Finger millet (ragi) porridge has an infamous reputation for being dull, bland, and—especially if you went to my boarding school—a stodgy mass that you’d be forced to eat at breakfast every morning. Although I could always tolerate it, it definitely was not something that I particularly enjoyed eating. Fast forward a decade, and here I am trying to incorporate the grain into everything – a spoonful into chapati dough (for its nutritional benefits in this case), a savoury porridge with chilli and spices, and even a sweet variant with brown sugar sprinkled over when it’s piping hot so the sugar melts and forms a sticky syrup on top.
Your typical ragi porridge starts with cooking ragi flour in boiling water until it starts to thicken. Buttermilk or milk is stirred through to make it a savoury or sweet version respectively. The similarities between a savoury ragi porridge and this ragi koozh end there.
Koozh follows a completely different process. Ragi is fermented overnight or for at least eight hours—ragi flour and salt are mixed with enough water to form a loose batter; it’s important that it is mixed with your hands to enable fermentation. It is then cooked over a low heat with coarsely blended rice grains until it thickens. Upon cooling, it’s rolled into balls and refrigerated. To serve, you dissolve or blend a ball with enough buttermilk to get the consistency you like. Typically served with a kara kuzhambu (spicy tamarind based curry) and chopped up shallots on the side.
The rice in question can be any medium-grain rice. Traditionally, they’d have used raw rice, but I’ve noticed no difference in using any kind since it’s coarsely ground to granules anyway (not basmati though). I tried to make the recipe as detailed and accurate as I possibly could, but fair warning that it’s more dictated by the feel and look of it than by exact measurements. I have however made sure to point out exactly what you should be looking for (visually) at each stage to help you along. I hope you try it and I hope you like it—the dish as well as the process. You’ll realize how much more liberating it is to go by the feel of things in the kitchen.
RAGI KOOZH (FERMENTED FINGER MILLET AND RICE PORRIDGE)
- ½ cup ragi flour
- ¼ cup medium-grain rice
- Buttermilk or yogurt, to serve
- Shallots, to serve
- Salt, to taste
- Add ragi flour and ¼ tsp salt to a bowl. Pour enough water to make it into a thin, loose batter. Mix it with your fingers as you add more water. Once you have the right consistency, mix it through again to break up any lumps. Cover and set aside in a warm spot overnight, about 8 hours.
- Rinse and wash the rice a few times until the water runs clear. Spread the rice out onto a fresh tea towel and dry it for ½ hour. Coarsely blend. You’re looking for granules the size of grape seeds.
- Tip the rice into a heavy-bottomed pot along with 2 cups of water. Cover and cook until the rice is cooked all the way through, almost mushy. (You may have leftover water in the pot even after the rice has been cooked. This is completely fine).
- Turn the heat down to the lowest setting. Stirring the rice constantly, pour the fermented ragi batter into the pot. Add 1 cup of water and stir. Add more water if it starts to clump up. Stir frequently. You want enough moisture so it doesn’t stick to the bottom.
- To test if it’s cooked, dab the ragi and rice mixture with your fingers. If it doesn’t stick it’s cooked. If it does, continue cooking until it gets there. It took me about 15-20 minutes.
- Take it off the heat and let it cool to room temperature. Once cooled, roll into balls or refrigerate as is. Keeps well in the fridge for 5-6 days.
- To serve, break the balls apart with your fingers and add salt and buttermilk (or yogurt mixed with water). Alternatively, blend the balls in a blender with buttermilk or yogurt. Best served with kara kuzhambu and chopped shallots on the side.