Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Pleasures of Traditional Foods

I did all my winter homework and made large amounts of kanji (fermented carrot juice, a deep pink in colour), bought lots of carrots and radishes for salads and nuts for those in between moments. One could argue about the wisdom of transposing north Indian foods to the south, but I have realized that as long as the weather has a similar pattern (though the intensity may vary) and the ingredients are fresh, the body seems happy with it. And I rediscovered the joys of traditional winter foods after many years.

I discovered, to my surprise, that kanji is perfect for elevenses - a glass is enough to keep me going till lunch and I don't get that cloying aftertaste that packaged 'fresh' juices leave. How one glass of liquid can be so sustaining and satisfying, I have yet to figure out. Undoubtedly it involves not just the stomach but the nervous system as well. But this phenomenon is true of many traditional foods I think - they don't need to be consumed in large quantities yet they remain satisfying and nourishing. A handful of nuts or half a carrot does the job better than a bowlful of fried things. And it leaves one ready for and looking forward to the next meal.

I have also discovered the many joys of Khow Suey (about which I will write more later). It is a Burmese soup, made with coconut milk, gram flour, spices and saesonings and is topped with little bits of meats, noodles, eggs, fried garlic, onions or whatever your heart desires. I have found it to be an excellent party dish, people are drawn to it by curiosity and the fun of assembling one's own dish - and it tastes very good too no matter what you add. But I find, in simplified forms, it serves as an excellent lunch when rice and dal seem too heavy yet one wants something hot, flavourful and slightly liquid. All kinds of left overs go well on the side and the coconut milk in small doses is not as heavy as it would be in a thick curry. I find this preferable to the processed soup - noodle combinations that stores are flooded with these days.

I find that many of these traditional foods easily last upto a week in the refrigerator (the winter foods often last longer) and somehow one doesn't tire of them as quickly. And so it really is not as time consuming to get these things together as one imagines. Though home made traditional foods generally taste better than store bought ones, even if you can't make them, it's good to look out for them in shops.


Diomar said...
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anno said...

Would love to hear more about kanji. My own experiments with fermented foods have not been entirely successful, and I would appreciate hearing more about your own experiences. More, too, please about Khow Suey... anything with noodles seems like a wonderful antidote to the bleakness of winter.

Sujata Varadarajan said...

Kanji is a traditional north Indian winter drink, made by lightly boiling a deep purple kind of carrot and allowing it to ferment (crushed mustard seeds and salt are also added). The liquid is sunned everyday until it changes from purple to pink, which indicates that it is acidic enough. This is the first year I tried it and initially I got some stuff growing on the surface, which I apprehensively skimmed off. As the fermentation proceeded, everything seemed to fall into place. I think the trouble is mainly battling initial contamination especially when one is not adding any fermenting agent, but I'm not experienced enough about the process yet, hope to keep at it and would advise you to do the same!

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