I often see Whole Ragi (Finger Millet) in the Indian grocery store and wonder if this is one of those grains that I can work with – you know, maybe make a modern whole-grain salad out of it…
Yeah, that did not happen and you will see why below…
But, before we jump into the experiments, let’s find out what is the big deal about Ragi (Finger Millet)? Yes, yes, I know it is a calcium powerhouse. But apart from that?
Did you know – that once harvested, ragi is seldom attacked by insects or molds? Finger millet seeds are so small that weevils cannot squeeze inside.
In fact, its unthreshed heads resist storage pests so well they can be stored for 10 years or more without insect damage. (It is said that if kept dry the seed may remain in good condition for up to 50 years!) The long storage capacity makes finger millet an important crop in risk-avoidance strategies as a famine crop for farming communities.
Isn’t that cool to know? With climate change threat hovering, farmers may have to keep hardy grains like Ragi in their tool belt to battle major changes.
Anyhow, once you powder Ragi though, that’s a different story. The lifespan then reduces due to oxidation. But, if you have the old whole ragi seeds back in the closet, don’t be afraid to use it, my friend.
This is whole Ragi…
Kind of looks like a mustard seed, doesn’t it?? The Finger Millet has 5 layers. Once the husk is removed after harvesting, the remaining layers are what we see in the whole ragi.
The endosperm that you see below is the largest anatomical component and rich in carbohydrates, which is what most ragi flour contains.
You may be wondering why they have not yet developed a de-hulled ragi – kind of like how you get white rice strip away the bran from brown rice. Scientists in India are trying to develop that process also.
However, they encountered the crunchy ragi problem. “While the de‐hulled millet is not considered locally acceptable to be consumed as rice, since it remains a bit crunchy, there is a wide variety of products that can be made with the dehulled millet further processed into flour.”
I will be showcasing this crunchy-ragi problem in detail below….Folks familiar with Glycemic Index will know, that it is better to stay with the whole, intact grain. The finer the flour, the more the rise of sugar in your body in response to it.
BUT, because of the botanical structure of ragi and it behaves like a utricle rather than a caryopsis, there is a distinct taste difference between the inside (endosperm) of the ragi and its outer covering.
If that’s too intense, don’t worry about the botanical aspect of it, have fun with my cooking experiments below instead…and you can laugh at my Whole Ragi vs Swetha experiments. I was all like “Neeya Naana” (you or me?) in my efforts to consume whole ragi. And I like to believe it was a tie :)…
Without further ado, here are my experiments with whole ragi.
I soaked it overnight…
One portion of the soaked ragi – I decided to pop them.
It took a few tries, but once I got the hang of it, it was fairly simple to pop them on a dry heat. But because the ragi is so small, my kitchen floor was a mess at the end of it, with tiny ragi seeds escaping all over the place!!
The kitchen smelled like popcorn. But, it doesn’t taste quite like popcorn. The outer lining of ragi is so fibrous that even after popping it, it felt grainy (sandy) in the mouth.
Another problem with popping ragi is that it is already dark in color. Not all ragi pop inside out to show the white insides (unlike amaranth or popcorn).
If you wait for all to turn completely white, you may end up burning them without realizing due to the dark color of the grain. So, start with small batches and get comfortable with the process before tackling larges batches.
Since, eating popped ragi was not very appealing, I figured I might as well make Huri Hittu powder (popped ragi powder).
Since the carbs are cooked while popping, this acts as an instant use powder and is sold in Karnataka to make porridge or laddoos.
I tried to powder them in my coffee grinder. But, it was still so coarse. Dammnn…this is one hard grain.
Vitamix Dry Jar – you are up, next. This will prove whether you are worth the big bucks I paid for you!! Vo’la!!
Slightly deaf from the grinding, and 1 minute later – Ta – da!! Homemade Ragi Huri Hittu ready.
All the fine grinding in the world cannot convert the texture of the hard outer fibrous covering. You still feel it in your tongue when you eat it. At this point, I could easily sieve the mixture and get rid of the fibrous outer layer.
But, I chose not to. I was determined to eat the grain – fiber and all. But, definitely not as a drink. A ragi drink will sink the fiber to the bottom.
Aha – ragi laddoo it is. Throw in some dates, almond butter and yes – a delicious whole grain ragi laddoo was ready!! Kid and adult approved – Yes!! 1 win for me.
Now, let’s get back to the other part of the soaked ragi – I let it sprout for 2 days
Aww…look how cute it looks..
At this point, if I had roasted it to stop the germination process and then powdered it, it would be called Malted Ragi.
But, I didn’t want yet another powder, so I decided to pressure cook it.
Pressure Cook it (Sprouted Ragi)
I pressure cooked it with 1:1.5 water ratio for about 12 minutes (standard rice setting)
Tried tasting it – yeah, it was terrible. The outside tastes like fiber and crunchy, but not in a good way. Ok, so maybe I better grind it….
Grind, grind, grind…
Oh, now it looks watery…let me add some ragi flour.
Oh, look, it is coming together. Let this mixture sit in the cooker steam to cook off the added ragi flour.
After it cooled, got to make ragi mudde.
Aha – 100% ragi mudde, not filtering out the fiber….
Finally – Tasting time!!
Tasted terrible….could not get rid of the fibrous feeling.
Had to throw it out. This one has to be written as 1 loss.
Maybe I could have cooked it more, maybe I could have blended it longer…I have made ragi Mudde’s in the past with pure ragi flour and they have come out well. But I was not successful with the pressure cooked, germinated whole ragi.
Ferment Whole Ragi
One traditional way to use up whole ragi is ragi dosa and my aunt had given me a heads-up that it will be a good way to use up the whole grain ragi. So, not much of a surprise there that whole ragi gets tamed in the soaking + fermentation process and gives excellent, crispy dosas.
Since we are going to ferment anyway, why not add a mini-experiment to it? Why not see if there is a difference in the dosas if the batter is 100% ragi vs a batter made with ragi + rice.
You see, I always wanted to know when my mom or aunt will say something like: take 1 cup of rice, 1 cup of ragi, 1/2 cup urad to make dosa. And I would always wonder why not use whole ragi (substitute any grain of choice here)…why should we add rice to every darn South Indian thing??
Here we go:
I soaked overnight 1 part ragi (plain with urad + methi seeds).
The other part was ragi + rice (+ urad + methi seeds)
Then ground into batter and ferment. After fermentation, this is how 100% ragi (grain portion) looks like:
As you can see, the pure ragi batter is a little grainy and less viscous.
Now, this is how the batter looks like with the addition of parboiled rice.
The ragi + rice is a whiter, creamier batter. And I finally realized that the starchiness of the rice makes the batter smoother. In my mind, I feel like the ground rice creates a viscous blanket for the ragi particles to sit inside.
Anyway, I made dosa with both the batters and this is how it looked:
When making the dosa, when you compare the batter spreadability – The batter with rice wins.
Looks – The ragi dosa looks more grey (reflecting the ragi color) and the dosa with the rice has a lighter hue.
The taste of the dosa – I think both tasted great. My kids liked the batter with rice better. The strong flavor of ragi gets muted with the rice. So, it really comes down to personal choice.
Anyway, the good news is that the crunchy ragi problem is finally solved when making dosas. There was absolutely no one who detected the fiber of the whole ragi in the dosas. The fermentation process, I think, softened even the hardest outer layer.
I can say with confidence that if you buy whole ragi, go ahead and make dosas.
Or you can pop them!!
For any other recipe, you are probably better off sieve-ing them to remove the peri-carp layer.
This concludes my experiments with whole ragi. Stay tuned for Part 2 coming soon with my experiments using coarse ragi and ragi flour.
Do you have any family stories on how they used whole ragi? If yes, share them in the comments below. As always, I love to hear from all of you….Other readers looking for info on ragi will benefit from your input as well.
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