Kaale Gaajar ki Kaanji
Come spring, Radha kaku would try and find out if her sister, Auntie Evie had any plans of coming down to Mumbai. Radha kaku had family roots up North in Delhi and Bathinda. She would pine for the kale gaajar ki kaanji every season, and somehow, through this one or that, she’d get her quota of the carrots or the kaanji. I was always happy to spend time in her kitchen, and that’s how I was first introduced to this addictive drink.
Kaale gaajar ki kanji is a fermented springtime drink, very popular in Delhi where the purple carrots are easily available. One mention of it and all the aunties will slip into nostalgia and tell you how they remember large glazed clay pots sunning on terraces, pristine white muslin tied securely over the mouths, purple carrots fermenting quietly and the ground mustard rising to the occasion. It’s a springtime ritual that no self-respecting North Indian will miss, and I must confess, I start craving for it myself.
Purple carrots are not found in Mumbai. At all. They do have a distinctive, earthy, woody flavor of their own, and while red carrots and beets make a near substitute, they’re not quite the real thing. So when my food blogger friend, Reeta Skeeter , offered to send me some all the way from Delhi, I decided not to be polite (I wasn’t going to say, ”No, no, don’t bother!” and risk not getting any carrots) and sent her the address right away. Sure enough, they arrived in a couple of days, neatly packaged in an innocent-looking box. Earthy, deep purple carrots, waiting to bleed.
I got to work right away and with memories of Radha Kaku’s drink guiding me, put the kanji to sun. Every few hours, I would steal a tablespoonful of the kanji under the pretext of checking how it was coming along. They say you must let it ferment for at least five days, but with temperatures in Mumbai soaring to 40 degrees centigrade in the day, I decided three days was enough. Also, I couldn’t wait any longer.
At the end of the three days, the purple carrots bled their color into the mustard-spiked water and what I was left with was this beautiful, deep purple-pink liquid. As I write this, I am sitting with an enormous glass of kanji by the side, and am stopping the sipping only to bite into an occasional baton of pickled carrot. Welcome, summer. And welcome back, childhood.
Read the recipe and see more pictures here!