Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Thought of Food I. Seven Cereal Chikki

The drive from Bombay to Poona on NH4 is very good after they made it into a toll road --- especially in the months of June to October. The chief advantage of NH4 in my case is that you can drive through Lonavala and visit the Chikki and chocolate fudge shops. Being old timers, Lalitha and I stop for chocolate fudge and a home-made ice-cream cup at Cooper’s which is now three generations old. The Cooper face still proves to be sufficient recompense for the diversion. They still give you huge dollops of their fudges for tasting (always choose the walnut one), you try all of them and end up buying more than twice the amount you thought you would.

The chikkis of Lonavala are famous although one has to be a connoisseur to pick the good chikki shop. The more famous one has been started by Maganlals four generations ago. The chikkis are usually made from peanuts or ground nuts --- that’s the only chikki one should have --- but with the quick stock-market-type money that used to be available to everybody (except people like us, I guess) the chikkis are now made from all kinds of expensive nuts including almonds and pistas or cashewnuts. I cannot immediately pick up an equivalent food item in the western countries except perhaps nougats. The one nougat that immediately comes to my mind is the Hazel-nut torrone or nougats made with honey and Hazel nut (with almonds; see internet for the Torrone di Benevento) and bound by well-whipped white of egg and tons of expertise.

The first chikki Maganlal sold at the railway line at lonavala which was being laid sometime in middle of the nineteenth century. The important and older chikki shops remain close to the railway line in Lonavala even now. The chikkis are flatter versions of the well known ground-nut or peanut balls which are called kadalai urundai in Tamil, or gurdana in marathi condensed from gur and sheng dana to some. These ground-nut balls were made with molasses and are considered to be a very healthy and very affordable food having the essential amino acids (if one wants a technical reason). The flattened chikkis (evolved probably from some British whim or for convenience in packing large quantities in smaller volumes (for the same reason that the Japanese would later make cubic watermelons). A more exotic variety in western countries is the hazel-nut or almond torrone made with honey and white of an egg as binder.

What I will describe in this blog is a chikki made from simple varieties of cereals which have been around for thousands of years, and should be around for ever (despite this recipe, one could add). You may say that the motivation for this recipe came from wanting to sound like the Western seven grain bread since all good things Indian require to be derived from good things Western (just look at the TV channels and their attitudes to the very sensible utterances of the health minister Mr. Ramdoss).

The seven gain bread most times contains besides wheat, malted barley, toasted seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, sesame seeds and poppy seeds. In this recipe for seven grain chikki I use ragi (African millet), jawas (flax seeds), jowar (millet), bajra (sorghum), rice (rice, fully organic from the Godavari), ragira (amaranth) and wheat (fully organic from Navdanya). The cereals are puffed on a thin kadai (picture 8). The kadai is first heated on a high flame for about a minute or two (depends on the kadai) and various grains added individually with continuous stirring until the popping sounds stop. This takes about a minute or two in most cases and depends on the cereal and the amount added. See pictures 1-7 for the kind of puffed cereals one may easily obtain without any special treatment. Not more than a table spoon at a time is recommended for the puffing step.. Flax seeds (picture 2) take the shortest time while jowar (picture 3) does not puff that well for the given patience levels. Wheat puffs mildly (picture 4; it is not like Kellog’s puffed wheat for example, but tastes much better) while it is tons of fun puffing rajgira (picture 1); bajra (picture 7) takes the longest while rice (picture 6) requires some soaking in water and some preplanning (not my forte).

The next step is to choose an appropriate amount of molasses (the darker organic variety is compulsory if you want the feel good factor) which you take in a thick kadai (picture 9). The amount of molasses taken in Fig 9 is sufficient if one takes one- to one-and-a-half table spoons each of the cereals). The molasses are heated with continuous stirring till caramelization (if that is the word) is initiated (Fig 10). A tea-spoon of water may be added for the inexperienced. Note that adding sugar or glucose is strictly taboo if you like the feel good factor unless your feel good factor is inclined towards what is seen in advertisements.

The molass is ready for use if it looks like Fig 10 as a rough guide; if you are doing it for the first time it is usually safer to wait just a little longer than when you think it is ready; alternatively you may ask your grandmother (especially if she is of the hep traditional type) who will tell you to see the way the syrup drips after it is taken out with a spoon--- the last drop must solidify on the spoon.

Once the molass is ready, the puffed cereals are poured in quickly stirred to a consistent paste and poured onto a oiled plate which is mildly pre-heated. It usually spreads slowly and uniformly with little coaxing by patting with the ladle. It is allowed to cool a bit and desired markings are made with a knife (picure 11). In this case, the molass was considered ready a bit too early. The pieces (chikkis) were taken out (with a broad flat knife) or rolled into balls (urundai) before fully solidifying (see Fig 12).

I used our dog (there was nobody else at that time) to test the tatse. So I gave him (Fig 13) different biscuits along with the chikkis. Like a proper thoroughbred fox terrier he saved the best (the chikkis) for the last. He seemed to eat them (Fig 14) with great relish.

I promised to keep the blog short at least once. Because of this I cannot go on any longer. I have, however, got to adhave a moral in the tale. My interest in this really stemmed from my search for finding a cheap substitute for oats for my breakfast, not only because it is expensive in this present stage of retirement but also because I refuse to believe that what had been reserved for horses should now be promoted as proper food for the upper strata. I may not believe in the famous definition in Samuel Johnson’s dictionary that oats is something that is eaten by people in Scotland and fit only for horses in England, simply because the retort of the Scots seemed to be prefect: “That’s why England has such fine horses and Scotland has such good men!”. But I certainly believe in the strength of the Maratha manus brought up on the traditional food of bajra, jowar, sprouted lentils. They are lean and str ong. It seems that after the rest of the Indian army have failed to make a break-through in their wars with Pakistan they usually call for the Maratha Light Infantry to bring things to a quick conclusion. The Marathi thugs or pindaris are also very strong ask any one who has been at the receiving end of a Shiv Sena slap would know.

Before I close this blog there are two common sense points I would like to make:-

The first of these is that the cereal grains are of different size and shapes so that the particles do not pack well in the jaggery or molass syrup. The chikkis could crumble easily if there is not optimum (conditions could be obtained from fluid dynamics of granular material if one wants for whatever reason) amount of stirring.

The second point is that cane-sugar molasses may not be as good for the health as sorghum molasses. The Americans knew about sorghum molasses from the early Africans who settled in their country and the Indians probably did use sorghum molasses until, say, the creative destruction (see my blog on Shiva’s Dance) of sugar-cane cultivation came in.