Millet flours are not too easy to work with. They don't bind well and become dense after coking. But they pack great flavours and nutrients for good health. Ragi flour is my favourite of all the millet flours because of easier availability as well as the rustic flavours it imparts to everything you cook. Some people say ragi is too gritty or sandy and that it doesn't take flavours well. I agree to the flavours part because ragi is itself a earthy nutty flavour that doesn't take delicate flavours too well, but add the Indian spices to ragi and see how ragi rocks. Regarding ragi being sandy and gritty, I say you haven't experimented enough with ragi if you say so. Or you haven't had ragi the traditional way.
How to use ragi flour in that case? I was reminded of this ragi based thalipeeth I had cooked and photographed last year when a friend from Assam told me she has procured 2 kilos of ragi with great difficulty and asked me how to use it well. Obviously she doesn't want to waste her efforts and the ingredient procured with much difficulty.
One thing to note about all millets in general is that these have a thicker seed coat that results in a coarser flour and since there is no gluten in them the kneaded dough is not sticky and doesn't bind well. But once you add hot water or cook the millet flour with water to make a thick slurry, the starches are released and make the dough sticky enough to roll easily. This slurry can be made thin and use to knead more flour into it or it can be cooked really thick and later can be kneaded to make the dough. See how ragi roti is made using this method.
Ragi idli steams after a long soaking time and fermentation too so the idli is also really soft and you never find the dryness or sandiness you fear about ragi. Dosa made with ragi is perfectly crisp without any trace of the dreaded dryness for the same reason of prolonged soaking time and fermentation.
If ragi is being used for something instant like a ragi cake, waflles, pancake or a flat bread, the best way is to use more grated fruits (in the case of sweet recipes) or vegetables along with the batter so the ragi particles hydrate more while cooking and result in a soft texture. Ragi bread bakes well with added potato slurry for making it moist. Also to note that the serving portion of ragi roti or flatbread will be almost half of the regular wheat bread because ragi is much more filling than wheat and keeps one full for longer. The wonders of low Glycemic index grains.
Now let's see the recipe of ragi thalipeeth with seasonal vegetables, some seeds and amla thrown in for boosting immunity. Thalipeeth is a savoury pancake or flat bread or something in between the two and it is a specialty of Maharashtra, made using roasted mixed grains and lentils flour. You get thalipeeth bhajni (the roasted mixed grain flour for thalipeeth) in stores and just make thalipeeth the way you want it. This ragi thalipeeth will be very different in taste from the authentic one but since ragi flour is as corse as the thalipeeth bhajni, I call this recipe a ragi thalipeeth.
(2-3 meal servings and leftovers if you are a small eater)
ragi flour 3/4 cup or 1 cup
grated cauliflower 1 cup
finely chopped onion 2 tbsp
chopped green garlic 2-3 tbsp
chopped coriander greens 1/4 cup packed
minced green chilly and ginger to taste
grated amla 1 or 1 tbsp
mixed seeds 1 tbsp (I used sun flowers and sesame seeds)
flax seed meal 1 tbsp
salt and pepper to taste
thin buttermilk 1/2 cup or as required
ghee for cooking the thalipeeth on a flat skillet 1 tsp or a bit more for each one
mix everything except the ghee and buttermilk together and massage the mixture together so the water from the vegetables makes the flour mixture moist. Add the buttermilk slowly and make a loose dough. Divide in 6-7 portions.
Now heat a skillet, preferably a cast iron flat skillet (tawa) and grease with ghee. Take a portion of the dough and flatten it over the skillet using your fingers or a wet spatula.The consistency is like a butter cookie dough or even looser than that. Once the flat bread is about 6-8 mm thick make three holes using the tip of a knife to drizzle ghee into them. This allows even cooking and crisp textures both sides of the thalipeeth.
Flip and cook both sides till crisp outside and still soft in the middle. Serve hot with raita and tomato salsa or whatever you feel like.
Here is another thalipeeth made with the authentic thalipeeth bhajni my dear friend Suranga sent me from Bombay. This one I made with chopped methi (fenugreek greens) added to it and made only one hole in the center as the dough was a bit more crumbly than ragi dough. This authentic thalipeeth tastes a bit more toasty and nutty due to the roasted and then milled mix of lentils and grains. These are the traditional ways to neutralize phytates found in grains and lentils.
This made a perfect breakfast for me along with a sooran ki chutney, idli podi and a small masala omelet. I have serve thalipeeth with my soups several times, just a quarter of thalipeeth is enough for a soup. Thalipeeth makes perfect crusty crisp flatbread for a soup.
Thalipeeth will make it easier to accommodate more vegetables in the meals and use more and more millets too for everyday meals. Try it with ragi or other millet flours, use any seasonal vegetables and have a new bread every day. Thalipeeth must have been developed over the years to bring more variety into the flat breads of rural homes back in time.