Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Beat the Heat: With Spicy Hot Kaanji

Maturing in the sun- Kaanji
This past Friday, while I rambled on about my backyard and flowers, I also showed you a picture and asked you to guess what was in that bottle. My friend Ila was the only one who took a guess, and she is right on. The bright red thing is indeed Kaanji: a common spring time drink in Northern India, especially Delhi. Right around Holi season in mid to late March, the vegetable vendors back in Delhi brought out some exotic looking vegetables. I especially remember Gaanth Gobi (Kohlrabi) and Kaali Gaajar; both of which my dad took quite a fancy to. Apart from using Kaali Gaajar (Purple carrots) in salads, my mom invariably made a large  bottle of  Kaanji that my dad loved. 

She always made it once so it'd be ready for the Holi festivities, and once more after wards. It was a very short window of season that purple carrots were available in Delhi, so I remember the excitement that followed once they were spotted at the vendors. 

My parents had acquired a large, wide-mouthed brown glass bottle through a friend who ordered Medical supplies for  Hospitals. This bottle had a long, glass-stopperd neck  that formed a airtight seal when closed - I'm sure it was meant to be used for chemicals in some medical lab, but was reserved for making Kaanji in our house! It was perfect for this purpose because the air-tight seal not only made fermentation more effective, but also allowed for occasional shaking of the fluid inside without spillage. As for me, I loved to see the water change color from colorless to a deep, purply-red in the 3-5 days that this drink took to mature.

This year, my brother planted the Kaanji bug in my mind. I told him about this blog, and he stopped by a couple of times to read it. Then out of the blue, around Holi time, he asked me if I knew how mom made Kaanji
" Make it and write about it in your blog. I'm sort of missing it this year", he said.

" I wish I could...but I just haven't seen purple carrots around here in USA".

But he'd planted the bug, and the craving. I really even considered buy the seeds online and planting my own purple carrots to make this drink. Then I considered the alternatives- for 2 months. Finally, a couple weeks ago, I confided in A.

"When you go on your upcoming business trip to the Mid-west, will you go down to their grocery stores and look for purple carrots? I want to make Kaanji." 

He gave me his 'you must be kidding' look and scoff.

"I'm really craving it- so much so that I've considered using beets as an alternative"' I said. 

He walked away. And bought me a beet from our local grocery store!! 

This is the preamble to my making Kaanji with baby carrots and beets last week. After the long story, the recipe is short, and spicy!

(Spicy drink made with Beets and Baby carrots)

You need:
A glass open-mouthed jar with air-tight lid. (I used an empty Folgers Coffee jar)
Water (I filled the jar all the way up- some of it spilled the first time I shook it!)
Baby carrots: Peeled and cut anyway you want (I used 12 baby carrots)
Beet : 3-4 slices, peeled and cut into strips
Salt: 3/4 Tbsp or to taste
Paprika: 1/2 Tbsp
Raai seeds (Brown Mustard seeds): 2 1/2 Tbsp; ground coarse.

  • There is not much by the way of a recipe here. All you do is put everything in a bottle , put the lid on tight and let it sit out in the sun to ferment for 3-4 days. Shake 1-2 times everyday for even fermenting. My spice measurements here are for a small 2lb coffee jar. You can always adjust the salt and pepper to your taste after 1-2 days of fermenting - you won't be able to tell the taste at all the first day you put Kaanji together, so don't even try.
  • Refrigerate after it is ready- you'll know by its slightly 'fermenty' smell and vinegar-like taste - it goes from 'wow' to 'yuck' within days. Serve CHILLED (but no ice cubes please!)
Sending this ti the Serve it Chilled event for June.

 My 2 cents: All I got out of this batch of Kaanji was teeny-tiny taste sip- A devoured the rest of it! My primary concern in using beets was the thought that they'd impart their own sweetness to the drink. Kaanji is known to be fiery hot in my home; even though I've toned down the spiciness here.  But my misgivings had no ground-  beets gave it just the right color as Kaali Gaajar would've, without interfering with  taste at all (as much as I can tell).  

With purple carrots back home, I remember them going soft at the end. But my baby carrots and beets here were still crunchy after 5 days of fermenting - not that it mattered. 

Also fermenting is usually done in glass, clay or porcelain jars/bottles back home. For whatever it is worth, the reasoning was that the process of fermentation causes metals to leach out into food. I still follow and recommend this rule, by way of habit rather than actual knowledge.

And finally, my mom called these brown seeds Raai in Hindi, and the black and yellow ones were sarson (mustard seeds). But I believe they're all a variety of mustard seeds. We always use the brown ones for Kaanji.

If you give this recipe a try, write to me- I'd love to hear your experience with it!