Ramzan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is considered a month of spiritual reflection by Muslims who fast from dawn to sunset, pray and engage in charity work. While this is the norm for Muslims around the globe, like every festival in India, certain rituals around Ramzan too are localised.
A different Iftar in every state
Iftar or breaking the fast around sunset is one such ritual that has local cuisine taking centre stage, along with the traditional dates and bread. Each state has its own Iftar spread that reflects the region’s local traditions, lifestyle and seasonal produce. In Kerala and Tamil Nadu in the south of India, one distinct Ramzan food served at Iftar is the Nombu Kanji.
In the Muslim households of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, Nombu Kanji, a pure vegetarian porridge is a much-loved Iftar item. While it is hard to tell how a vegetarian porridge came to be appreciated by a population that is known to love their meat, a possible explanation is that meat delicacies may not have been affordable to a lot of people in the past and rice rose to the occasion to be a filling, energy-rich food to break the fast.
Making Nombu Kanji
Nombu translates to fast and kanji is porridge. Nombu Kanji is a rice-based porridge that is also called Jeeraka Kanji (jeera porridge) in certain places. Nombu Kanji, however, is not your regular kanji and this porridge comes with its own healthy additions and twists. And not everyone makes the same style of Nombu Kanji everywhere. One kind of Nombu Kanji, made mostly in Kerala, has a lot of local spices and coconut going into its making.
To make nombu kanji, rice, mostly jeera kasala rice or matta rice (which is specific to Kerala), is pressure cooked with Ashaali seeds or Halim seeds (Garden cress), fenugreek seeds, coriander seeds and turmeric powder. Extra water is used while pressure cooking so the consistency of the porridge is maintained. To this, a paste of grated coconut, jeera, shallots and coriander powder is added and mixed well.
As a finishing touch and for some extra aroma, shallots are sliced, sauteed with ghee and poured into the porridge. While this is one way of preparing Nombu Kanji, there are certain places where the rice is washed, soaked and pounded before it is used to make the porridge. Some people make their Nombu Kanji like khichdi, where moong dal is also used but with a south Indian touch whereas in some places chicken or meat is added to the porridge.
Nombu Kanji is an excellent dish to break a day-long fast as it is light and filling at the same time. Even if you’re not a Muslim, and simply looking for a wholesome, nutritious meal option to end your day, Nombu Kanji is what you need.