I’m pretty bananas for fermented foods—the flavors, the health benefits, the aliveness you can taste with each bite, and of course, the creative possibilities. In this post, I’m going to walk you through how to make kanji, a traditional Indian probiotic drink similar to beet kvass that also yields zingy, fermented “pickles” that can be enjoyed alone, or added to salads and wraps. It’s a two-for-one recipe, really.
Kanji is usually a combination of water, mustard seeds, beetroot and carrots. In northern India, purple carrots are plentiful during wintertime and used to create a rich, purple-colored beverage, so give those a try if you can find them. Kanji is often enjoyed before a meal, likely because it’s full of digestion-boosting friendly bacteria and enzymes—great for breaking down and assimilating a meal to come. In India, during the “spring festival of colors” known as Holi, vibrant-colored kanji is added to chickpea dumplings or fritters—this is something I’d like to try for sure.
Kanji has a pungent, zingy flavor that will be enjoyed by folks who like pickled foods, and beets. I know some of you are still on the fence about beets and if you’re going to try them, it will probably be in Cocoa-Beet Cupcakes first. That’s a-ok, I’ve listed some other fermented recipes you may want to try below.
3–4 pint-sized Mason jars, or 1 half-gallon Mason jar
Mortar & pestle or
*If you don’t have any of these, fill a plastic bag with seeds, seal, place flat on a cutting board and crack them open carefully with a hammer—kitchen-tool hacking at it’s best.
**If you don’t have cheesecloths, you can cut up old sheer curtains or muslin, old pantyhose, or a threadbare t-shirt.
1 large organic* beet
2–3 large organic carrots
1–3 tbsp mustard seeds (Chef’s choice)
6–7 cups spring water
*You definitely want to go organic here so the food is NOT radiated—you need live food to ferment.
Optional, but fun:
I sometimes add black lava sea salt, smoked sea salt, a pinch of cayenne and/or crushed red pepper. Purple cabbage gets thrown in the mix from time to time, which takes it away from kanji and closer to a kraut.
Let’s get started.
1. Crush mustard seeds with mortar and pestle—Chef’s choice if you want fine-ground or coarse-ground.
2. Wash your beet and carrots well, give the skin a scrub. You can peel off the skin or leave it intact. I prefer intact because that’s where a lot of natural yeasts live—they help ferment the liquid. Slice them into long pieces that will fit the height of your jars.
3. Fill jars with veggies.
4. Add mustard seeds and fill jars with water. Cover with cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band. Let the jar sit in a sunny spot on the counter for at least 5–7 days. Every day, with a sterile wooden spoon (or the handle of that spoon), give the mixture a stir.
Once drink tastes zingy/tangy, it’s fermented and ready! As it ferments, if you want to taste, use a clean, sterile spoon to lift out some kanji—don’t drink directly from the jar.
5. You can then strain the liquid and enjoy. Eat the pickles too.
Transfer both in sealed jars (with the jar lid) to the fridge to store—liquid-only for months and veggies-only for 7–10 days. I like to keep the liquid and veggies sealed together in jars in the fridge until ready to enjoy. See, when veggies are submerged in the salty, fermented brine, they can last for months (the salt protects from unfriendly bacteria and provides a playground for friendly bacteria to flourish). For example, I JUST went downstairs to have a shot of some kanji I made about 5 months ago and it was effervescent and scrumptious (pic below) and that color, just incredible. It went more magenta after time. Swoon…
Safety: Be sure that if you seal kanji in a jar and leave it for more than a week that you check on it often, releasing any gas build-up by unscrewing the lid. The coolness of the fridge slows fermentation activity (and the release of CO2), and container explosions seem to be more of a kombucha possibility, but better safe than sorry. Read more about storage and prep of fermented beverages/foods here.
Try these other fermented recipes:
Now, I want to hear from YU. Will you give kanji a try? If not, what fermented recipe listed above will you go for first? Tell us with a comment below.