floats, it is light enough. Then add and grind the Ragi grains and Methi and finally the rice. Take care that the rice should not be ground too smooth. It should be of rice Rava consistency. Alternatively, you can use rice Rava instead. Take the batter in a vessel, fold in some salt to taste and leave it overnight to ferment. I found that the dough fermented really well, doubling up and overflowing the vessel. So take adequate precautions.

Next morning, lightly stir the well fermented batter. Grease Idli moulds and steam in a pressure cooker for 12-15 minutes till done. Ragi idlis can be served with a dollop of butter or ghee on top, along with the usual fixings on the side: sambar, coconut chutney and/or Milagai Podi.

~ Article by Janani Srinivasan


Light and Soft Ragi Idlies

Notes:
Audio of Ragi Tandira sung by the late Sri. Maharajapuram Santhanam in Raga Kalyanavasantham - Link.
Ragi pronounced with “Ra” as “raa”, “G” as in God not as in gentle, “i” pronounced “ee”.
Tandira pronounced Thundheera with the “h” NOT aspirated. “T” and “d” sounds softened not sharp as in the common American/English usage and the “an” is pronounced “un”.
Janani Srinivasan’s articles on Mahanandi: It’s Chakalaka, Baby!, The Arisiupma Trilogy.

Posted by Indira©Copyrighted in Biyyamu (Rice), Ragi, Millet, Sprouts (Molakalu), Janani Srinivasan (Thursday November 1, 2007 at 4:44 pm- permalink)
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The New Home of Mahanandi: www.themahanandi.org

It’s Chakalaka, Baby!

Chakalaka ~ South African Vegetarian Dish
Chakalaka

African food, at least here in the west, is usually restricted to East African staples like the delicious Ethiopian dosa, the Injera or entrees such as the equally delectable Moroccan chickpea stew (normally served over couscous) common to North Africa.

But what of the quintessentially South African Chakalaka?

As one examines the recipe, it’s not hard to imagine South African cooks venturing out into their vegetable garden one hot day, picking onions, red peppers, tomatoes and any other readily available seasonal produce. As the vegetables cooked, they probably craved some of the flavors they remember smelling as they walked down a street with Indian houses. Inspired, they might have thrown in a liberal dose of curry powder into the simmering vegetables in the pot. Since many variations also include tinned baked beans, hungry laborers might have adapted it as a quick and satisfying one-pot meal at the end of a hard day of slogging it in the gold mines.

With my well-equipped Indian kitchen, Chakalaka was a breeze to whip up. Indeed, the Indian influences are not surprising. Indians have been in South Africa longer than Caucasians have been in Canada! So at least for 7-8 generations. In fact, our beloved Mahatma Gandhi cut his revolutionary teeth in South Africa.

But back to Chakalaka (don’t you just love the sound of the name?)

While the jury is still out on whether Chakalaka is a chunky ketchup or a sauce or a cooked salsa (could be either); on whether it should be served as a side dish or a condiment (served as both) and if it should be eaten hot or cold (served either way), this spicy and always vegetarian concoction has now come to be identified as the definitive taste of South Africa. There’s even a restaurant in London named for this dish. Featuring a standard base of onions, tomatoes and peppers; this versatile dish is open to endless experimentation.

Other bloggers tell us that traditionally, Chakalaka is often served as a sauce with a maize porridge (Mielie Pap) that is eaten predominantly by the local black population. It’s also served with bread or the ragi-like Samp, made of maize. It can also be spotted as an accompaniment at South African barbecues called Braais (pronounced “bry”, rhyming with the word “cry”)

In the spirit of making a mean Chakalaka that is true to its African roots as well as its spirit of assimilation and innovation, my version is based on a number of recipes found online as well as one that was featured in the Toronto star.


Red, Orange and Yellow ~ Peppers in Autumn Colors

Recipe:
(Makes enough for approx 30 tablespoon servings)

2 tablespoons of sunflower oil
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely diced
4 fresh green chillies, slit
1 big red onion, finely chopped
A pound (4 to 6) juicy tomatoes, finely chopped
3 bell peppers, chopped into 1cm X 1cm pieces
2 carrots and 2 potatoes chopped into 1cm X 1cm pieces
Curry powder - 1 heaped tablespoon.
Red beans - one cup, pre-soaked and pressure-cooked to tender
Salt - one teaspoon, or to taste
Fresh coriander for garnish

In a saucepan, heat up the oil and saute ginger, garlic, chillies and onions to soft. Add the salt and curry powder. Add the tomatoes and cook till mushy and of sauce consistency. Add peppers, carrots and potatoes. Cook till they are of a desired softness. Add the red beans and cook for 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat and add coriander. Check seasoning levels and serve with rice or breads of your choice.

A small confession. After adding the beans, I tasted it and found the heat was a bit too much. So I caved and added a teaspoon of jaggery at the end. Unsuspecting victims, tasters of the dish said it took them to whole new levels of delayed heat which overwhelmed the palate after the initial deceptive sweetness. But they all agreed they couldn’t get enough of it!

Chakalaka with Chapatis and Pomegranate
Chakalaka with Chapatis and Pomegranate ~ Meal Today

~ Article Contributed by Janani Srinivasan
Photos by Indira Singari.

Kitchen Notes:
Other vegetables can also be added to Chakalaka - cauliflower, zucchini, string beans etc
For curry powder - if you have access to it, I recommend the fiery Sri Lankan Niru brand powder so ubiquitous in Toronto. If not, any other store-bought or homemade will do. The South African recipes recommend a local brand called “leaf masala”.
To be true to the grassroots appeal of this dish, you could use a can of baked beans from the local supermarket. Vegetarians check labels to ensure it’s free of lard or any other animal ingredients. If you can soak your own from scratch, that’s even better.
More on Chakalaka : Chakalaka 101, and Culinary Musings from Cape Town

Posted by Indira©Copyrighted in Bell Pepper, Red Beans (Chori), Peppers, Janani Srinivasan (Thursday October 11, 2007 at 6:30 pm- permalink)
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The New Home of Mahanandi: www.themahanandi.org

The Arisiupma trilogy (Guest Post by Janani)


Food blogging has opened a window for me to meet interesting and like-minded people who also share my passion and philosophy of cooking. Janani Srinivasan from Toronto is one such person. After reading her comments on some of my blogged recipes, I knew I found a friend and I had to ask her if she would be interested to share her family recipes on “Mahanandi”. She agreed enthusiastically and readily to my delight. Here she is, sharing her family’s treasured, traditional recipes in “The Arisiupma Trilogy”. Enjoy!
- Indira

My fondest childhood memories are of mealtimes at the home of my maternal grandparents where my grandmother- Annapurani in nature as in name- would whip up meal after magical meal prompting my late grandfather to often say in Sanskrit “Anna dhaata sukhi Bhava” (May the giver of rice be happy). If the story of a people’s deepest aspirations can be seen in their metaphor, then this poetic conflation of rice as food itself speaks volumes to the centrality of grain in the foodscapes of India’s many cultures.

One of the other remarkable features of the Indian subcontinent, is that depending on what filter or combination of these that you use- language, religion, culture, region, social identity, you could carve it up into a delightful array of unique variants of regional cuisines.

If I were to cite the major culinary influences that shape my own approach to cooking, I would pick out, as my example, my paternal grandmother Vathsala’s austere, methodical, cooking-with-what’s-on-hand-to minimize-waste? Kumbakonam Iyer style, with Annapurani’s elaborate, lavish, incredibly rich preparations shaped by her own life in Hyderabad and Bangalore; to my mother Jayanthi’s innovative style from her many travels, her tendency towards the fiery twists of her life in the Rayalseema region but always with a strong adherence to the authentic approach of her own paternal grandmother.

So when Indira asked me to guest blog, I could not think of a better tribute to my heritage and to the food grain that has sustained generations of my family, than the humble “Arisiuppma” with two of its popular variations “Thavalaadai” and “Pudikozhakattai”.

Ingredients:

(a) For the “Upma Odasal” or the cracked rice meal:
Rice- 1 cup (Using Brown basmati for this takes it to a whole new level of dense nutty chewy perfection but regular basmati or ay other rice especially par-boiled rice is quite acceptable and is the norm)
Urad Daal- 1 tsp
Toor Daal- 2 tsp
Dried red chilies- 4- 6 (depending on the level of spice tolerance)
Black peppercorns- 1 tsp
Cumin seeds- 1 tsp

Ingredients for Cracked Rice Meal

(b) Tadka or seasoning:
Mustard seeds- 1 tsp
Urad dal- 1 tsp
Few Curry leaves
Green chilies- 3 to 4, chopped finely into rounds
Ginger root- 1inch, finely chopped .
Fenugreek seeds- Just a tiny pinch (optional)
Asafoetida- a pinch (the extract of the solid version soaked in water is ideal but the powdered form is acceptable too)
Sunflower oil- 1 tbsp (It is normally used but if you have the gutsJ, coconut oil tadka will make this dish quite ethereal.)
(c) Garnish:
Freshly grated coconut a fistful (can be omitted if it’s not preferred or my paternal aunt’s variation is to substitute it with sauteed onions)
(d) Salt to taste

Tadka or Seasoning Ingredients

Procedure:

1 In a blender/food processor coarse grind the ingredients listed under “(a)” to a cracked wheat consistency.

2 In a wide-bottomed pan, heat the oil and do the tadka.

3 Once the seeds start to sizzle and splutter, add fresh water in the proportion 1: 3 rice meal and water.

4 Once the water starts to boil, add in the coarsely grinded “(a)” list of ingredients and mix well.

Now when I made it this time, I had to ensure that my pipeline was effective since I was making three dishes with the exact same ingredients. Typically, one would only make one of the three preparations at any given time.

Up to step 4 above is common to all 3 dishes. After this point, the procedure diverges for each preparation.

Pudikozhakattai (Steamed Cracked Rice Dumplings)

Pudikozhakattai (steamed cracked rice dumplings)

When the mixture is well mixed and the water is just absorbed, take it off the heat. Depending on your heat tolerance, try not to let it cool down too much. Work rapidly using some cold water to wet hands and roll it into balls. Steam for about 8-10 minutes till done. A special twist here is to bury a smidgeon of jaggery in the center of this so you stumble upon a heart of sweet goodness as a surprise while biting into it.

Thavaladai (Rice Lentil Croquets)

Thavaladai (Rice lentil croquets

After step 4, take it off the heat. Once it’s cooled down shape into patties and shallow fry on a griddle. Can be served with ketchup or any chutney if desired or just plain.

Arisiupma

Arisiupma

(Try as I might, I could not come up with a nifty English equivalent for this dish. Let’s hope this will enter the lexicon alongside the likes of Bulghur, Couscous and Cream of Wheat. )

Keep going from step 4 till the uppma is well done. To serve, especially for kids, a popular pairing is with some ghee and sugar. Pickle and yogurt is also a combination but mostly its just eaten plain and piping hot.

- Guest Post by Janani Srinivasan, Toronto
Jayasri Srinivasan - Ingredient lineups and picture arrangements
Dr.S.Ramachandran - Photographs

Posted by Indira©Copyrighted in Biyyamu (Rice), Zen (Personal), Basmati Rice, Sona Masuri Rice, Janani Srinivasan (Tuesday May 23, 2006 at 1:13 pm- permalink)
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The New Home of Mahanandi: www.themahanandi.org