Ven Pongal And Gosthu

The month of ‘Maargazhi’ occurs between 15 Dec-14 January, according to the Tamil Lunar calendar. Next to summer, this is the best time to be in Southern India. Why? Apart from being the coldest month, it’s the religious fervor that prevails throughout. Temple worship start as early as 4:30 in the morning. The streets are adorned with big, bright kolams(drawings made with rice flour), decorated with squash blossoms; groups of devotees rally through the streets singing hymns; Carnatic musicians treat our ears and souls with music that has lived through centuries. The air is cool, crisp and fresh.

Kolam - drawn using rice flour, adorning the entrance of our house, back at the village

I vividly remember my early morning walks to the temple, while I was a teenager. I would walk slowly taking all this in, as much as I can. Getting up early never seemed dreary, as there was enough motivation. The hymns that are sung by all of us in the temple, still seem to reverberate in my ears. My friends and I, used to giggle and sing as loud as we can. More than devotion, it was the energy that attracted me toward this practice, in that age.

And then there is the food. Obviously, why would kids go to temple at such an early hour. Pongal, a soft, smooth and luscious rice-lentil dish, specked with black pepper, cumin and cashews, and a rivulet of ghee is served at temples during this season. Once the worship is done, steaming hot pongal will be served in dried banana leaves that are molded into cups (bio-degradable, ahem). One can barely hold the screaming hot pongal, but it has to be gobbled hurriedly. Because, some one is always eying your pongal, and you may loose it, just like that.

Even though the recipe is simple with only a few ingredients, pongal served at the temples is always special. It may be the mass production, or the ghee that the cook pours with his eyes closed. There is something special about it.

In a humble effort, I make this quite often at home. Next to idly, pongal is the second most consumed breakfast in Tamil Nadu. Add a couple of crispy vadas and coconut chutney to the plate, I am sold. There are two types of pongal, the off-white savoury kind (Ven pongal, meaning white pongal), and the golden sweet kind made with Indian jaggery (Sakkarai pongal, meaning sugar pongal ).

The key to a good pongal is its texture. Smooth like butter, it should reach the stomach directly, without any effort to chew. It should neither be too thick, nor runny. The rice and dal must be cooked until very soft. I use a ratio of 1:6 for rice: water, and it always turns out perfect.

Ven Pongal
(serves 2)


Rice – ½ cup
Moong dal – ½ cup
Peppercorns – 20
Cumin seeds – 1½ tsp
Ginger – 1 tbsp, finely chopped
Curry leaves – few
Ghee(clarified butter) – 2 tbsp
Salt – ¾ tsp


Pressure cook rice and moong dal with 3 cups of water for 5 whistles. Alternately, rice and dal can be cooked in a pot until soft. After the pressure in the cooker has subsided, heat ghee, and roast pepper, cumin, followed by ginger and curry leaves. Add this seasoning to the rice and dal mixture along with salt. Mix until the salt, seasoning and rice are combined thoroughly. Add hot water if the pongal is too thick. The final consistency should be like a pudding or risotto, soft and velvetty. Serve hot with gosthu, and/or chutney.

There are quite a few variations while making pongal. What you see above is the way I like. You can try these for slightly different versions.
  • Make the rice : dal ratio 2:1
  • Roast dal before cooking
  • Add a pinch of turmeric to rice and dal before cooking
  • Coarsely grind pepper and cumin seeds, instead of using 'em whole
  • Use oil instead of ghee for a vegan version. But let me tell you, the pongal is never the same without ghee.


Gosthu can be roughly translated into ‘spiced lentil-vegetable gravy’. But so is sambar. There are only slight differences between a sambar and gosthu. The type and quantity of dal and the various vegetables used, sets the two apart. Eggplant is a must for making gosthu. Even if you don’t have other vegetables, don’t skip the eggplant. Pongal and gosthu – complementary and comforting, but always winning.


(serves 2)

Moong dal – ¼ cup
Mixed vegetables (eggplant, carrot, potato, chayote squash, peas, etc) – 2 cups, cubed
Onion or shallots – ½ cup, sliced
Tomato – 1, chopped
Tamarind – 1 tbsp
Jaggery – 1 tsp
Turmeric powder – 1 tsp
Mustard seeds – 1 tsp
Curry leaves – few
Cilantro – 2 tbsp, chopped
Oil – 1 tbsp

Spice Mixture

Coriander seeds – ½ tbsp
Chana dal – 1 tbsp
Dried red chillies – 4

Gram flour or rice flour – 1 tsp, if needed

Roast all of the above in a tsp of oil until aromatic and lightly browned. Cool and grind to a paste. Alternately you can also use 1 tbsp of sambar powder.


Pressure cook moong dal until soft. This can be cooked along with rice and dal for the pongal.

In a sauce pan, heat oil, splutter mustard seeds. Add onion and tomato along with curry leaves, and sauté for about 2 minutes. To this, add tamarind paste, turmeric powder, jaggery, salt and 2 cups of water and stir until the tamarind paste is completely dissolved in the water. If you are using sambar powder, now is the time to add it. If you are making fresh spice paste, wait until later. To the tamarind mixture, add the vegetables and allow to cook through. While the vegetables are cooking, tamarind also loses its raw smell.

Finally, add the cooked dal, ground spice mixture to the vegetables and mix thoroughly. Bring it to a brisk boil and simmer for about 3 minutes. If gosthu is runny, dissolve rice flour or gram flour in ¼ cup of water, add to the gosthu, and boil for additional 2 minutes. This will thicken the gravy. Garnish with cilantro and serve hot with pongal, upma or even idli and dosa.

I share this pongal love with Susan, for My Legume Love Affair, round 2.


amna said...

only today i was wondering where you disappeared to. i don't like pongal, and i shud say that's the only tamil dish that i dislike. that and idli :D

Anonymous said...

i love pongal too....its yummy and totally high on unable to see the pics though...

Anonymous said...

Hi Suganya,
Nice kolam.


Anonymous said...

i posted a comment disappeared now.....i love pongal...after vada...this is my favourite breakfast....yours looks fab!! love it in the red ramekins.

Shilpa said...

I am trying this over weekend. I can't stop drooling :(

sunita said...

Temple food is always so tasty...your recipes look for me :-)

Cham said...

Like idli sambar, pongal gosthu re my fav pair. I remember, the chill mornin of Maarkaghi, with colorful rangoli and bhajan and of course this Pongal. Awesome pic Suganya!

Anonymous said...

"...rivulet of ghee.....pours ghee with his eyes closed...." :-)

that sounds so familiar and I can picture the steaming hot pongal.....delicious write-up

as usual the photos are great, esp the kolam.

Sangeeth said...

yummy! u r one person who makes any dish look mouthwatering...hats off to u all time fav is this recipe...and kolam is wonderful...did u draw it in ur village? awesome!

Srivalli said...

wow....beautiful pictures...

sra said...

What a lovely post, Suganya! I particularly liked "rivulet of ghee", it was so well captured!

Shreya said...

beautiful... will try the recipes...

Anonymous said...

Aaahhhhaaaaa! Nostalgia - the beautiful kolam brings memories flooding back - its been ages since i saw such a beautiful kolam!
And of course pongal - the ultimate comfort breakfast! It brings backs memories Suganya - the last time i went to India - we went to Tirupati (as always) and we (k and me) had a Kalyanotsavam seva to attend, whiel the rest of the family was to join us later for the next Swarna dala seva. So off we went to Vaikuntam complex at 4:30 in the morning all set for the seva - where thye told us that it was postponed for 2 hours because of some dignitary (only in India!). So we were comign back when a small restaurant just opening up for business at 5:30 had the wonderful aroma of hot coffee and something special cooking - and guess what it was? Hot simmering pongal served on a plate with a plantain leaf early in the morning (we were their first customers) - it was heavenly! Your post is a treat -just brought back memories :-)

Revathi said...

Pongal and kathirikai gothsu -- i am drooling -

Laavanya said...

This is a favorite at home though we don't like ours too mushy... I love the kolam - was so into kolams growing up...

Kalai said...

What an absolutely delicious post, Suganya! Pongal is my all time fav breakfast. Gosthu with it is the ultimate! :)

Anonymous said...

The pongal looks yummy, and you're so right about temple pongal - the taste of tirupathi venpogal is still in my mouth.
My gothsu is very different from yours - I don't use any dal in it, no sambar powder, only green chillies, and only jeera seasoning. Mine is usually sweet-sour.

bee said...

sug, jai made pongal yesterday exactly like this. only one difference. instead of all water, try half low fat milk, half water. creamier pongal with less ghee.

Anonymous said...

Wow! you are bringing back all the memories.

I have all the "Kolakkuzhal" in US too. But I miss those big and "Cow dung" treated front yard for Kolam.
I put kolam before swami shelf here in US.

Nice recipe and pictures.

Anonymous said...

My favorite breakfast, this! I thought Gosthu was made with brinjals. But this one sounds just as good.

That kolam made me all nostalgic Sukanya.


Cynthia said...

I've learnt so much from this post. I am bowled over by the artistry of the Kolam.

Nirmala said...

Lovely Lovely Sug! I had the same yesterday morning! And if its served 3 times a day I am OK with it!

Bharathy said...

Lovely just Lovvely to see the traditional "manakkolam" in tasty palettes!! :)

Divine Pongal!!...Gosthu..absolutely no words to compliment you, Suganya :)

Bharathy said...

and yeah...
I admit, my eyes got hooked up on the lovely "kolam"..
Getting those perfect parallel lines is no easy job for this particular one..and the 'semmannu' for the border..again worked 'not' on a smooth floor but on 'bare ground'..that too a red sand based ground!..Awesome!!

Anonymous said...

Wow the pongal looks yummy!

Aparna Balasubramanian said...

There's really nothing like hot, ven pongal and coconut chutney. And some of those kolams are real works of art. I always feel bad that they have to be washed away the next morning. But then there's always a new one.

Pragyan said...

Pongal is my dad's favourite. Anytime he would come to Madras to take me home, this would be his routing breakfast. Will try your recipe some day. Thanks!

Menu Today said...

Hi Suganya,

Thanks for your comments. Nice pictures. My favourite dish , I like to have pongal gosthu with medhu vadai. Thanks for sharing this recipe.

Sia said...

this time my eyes got stuck at rangoli... beautiful work of art and my compliments to the artist :)

ushaprashanth said...

Hi Suganya!!!!
Pongal looks delicious!!!! kolam looks beautiful!! so you haven't forgotten south Indian recipes....just joking....Take care.

Jeanne said...

Oh.... I think I'm having a legume love affair with your ven pongal!! And your post makes me want to visit India. *Love* the photo of the flour drawing too :)

Shreya said...

I have something waiting for you at my blog

Vaishali said...

Pongal-gotsu: what a delicious meal. Lovely to read about your childhood memories, Suganya. I smiled to think of a cold month in Tamil Nadu: can that be possible? :)

Miri said...

Pongal just the way I like it - not the "each grain showing like pulao" kind ....and the peppercorn quantity is just what I like too - thanks for posting this and yes I discovered the magic of Marghazi only after moving to Chennai as an adult - you are lucky to have grown up with it!

Bharathy said...

I have a few awards for you in my latest post..:)..

Unknown said...

havent made gosthu..pongal looks great..

Kana said...

At first I was a little surprised when I saw it served at breakfast when I was in India a few years ago. We only serve pongal in Malaysia after puja, either at home or at the temple. Either way - I love pongal!

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Susan said...

Beautifully evocative post, Suganya. Thank you for sharing your special recipes and reminiscences for MLLA2. : )

Helene said...

The picture of the kolam is just gorgeous! Wow! The pongal is mouth watering :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Suganya,
I have been a regular visitor to your blog for some months now. I love how beautifully you photograph the food you make. As someone said in the comments, you make ANYTHING look so delicious and wholesome. Also I love how creative and simple your recipes and the use of whole grains and unusual ingredients - something new to try all the time. Anyway, I just tried your recipe (word for word) for Ven pongal and it came out ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS. We just ate it with mango thokku. I used to be in boarding school in Ooty and so ate my share of pongal during my childhood and disliked it immensely - probably coz it was our most frequent breakfast item. I wish they used your recipe - even my husband (who is not indian btw) absolutely loves it. Will be making this often. Thanks so much. Will have to try your gotsu sometime.

centipede said...

Hi,I've had pongal before...when I was in grade school, my Tamilian friend would bring pongal for lunch. I used to trade her pongal for my mom's puttu & kadla curry. I saw your recipe & it looked so similar so I just tried it... I tastes similar but for some reason my rice didn't cook all that well. Could you tell me what kind of rice do you use?

Suganya said...

Centipede, I use ponni. But sona masuri will also work well. The rice and dal mixture needs extra water and time for cooking, than usual. I also use a pressure cooker, which makes it very easy. Stovetop cooking may require lotsa time and patience. I hope that helps.


I came here today, hunting for recipes for Pongal - just to see how others make them.
Your blog is very pleasing to the eye, and tastefully presented. I ma sure your dishes are, too.


And yes, lovely kolam ,too.

Nirmala said...

Sug, whenever we made Gothsu in past we made it exactly the same way you do sans the jaggery. Last week after revisiting this old post sometime I added jaggery to my Gothu. It took it to a whole new dimension and I am simply sold for the taste. It actually is a great binder and to say in Tamil "Ella rusiyayum serthu kondu varadhu". I would request you to make it not optional as without that this Gothsu is totally different.

30 days ago said...

you are awesome! And those pictures are to die for:)

Poornima Iyer said...

made it like how you said. but i used 1:3 for rice to water and it turned out simply delicious!!!!! i loveddd itt!!!!!!!!!! thanks so much for sharing the recipe.
I'm making that again today and waiting to EAT!!!!!!!!!!!
i'm looking for a cocunut chutney recipe that is watery like how its served in tamil nadu. please let me know if you have one. thanks again.

Lavanya Raj said...

Suganya, iam seeing first pic of this post, in an ad for rice cooker, i think its for some Rice cooker. r u aware of it?

My wishes to your Little one!!

Karthik said...

Hi suganya,

The way you explained is more beautiful then the actual pongal taste.
Co-related the morning breeze and the temple pongal.
Great , thanks do more posting.

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