Koozh: The Umami Rich Fermented Porridge From Tamil Nadu

Fermented foods have played an integral role in the rich Indian culinary history, offering a multitude of benefits, from enhanced health to the delightful complexity of umami flavours. Among the vast variety of fermented delicacies, Koozh, or Ragi (finger millet) Koozh, stands as a perfect example of the creativity of Indian cuisine. This humble porridge dish from Tamil Nadu transforms the often hard-to-digest ragi into a food that is both light and satisfying. It boasts a remarkable nutritional profile, explores textures and binding techniques, and demonstrates an intricate understanding of culturing processes, including the precise use of clay pots to maintain optimal fermentation temperatures. Koozh is a comforting food that, though not always celebrated in urban and global contexts, has remained an essential, affordable, and delicious staple for many. 

Koozh is often overlooked or considered a lost dish. However, for many, these foods have always been an integral part of daily life—accessible, economical, and deeply satisfying. To those who have grown up with Koozh, the sudden interest of city dwellers in this simple recipe can be quite amusing. Koozh serves as a reminder that we are, in a sense, recovering what others have known and cherished for generations. 

Koozh is not confined to a single recipe; it is a versatile dish that adapts to regional and individual preferences. The classic Koozh is a fermented preparation of ragi and rice, but variants can incorporate diverse elements, such as tamarind or vendayam/methi, offering a spectrum of savoury and sweet possibilities. Koozh can be fermented or not, depending on the desired outcome. The versatility of Koozh also leads to its close relative, Morkali, a fermented rice-based breakfast dish or snack. 

Morkali, like Koozh, exhibits a wide range of textures, from custardy to solid. It can be prepared with or without fermentation, offering shortcuts with the use of sour buttermilk for those looking for a quick fix. The term Mor in this context alludes to the buttermilk, the buttermilk-like batter, the soured flavours, or a combination of these elements.  

Ragi flour, salt, and enough water to make a loose batter are combined with your hands and allowed to ferment for at least eight hours (overnight is ideal) before being used to make Koozh. The rice grains are then added and the mixture is simmered over low heat until it thickens. After it has cooled, it is rolled into balls and placed in the fridge. To serve, simply mix the desired amount of buttermilk with the dissolved ball and enjoy! Usually accompanied by chopped shallots and a kara kuzhambu (a spicy curry made with tamarind). 

Ragi Koozh Recipe 

½ cup ragi flour 

¼ cup medium-grain rice 

Buttermilk or yogurt, to serve 

Shallots, to serve 

Salt, to taste 

Method: Mix 1/4 teaspoon of salt with the ragi flour in a bowl. Add more water if necessary to form a thin, loose batter. As you add more water, stir it together with your fingertips. Once you've reached the desired consistency, give it another thorough mix to eliminate any remaining lumps. Leave uncovered in a warm place for about 8 hours, or overnight. Before cooking the rice, wash it several times in clean water. It only takes half an hour for the rice to dry when spread out on a clean tea towel. Coarsely blend. Pour the rice and 2 cups of water into a pot with a tight-fitting lid. Cook the rice covered until it is soft and cooked through. (After the rice is done cooking, you may still have some water left over in the pot). Set the heat to the very low level. Pour the fermented ragi batter into the pot while stirring the rice all the time. Mix in 1 cup of water. If it starts to stick together, add more water. Mix it up often. So it doesn't stick to the bottom, you need enough water. Rub the ragi and rice mix between your fingers to see if it's done. It's done when it doesn't stick. Keep cooking until it gets there. Wait until it's cool enough to touch before taking it off the heat. Roll into balls or put in the fridge as is after it has cooled. It stays good for 5–6 days in the fridge. To serve break the balls using your fingers, and add salt and buttermilk (or yoghurt mixed with water). Alternatively, you can use a blender to mix the balls with yoghurt or buttermilk.