Acidity was hindering the daily lifestyle of Hyderabad-based techie, Srikanth Gonuguntla. On the suggestion of an Ayurvedic expert, he went on a 90-day diet of whole foods like millets and vegetarian curries, with no dairy and non-vegetarian food. “After the 90-day diet I now feel lighter and more energetic,” says Srikanth.
Found to have been first cultivated in Hallur, Karnataka, ragi or finger millet has been known to be used as a staple food since the stone age. It is widely cultivated across Africa and Asia. Popular for its cooling and relaxing properties, it can be used as a substitute for buttermilk and coconut water during the hot summers. Most farmers in the Rayalseema (Anantapur, Chittoor, Kadapa and Kurnool) region of Andhra Pradesh and neighbouring states relish lumps of ragi flour rolled into balls. Known as ragi sangati (finger millet lumps or balls) in Andhra Pradesh, ragi mudde in Karnataka, and ragi kali in Tamil Nadu, these are relished by farmers after a day of hard work. Ragi sangati is a storehouse of nutrients and a rich source of fibre. It is believed to reduce cholesterol and controls diabetes. It is eaten in combination with dal or chutney in Andhra and with saaru (rasam) in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. This high-calorie food item keeps the stomach full for hours which explains its popularity among farmers.
Ragi is an underrated gluten-free grain which has a lot going for it. Mumbai-based nutritionist Kavita Devgan says ragi is packed with cellulose, a type of dietary fibre, that aids digestion, keeps constipation away and cholesterol in check. “It is an ideal food for diabetics and overweight people as its digestion is slow and glucose is released from the intestines gradually into the blood stream,” says Devgan.
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In April, the United Nations declared 2023 as the International Year of Millets. This initiative was sponsored by India and supported by 70 nations. Millets is not only a healthy food, it is considered to be a climate-friendly grain that can address concerns related to food security, agrarian crisis and nutritional challenges. India is the largest producer of millets worldwide, commanding just over 40 percent of the global market share. Ragi is also a self-sustaining crop with a longer shelf life and is hardly affected by insects and moulds which makes it an important crop for poorer farmers. Millets were found to be more resilient to climate change in the face of extreme weather than rice, according to the Data Science Institute at Columbia University.
Saisree, a HR professional with Kantar GDC, regularly prepares ragi sangati during summer. “It is best eaten hot and while some like adding more rice to the ragi flour, I prefer a 1 to 1.5 ratio of rice and ragi, it is a favourite with my younger daughter and I prepare it even in winters just for her,” says Saisree.
With many people embracing healthy eating since the lockdown, traditional food and recipes using millets have made a comeback. Ragi can be eaten in many forms. Ragi flour cooked in milk and sugar makes for an energising healthy drink for children, and it is also popular as a weaning food for babies. It can also be used to make roti, dosa, sangati/mudde, idli, upma, laddu and porridge.
Rayalseema Ruchulu is a popular restaurant which has four outlets in Hyderabad and serves traditional Rayalseema food. “Ragi sangati is a timeless classic and pairs well with gutti vankaya curry (round brinjal curry), peanut chutney, dal, gongura mamsam (meat with sorrel leaves) and natu kodi pulusu (country chicken curry),” says owner Uttam Reddy.
“Both ragi dosa and idli are a family favourite, and I prepare them frequently,” says Bengaluru-based Vasanthi Ramesh, who works in an IT firm. She prepares instant ragi dosa on demand, on those lazy days when there’s nothing for dinner. Ragi mudde with saaru is a personal favourite for her and her husband.
Recipe of ragi mudde
Half cup ragi powder
One-fourth cup rice
1 cup water
Salt to taste
Gently simmer one cup of water.
Add in the washed rice and cook till almost done.
Add salt and the ragi flour to the cooked rice and turn the heat to low.
Mix well and keep stirring till the batter comes together as a ball of dough.
Turn off the heat, cover it and allow to cool.
Transfer the mixture to a plate.
Grease your fingers with ghee and divide the dough into 2 or 3 portions.
Make balls from each portion immediately. Keep your fingers moistened, and be careful as the mix will be hot. In Rayalseema, they prefer adding ghee to the balls after or while rolling.
Most gravy curries pair well with ragi sangati.
The rice should preferably be starchy and easy to mash.
In Karnataka, rice isn't added and the mudde is made with just the ragi flour. It is consumed with a gravy, saaru or dal.
Kavitha Yarlagadda is an independent writer based in Hyderabad.