Patrons of chic restaurants may wrinkle their aristocratic noses at the very mention of something that goes by the name of ragi mudde. They would rather be seen stylishly nibbling at Greek Salad or Mexican Nachos Grande.
But give ragi mudde a name like Tarta de Millet Balle and price it at Rs 800 — never mind that it costs less than Rs 5 to make it — it may disappear from kitchens into their superior stomachs faster than a drop of water on a frying pan.
But forget five-star eccentricities. The humble and yet awesome ragi mudde will soon join the long list of instant foods. Thank the scientists of the Defence Food Research Laboratory (DFRL) at Mysuru for it. They have developed the ready-to-eat mix primarily for Kannadiga personnel in the armed forces. But, as with all DFRL products, the private manufacturer who will make it—I learn today that negotiations are already on—will supply it to armed forces as well as the civilian market.
When the news of DFRL’s achievement came out recently, about 80 million Indians—my guesstimate, give or take a million—south of the Vindhyas heaved a collective sigh of satisfaction. Ragi mudde is a must-eat main course for people in the entire southern Karnataka and those in adjoining regions in Andhra, Telangana and Tamil Nadu.
The believers claim it’s God’s Own Food. I can’t confirm it, however.
For the uninitiated, the ball-shaped mudde is made of ragi (finger millet) flour cooked in water, usually with nothing else added to it. You take small bits off this ball, dip them into the spicy gravy of any vegetarian or nonvegetarian dish (my own favourite is fish curry) and swallow them without chewing.
So why get so moony-eyed about it, you may ask. Seeing — or eating — is believing.
One good reason that makes ragi mudde a one-of-its-kind wonder food is that it’s both delicious and nutritious. Well, all good food is. But mudde is better. Though 72 percent of ragi flour by weight is carbohydrates, it’s rich in proteins, vitamin B6, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, zinc, folic acid and amino acid methionine. Its fat percentage is pretty low at 1.3, and its protein proportion is almost as that of wheat. But 100 grams of ragi flour has 344 mg of calcium against only 15 mg in wheat flour of the same weight.
Besides, ragi is far cheaper than wheat. And the health benefits of ragi are truly splendid.
Those who are content with a glass of ragi porridge in the morning, must take note: Your porridge takes just a few spoons of ragi flour, while the average size of mudde that an adult gobbles up has at least a cupful of it.
My own recipe
There are many way of making this ball-shaped marvel. A shortcut I found, after poring over recipes on internet and experimenting, is this: Take a cup of ragi flour and add a little more than a cup of water (a cup plus one-eighth of a cup in all) and mix it well, ensuring it has no lumps. Dab the insides of a kadai with oil and keep it on the stove. Pour the ragi-water mix into the kadai when it’s hot, leave it simmering for 30 seconds or so and, when it begins to thicken, keep stirring it with a wooden spoon to ensure no lumps form.
It becomes harder and darker as it cooks, and you end up virtually kneading it on the stove with the wooden spoon, poking it and turning it around all the time (almost like you knead chapati dough with hands) for a minute. Don’t allow it to burn. And make sure it’s cooked. Scoop up the dough and roll into the shape of a ball with wet hands. There you have it: the magnificent pièce de résistance. Increase the water proportion if you want the mudde softer.
The tough part of is washing the kadai which, despite the oil, still has ragi pieces stuck to it.
That’s where DFRL’s instant mix can help. All you need to do is pour a cup of this mix into two cups of boiled water.
My own emotional and gastronomic attachment to ragi mudde—called ragi sankati in Andhra and ragi kali in Tamil Nadu—began when an old lady introduced me to it in a village in southern Karnataka, where serving a meal without it can cause social friction.
I remember accompanying Janata Dal minister C Byre Gowda to a village in southern Karnataka sometime in 1996, when he blasted the hell out of the villagers for making a lavish 10-course meal—without mudde. “All you should have made is mudde and soppu saaru (made of greens and lentils),” shouted the simple minister. The steaming mudde that arrived within five minutes became the main course, with all the other things being side-dishes.
And the previous year, HD Deve Gowda, then the chief minister, was apologetic over delaying my lunch one day. He insisted that I shared the food that came from his home. When he opened the five-tiered tiffin carrier in the ante-room, my eyes were riveted on the ragi mudde.
“You know how to eat this?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied with enthusiasm.
Then he passed very little of it to me. I wished he gave me more.
Then came out what looked like chicken curry. My eyes popped out of sockets. "It’s raw jackfruit curry," clarified the strict vegetarian. He gave me plenty of it. And there was lots of rice. Lesson learnt: A hungry Kanndiga may part with rice and just about anything, but not with ragi mudde.
The finger-millet ball became a sudden subject of interest for the national media in 1996 when Gowda became the prime minister. Lutyen’s editors, as Mr Goswami calls Delhi’s media honchos, looked down on Gowda’s diet, making disdainful comments in news meetings.
But Kannadigas don’t mind it. A friend once told me that ignorance about God’s Own Food was a good thing. His logic: If all of India eats it, the spike in demand will push up cost.
When Gowda was the PM, some star hotels made an attempt, though a feeble and unsuccessful one, to introduce it in their menus. Of course, it’s available in numerous humble and some not-so-humble eateries in Karnataka and across the border.
And if DFRL’s ready-to-eat mix excites taste buds, the venerated mudde will invade more kitchens and reach even greater heights in the culinary world.
The author tweets @sprasadindia. Views are personal.