The desert’s bounty: Ker Sangri

One of Rajasthan's most popular dishes, the berries of the khejri trees and the slender sangri beans make for a brilliant piquant pickle

Written by Alpana Lath Sawai | Mumbai | Updated: February 18, 2016 1:51:07 pm
Tuskers' Ker Sangri ki Subzi_759_Sofitel Mumbai BKC Ker sangri is one of the most underrated dishes on the Rajasthani menu, despite being a staple side dish in every thali. (Source: Sofitel Mumbai BKC)

The Ker Sangri pickle does not make for food porn. It is essentially dried black berries and twiggy beans soaked in mustard oil with whole red chillies and tart raw mango — making it look like a scene from a Quentin Tarantino-film depicting a violent bloodbath.

Ker sangri is also one of the most underrated dishes on the Rajasthani menu, and often sidelined by the lal dal ki puri — which is served with it. Lal dal ki puri is a handkerchief-thin paratha stuffed with an intensely spiced lentil (moong). ‘Stuffed’ creates an impression of a paratha packed with veggies, but lal dal ki puri is a thin, richly-flavoured roomali roti made with one part wheat flour and one part maida.

    

The story of ker sangri is a story of survival in the Thar desert, in Rajasthan. The desert sun enervates all manner of vegetation, but not the ker and the khejri trees — the fruits or pods of which are called sangri. These tenacious trees have roots that go deep into the soil — so deep, in fact, that they can store enough water for seven months. The berries of ker and pods of the khejri tree are the ingredients that lend the ker sangri its umami.

“The fun of Rajasthani food is that it was often made of ingredients that were dried and stored because of the nature of the seasons there. Ker sangri is very good for travelling. Its seasoning makes it like a pickle, and it’s good to carry especially when you’re going abroad. Ker sangri is all about what you eat it with. I like to eat it with fried puris, or lal dal ki puri,” says Anju Poddar, an author whose many books curate aspects of Indian culture.

While the ker sangri finds top billing at restaurants in Rajasthan, and is even served as a part of the main course — as a dry side dish to be eaten with rotis or rice — it is no longer a staple in Marwari homes. Instead, it is increasingly being used to headline Marwari buffets. That may be because making ker sangri is no easy task. Delhi-based businesswoman Sarika Khandelwal says that her mother-in-law is the expert ker sangri maker at home. “I know how to make it, but I don’t. It’s complicated with many spices and ingredients. The sangri should be barik (thin), and not be allowed to change colour while being cooked. The ker should be small and should remain yellow.”

When Mumbaiites want a fix of ker sangri and dal ki puri, they turn to Suman Rungta’s catering service — S R Foods. Marwaris, too, often order from her whenever there’s a party in the works.”There are many ways in which ker and sangri can be made. You can have sangri with curd, or kadhi. The ker can be had fried. The same goes for the sangri as well. Gujaratis love sangri because it is a dry vegetable that they consume during Padushan — a Jain festival involving a long fasting period.” Rungta uses fresh, tangy berries sourced straight from Nagaur in Rajasthan.

While ker sangri is being made less frequently in India, there are Marwaris settled abroad who can’t have enough of it. “It is sometimes impossible to find ingredients from one part of India in another. But outside India, all the stores are ‘Indian’. They keep almost all possible things from every part of the country,” says blogger Anshu Bhatnagar, who is originally from Jodhpur and moved to the US eight years ago. Bhatnagar finds herself cooking and eating her favourite dish often. “I still remember my mom cooking ker sangri in a large quantity, and us enjoying it for many days,” she says.

Learn how to make ker sangri pickle using this recipe.

Where to buy ker and sangri:

Mumbai

* Chheda stores

Price: Ker (100g) – Rs 200, sangri (100g) – Rs 140

Address: Chheda stores, in Santacruz (W) market

Contact: 26491646

* Aarti Collection

Price: Ker (1kg) – Rs 1,600, sangri (1kg) – Rs 1,000

Address: Aarti Collection at Chandralok, Napean Sea Road

Contact: 23686302

* Marwadi specialty store

Address: Marwadi specialty store, Malad (W), Station Road, behind MM Mithaiwala

Kolkata

* Bhagya Laxmi

Address: Bhagya Laxmi, Ballygunge

Contact: 033 2289 5278

* Vijay Laxmi

Price: Ker (1kg) – Rs 1,200, sangri (1kg) – Rs 800

Adress: Vijay Laxmi, Lord Sinha Road

Contact: 2282 7636

* Marwadi stores

Address: Marwadi stores, Barabazar

* New Shah Store

Address: New Shah Store, Hungerford Street

Hyderabad

* Balaji Supermarket

Price: Ker (100g) – Rs 210, sangri (100g) – Rs 105

Address: Balaji Supermarket, Basheer Bagh

Contact: 23224949

* Marwadi stores

Marwadi stores, Monda Market, Secunderabad

Marwadi stores, Begum Bazar

New Delhi

* Marwari Hari Mirch

Price: Ker (1kg) – Rs 1,000, sangri (1kg) – Rs 1,200

Address: Marwari Hari Mirch, Jwalaheri Market, Paschim Puri

Contact: 25270586 keeps ker at Rs 1,000 per kg and sangri at Rs 1,200 per kg.

* Marwadi stores

Address: Marwadi stores, Khari Baoli, Chandni Chowk

Bangalore

* Marwadi stores

Address: Marwadi stores, Koramangla

Chennai

* Marwadi stores

Address: Marwadi stores, Sowcarpet

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