I must confess that Karkkadaka kanji, the rice-based gruel cooked with herbs never enthused me. But this bitter porridge believed to be an immunity booster and one that aids digestion is a must for many in Kerala during July and August (Karkkadakam), the last month of the Malayalam calendar when heavy rains lash Kerala. Availability of ready-to-cook kanji kits has made it accessible to all. The kanji is believed to aid digestion, boost immunity and prevent diseases during the month of July-August (Karkkadakam) when heavy rains lash Kerala.
With lockdowns in many part of the State — and country — to check the spread of COVID-19, the kits are not easily available. So, how about making it at home, as it was done till a few decades ago?
Mary Antony, a former teacher from Aluva, has always made her own medicinal kanji. She has it for three, five or seven days during the month. “I never depended on the kanji kit. I follow the recipe taught by my ammachi (mother) that was passed on to her by her mother,” says the 72-year-old.
Every household in Kerala has its own version of the gruel, with ingredients usually sourced within the neighbourhood. “Remember, the kanji used to be cooked at home before the kits became a trend. In fact, you don’t need all the ingredients that supposedly go into ready-to-cook packets. Certain key ingredients are mandatory,” says Dr Krishna Rao, research officer (Ayurveda), Central Ayurveda Research Institute for Hepatobiliary Disorders, Bhubaneswar.
Although njavara rice, an indigenous variety from Kerala, is ideal, it can be made with kuthari (boiled rice) or unakkalari (raw rice with bran). “These varieties can be used individually or in combination,” Dr Rao adds. Digestive stimulants and ingredients that flush out toxins from the body are integral to the gruel. “For example, while cumin, turmeric and chathakuppa (crown dill) will aid digestion, a fine powder of chukku (dried ginger), cloves and cinnamon eliminates toxins even as it adds flavour to the kanji,” he explains.
Stick to rock salt instead of table salt or go for a sweet version with palm jaggery, jaggery and coconut milk. Shallots sautéed in ghee or oil improves the taste, especially for children. Fenugreek and aashaali (garden cress) are also used in some preparations. Mary cooks the two with unakkalari and cumin seeds. “Thick coconut milk subdues the pungency of fenugreek and aashaali,” she says.
Keeping it traditional
- The kanji prepared by the Namboothiri community in Kerala has Njavara rice, kurunthotti, shatavari (Satavar or Asparagus racemosus), tulsi, thottavadi, fenugreek, aashaali and coconut milk, says Vijayasree Vasan, a homemaker from Kumaranelloor in Kottayam district. Ghee and ashtachoornam (an Ayurveda medicine) or shallots sautéed in ghee can be added. “A chammanthi (chutney) prepared with leaves of Kodangal (Indian pennyweed, a creeper) is a must. The leaf is ground with ginger, kanthari mulaku (bird’s eye chilli), curry leaves and tamarind,” she adds. The gruel is consumed for five, seven, nine or 12 days.
- On the first or last Friday of the month the women of the family wear dashapushpam (10 sacred flowers) in their hair and apply mehndi on their hands and feet after a bath. Kanakappodi or ponppodi is made with powdered malar (puff rice), jaggery, grated coconut and sugar. For lunch, “Shivoti kanji”, a pongal with unakkalari, jaggery, coconut milk and coconut is consumed. A thoran with 10 leaf varieties is also prepared. “Leaves of thazhuthama (hog weed), thakara (Ringworm plant), pumpkin and long beans are a must. Varieties of cheera and leaves of colocasia and elephant foot yam are added,” she says. Therali appam (steamed rice and jaggery dumplings) cooked in leaves of mulla (Arabian jasmine) are offered to the Goddess.
Gangadharan, proprietor of Pathayam naturopathic restaurant in Thiruvananthapuram, suggests fenugreek be soaked or sprouted beforehand, and cooked with sprouted green gram and unakkalari or njavara rice to make the gruel. “To this, add a fine powder of turmeric, chathakuppa, coriander and dried ginger. Aashaali, cumin and rock salt are mixed at the end,” he explains.
The concoction can be made without aashaali or chathakuppa. “Cook sprouted fenugreek with unakkalari. Have it with ground coconut or coconut milk and salt,” says Geetha Rajagopal, a homemaker from Tripunithura. Baby Radhakrishnan, a former banker from Ettumannoor, uses cumin instead of fenugreek. “My children love it with jaggery. Some of my friends prepare it with sprouted horse gram and rice. Juice extracted from medicinal herbs/plants can also be added. For instance, tulsi (holy basil), mukkutti (little tree plant), kurunthotti (bala or common wireweed), thottavadi (touch-me-not or Mimosa pudica), and tender leaves of guava.”
Savithri Patteri from Kannur keeps it simple with unakkalari and black gram, “both home-grown”. The gram, sautéed and coarsely ground, is cooked with rice and fenugreek. Add grated coconut and ghee before you consume it.
The norm is to consume the gruel for seven, 14 or 21 days during the month, either in small quantities or as your evening meal. “All ingredients should be cooked well. Those who have diabetes or high cholesterol should avoid jaggery and ghee. Food is a medicine itself. So, don’t have the gruel just because others are also having it. Your appetite, health and age have to be taken into consideration,” Dr Rao adds.
Recipe for Karkkadaka kanji:
Ingredients ( Serves four)
Unakkalari – 200 g
Coconut milk – From one coconut
Fenugreek, aashaali and cumin seeds – 50 gm each
Salt- as per taste
Shallots – 100 gm
Ghee – 4 spoons
If you are planning to have the gruel in the evening, wash fenugreek, aashali and cumin seeds thoroughly and soak them in separate bowls in the morning. ook them with rice in the same water. When rice is half-cooked, add coconut milk of thick consistency and salt. Cook well. Add shallots sautéed in ghee only before you consume the gruel. It’s better to have it for three, five or seven days of the month.
– Mary Antony