If you, like me, are a lifelong believer in the marvels of synaesthesia and have always wondered what petrichor tastes like, you are sure to find deliverance in a bowl of warm tizaan, the almost terracotta-red speckled, sweet Goan porridge, deliciously thick and comforting, that showcases ragi, or finger millet, as its main ingredient; coconut milk and the caramel-y madachem god (pyramid-shaped dark palm jaggery) are supporting acts. The last lending the dish an earthy, warm flavour that almost tastes like what petrichor might.
It fits in perfectly with two very au courant phenomena. To begin with, the rainy season—we are in the thick of it—sees a host of Goan cuisine monsoon millet specials—like tizaan and another ragi-based drink/porridge called ambil—coming to the fore. After all, millet is among the first crops to have been domesticated in India and Indians have been consuming it for eons.
Secondly, the unmissable “millet as a superfood” whirlwind we find ourselves caught up in. This one, getting a lot of heft from the widely believed health benefits of millets, said to be rich in dietary fibre, protein, calcium and iron. Then there’s the whole United Nations declaration (at the behest of the Indian government) of 2023 as the International Year of Millets.
For A Rainy Day…
Circling back to Goa and its monsoon specials, we find ragi (or nachani, as we call it in Konkani) taking top spot. While tizaan is made traditionally by soaking the finger millet overnight and then grinding it with fresh coconut, a quicker cook can be achieved by simply using ragi flour in a slurry with ready coconut milk and the almost black-hued palm jaggery. Eaten hot—I prefer it cold—tizaan is a restorative elixir for all ages.
Ambil, on the other hand, is a savoury, fermented pink-hued ragi drink I like to enjoy as a porridge. This is achieved by adding a little more than the usual amount of ragi flour to water-coconut milk slurry to which a bit of salt has been added. But it is the final tempering with curry leaves, mustard seeds and chilli that makes the scrumptious ragi ambil a must-have for me. Interestingly, a version of the Goan ambil can also be found in neighbouring Karnataka. Known as ragi ambali, it substitutes coconut milk with buttermilk for a deliciously tangy mouthfeel.
Palm jaggery is also crucial to another Goan monsoon porridge. Simply called vonn (also known as soji in south Goa), this one is akin to the divine Tamil sakkarai pongal. A rather complex porridge, vonn is made with a host of ingredients, chief among them being coconut milk and chana dal (split Bengal gram), bits of which are cleverly left whole in the preparation for texture. The major difference between tizaan and this dish is the way vonn must be eaten: always warm, as opposed to tizaan’s tripartite hot-warm-cold versatility.
One that would find fond favour with a certain Miss Goldilocks, I am sure!
3 tbsp ragi flour
1 cup coconut milk (half thick and half thin)
One-fourth cup + 1 cup water
5 tbsp grated palm jaggery
Half tsp ground cardamom (optional)
One-fourth tsp salt
A few raisins and chopped cashew nuts (optional)
1. Mix the ragi flour with the one-fourth cup water to make a smooth slurry.
2. In a thick bottom saucepan mix the coconut milk, 1 cup of water, the grated jaggery, salt, and optional ground cardamom.
3. Stir well and then add the ragi flour mixture. Heat the mix with constant stirring on medium heat till the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon.
4. Add in the optional raisins and chopped cashew nuts, and continue cooking the mixture for another two minutes on a low flame.
5. Once taken off the stove serve warm ladled into bowls or polished coconut shell halves.
6. If one prefers it cold, refrigerate till chilled.
Raul Dias is a Mumbai-based food and travel writer.