Kanji, that resembles the North Indian kadhi, is a unique and authentic Odia recipe that can double up as both as a coolant and a soup.
As popular as Odia cuisine is for its easy-to-prepare yet delicious recipes, it can be a delight for the calorie conscious and those looking for something light on the stomach without losing its nutritional value. Kanji, that resembles the North Indian kadhi, is a unique and authentic Odia recipe that can double up as both as a coolant and a soup. The fermented goodness of this particular recipe is testimony to the ingenuity of our mothers for dishing out a wholesome meal even out of the most frugal resources.
Though earlier, a staple item in the daily diet of Odia families, kanji, also known as ‘ambila’, was mostly made from fermented water discarded from cooked rice, as the base. Variation of other ingredients helps imparting multiple flavours to the different types of kanjis. The different types of kanjis according to the ingredients are pariba (vegetable) kanji, khada kanji, saga (green leafy) kanji, dahi (curd) kanji and the torani (water of cooked rice or Pakhala) kanji. Interestingly, besides these vegan variants, kanji is also relished in its non-vegetarian variants using chungudi (prawn) and sukhua (dry fish) in the southern and western parts of Odisha.
Made only at home, this dish is prepared well in advance where water is discarded after boiling rice, collected and stored in earthen pot over few days. It is allowed to ferment till a sour taste is developed. Thereafter this fermented liquid is heated, cooled and diluted with some of previous day’s rice water mixed with some fresh rice water.
Kanji can be enjoyed all around the year, even in the winters. The abundance of vegetables and leafy greens during the winter months can make a bowl of warm and tangy bowl of kanji a soothing treat. Meanwhile, in the summers, a bowl of torani or dahi kanji can be equally refreshing to beat the scorching heat.
For housewife Sabita Jena of BJB Nagar, kanji is a favourite with all her family members who love having it as an accompaniment to their lunch. Since preparing rice kanji can be a time consuming process, she opts for dahi kanji which can be prepared instantly with slight variation in the method. She explains “Add two cups of water to one cup of curd and beat it till it reaches a thin consistency. Then sauté and add some regular vegetables like brinjal, ladyfinger, radish and drumstick to the mixture with salt and a pinch of turmeric powder. Put the mixture to boil. Let the mixture brew on simmering flame for 2-3 minutes. Remove it from the stove, and season it with fried curry leaves, garlic, mustard seed and cumin seeds. The sour taste and strong aroma is sure to have you craving for generous amounts of this healthy brew.”
“But the original taste of kanji can be experienced with the authentic preparation of torani kanji made in earthenware pots, which is by far the most preferred of all types of kanjis,” adds Sabita.
But it is not the taste alone that has foodies relish this dish with pleasure. The ingredients that go into making this unique item give it a high nutritional value. Dr. Bijayalaxmi Nayak, an Ayurveda specialist says, “This traditional dish has some curative value in our diet. As it is easy on the stomach, it can act like an antacid and regular intake can help remove gastritis problems. More than any of its other properties, it a wonderful appetizer that aids in smooth digestion. But the cooling property of this liquid dish that helps induce good sleep is what Odias love it for!”
As Dr. Krishna Patro mentions, the ‘Kanji Amla Osha’ holds special significance for Odias. Held sometime in the months of October or November, people, especially women, worship Goddess Lakshmi for wealth and well-being of their family members on the occasion. It is believed that a farmer must worship the Goddess by offering ‘kanji’ to her, so as to reap a good harvest. So, the farmers prepare and take this brew to their fields and offer it to the Goddess of Wealth with the belief of good return on their crops. Though with diminishing farmlands, this tradition is no more celebrated in the same way, the making of rice or torani kanji and offering it to Goddess Lakshmi during her puja at home still continues. The process of making kanji can be elaborate but the final taste is worth all the wait.
This acts as a good body coolant during summers. It can be served hot or cool as desired and can be stored for up to 2-3 days. It can be served with rice or you can drink it like a soup.