Bangalore Talkies | Detailing the wonders of fermented pickles, drinks
How many times have you shelled out ₹300 for a bottle of kombucha and wondered why there was no Indian equivalent? Where were all the gut-friendly, probiotic fermented drinks (and foods) in Indian cuisine?
Of course, there are. As with anything in India, every state has its own variations. In Kerala and Tamil Nadu, soaking day-old rice overnight, letting it ferment and then drinking it like porridge the following day with pickles is a common practice. Not only does it taste delicious and refreshing, it also fills you up without making you feel bloated or heavy.
North Indian kanji too, is a delicious winter drink. Made from black carrots (kaala gajar), which sadly are not to be found here in Bengaluru, this drink too involves natural fermentation for a few days. Nisha Madhulika’s popular Youtube channel has the exact recipe. My version here in Bengaluru comes from my friends, Kavita Gupta and Raj Himatsingka. It was in Raj’s house that I had my first taste of beetroot kanji. Made with sliced beetroots instead of the dark carrots, the kanji is made with yellow mustard seeds powdered with some black salt, asafoetida, pepper and mixed with the beets or carrot. You then pour water and allow it to ferment for 3-5 days. By then, the water is infused with a beet red colour and the sour flavour of the yellow mustard seeds, all of which warm you up for the winter.
A more local version is the karindi chutney. I had it first in Sirsi district in the Uttara Karnataka, one of the most beautiful and verdant places in the state. Cleaved by rivers with poetic names such as the Aghanashini and framed by the Western Ghats, Sirsi is where new frog species, flora and fauna are found. It is where school girls with twinkling eyes use giant colocasia leaves as umbrellas as they walk home from school. In this budding blossoming generous land, medicinal herbs sprout from the red red under the pouring rain every few steps. Some tender touch-me-nots shrink as you step on them.
Modest homes cook up nourishing simple healthy dishes. Karindi is one of them. The base is flaxseeds, called agase in this state. High in Omega 3 fatty acids, these seeds are left out in the sun or gently roasted. There are several recipes online for karindi. The one I make has equal quantities of the following ingredients: flax seeds, green chilies and garlic. I grind these three together along with 1 teaspoon of salt, fenugreek seeds, cumin/jeera, black mustard seeds. In the end, throw in a handful of fresh coriander leaves and curry leaves. The paste will end up in a rich green colour. Empty into a pickle jar. Separately, cut one cucumber and carrot in small pieces. Fold the vegetables into the paste. Add a bit of water so that it becomes like a porridge. Cover with a piece of cloth, cover the pickle bottle and leave out in the sun for 5 days so that it ferments nicely. The heat of the green chilies goes down as it ferments. So depending on your spice tolerance you can adjust the number and size of the green chilies. Remember, the fatter the green chilly, the less hot it is.
Karindi is used a lot by the Veerashaiva community who often eat it with jolada-rotti or jowar rotis. It is kept outside in the kitchen shelf-- not the refrigerator-- and served with everything including hot rice. If you pour a little ghee or coconut oil over it while serving, this adds to the taste. I store it in a earthen pot and have it everyday with pretty much everything. You can smear it over bread for a taste that is akin to English mustard but more nuanced. It can fare really well in a panini because it has girth from the green paste and crunch from the cucumber and carrots.
Recently, I found a win-win recipe which incorporates two of the culinary world’s current darlings: millets and fermented foods. The fermented food in this combination is the karindi. The other part of this handshake comes from my neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu. Go to Madurai in the summer and many homes will begin their day with Samai-arisi-kanji. Made from cooked little millets, this too is mildly fermented. What you do is cook a tablespoon of little millet or samai and mash till it is soft. To this add buttermilk and stir in a glass till it become like a porridge. Finally, make a seasoning to sprinkle on top. Heat oil on a pan, add black mustard seeds, cumin, salt, asafoetida, and curry leaves-- also diced garlic if you want to amp up the immune-boosting properties. Add this to the porridge, stir and leave overnight. The heat of Madurai makes this dish ferment nightly. In Bangalore, particularly in September, when the temperature is cool, fermentation is more gentle. In the morning, drink the little millet kanji with a teaspoon of karindi like a pickle. Your stomach will thank you.
Shoba Narayan is Bangalore-based award-winning author. She is also a freelance contributor who writes about art, food, fashion and travel for a number of publications