Thursday, July 30, 2009

Oats Kanji A La Shobhaa (Sweet/Savory Porridge)

Versatile and nutritious, oats kanji is wholesome and quick to make. Oats, whether rolled into flakes or steelcut, are rich in fiber - especially the soluble kind which helps reduce cholesterol and the other minerals, vitamins, and phytochemicals in them reduce the risk of many diseases and promote health in various ways.

Oats always conjures up feelings of comfort and love for me. I used to be the "dubbawali"*, carrying the sweet oats kanji for my grandfather's special breakfast. My grandmother made it with lots of fresh milk and sugar. As my grandfather was long gone from the house to oversee the many activities on his farm, I was usually entrusted with taking the kanji to him. The job was not without its merits - grandfather always insisted on sharing some of the delicious kanji with me ;). Mm, What a treat!!

Our other grandfather had oats kanji with milk and a banana every day too - he had it in the evening for his supper! He had given up regular food for his evening meal as a part of "vanaprastha", the third stage of life according to the ancient Indian philosophy called Sanatana Dharma meaning Eternal Righteousness. It was part of his disciplined way of life to rise every morning before dawn to do his exercises and meditations; he lived to be almost a hundred without any ailments whatsoever! He was impeccable in all aspects of hygiene and personal discipline including his laundry - he washed and ironed his own clothes meticulously even in his eighties. The only luxury he allowed himself was two Marie biscuits with his supper on occasion. And since he treated all the children present with a biscuit or two, he never lacked for company at supper time!

* A "dubbawali (f) or dubbawala (m)", literally translated as 'box person', is someone who carries lunch boxes to students and office workers. Our particular dubbawala balanced many dubbas (stacked lunch containers similar to a Japanese bento box) in a large basket on his bicycle. It is amazing to me now that the food came perfectly on time, still piping hot with nary a mix up!!

Do use regular (as opposed to instant) grains for the kanji; it really does not take much more time than the instant. The taste alone is worth the time and effort. Steel cut oats will require a lot more time than rolled oats; you can also use a multigrain cereal which contains many cracked/rolled grains such as rye, wheat, and barley in addition to oats.

Once you have the basic kanji, you can choose either sweet or savory - add milk (any kind) and sugar or salt and buttermilk or yogurt. Both are delicious. Shobhaa's favorite way is to make it the savory by adding a few drops of the fiery red sauce from Kaduku Mangai Pickles (also known as Vadumangai - tiny mangoes flavored with mustard seeds and chilies) and serve some roasted papadams on the side to add a bit of crunch - yummy!

2 Servings
Each Serving of Basic Kanji prepared with oats contains: 75 Calories; 2.5 g Protein; 1.5 g Fat; 13 g Carbohydrates; 2 g Fiber.

Basic Oats Kanji


1/2 cup Rolled or Steelcut Oats
2 cups Water

1 cup Yogurt/Buttermilk + Salt to taste


1 cup Milk, any type + Sugar/Sweetener to taste

Optional Toppings/Sides:

Savory: Indian Pickles, Chutneys, Papadams
Sweet: ground cardamom, cinnamon, Jaggery, honey, pure maple syrup, diced bananas, berries, nuts


Make the basic kanji: Bring the water to a boil in a 2 quart/liter pan. Add the oats with a pinch of salt and cook stirring until oats are soft. Or after returning the mixture to a good rolling boil, turn off heat, cover and let it sit for 5 minutes. Rolled oats cooks quickly and does not need a long cooking time.

Steelcut oats will require more time to cook; cook according to package directions. Cover and let sit until cooled slightly. The basic kanji can be prepared ahead up to this point, reserved in the fridge, and reheated as necessary. A pressure cooker can speed up the cooking considerably.

At this point you can choose one of the options or if you want to try both ways, mix one half with milk and the other with the buttermilk.

For the Yogurt/Buttermilk option, simply mix salt and yogurt/buttermilk into the kanji and serve with toppings of your choice. Add more yogurt/buttermilk as needed. Serve warm or cool.

For the sweet kanji, add hot, warm, or cold milk and sugar or your favorite sweetener to taste. More milk can be added if you prefer a thinner kanji. Serve hot or warm with your favorite toppings.


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