Last week, we celebrated ‘Makara Sankaranthi’ or Pongal, the harvest festival of Tamilnadu. It also denotes the end of ‘Maargazhi’ and birth of ‘Thai’, one of the most auspicious months in the Tamil lunar calendar. This day also marks the commencement of Uttarayanam (mid Jan - mid Jul), the northern ascent of the Sun. The days are warmer and longer from now on. Pongal is celebrated for three days as Bhogi, Pongal, and Kaanum Pongal/Maattu Pongal.
Bhogi is like spring cleaning. People discard old things and buy new ones. As this festival falls soon after the harvest season, the farmers could afford to stock their homes now. The houses are cleaned, white washed, and decorated with kolam. The family congregates to celebrate together. When there are people, there is always good food, particularly sweets. Poli is the star of the day, accompanied by crunchy lentil fritters (called aama vadai).
Pressure-cooked rice and dal
The second day, Sankaranthi, is celebrated in honor of the Sun God. Pongal is the name of the festival, as well as the sweet that is prepared this day. Heavy bottomed bronze pots are cleaned, seasoned with rice flour on the outside (for easy cleanup), and adorned with ginger and turmeric plants. Newly harvested rice, is cooked along with milk and jaggery, and offered to the Sun God. Along with this, an array of vegetables, rasam, sambar and vadai (with no onion) are also prepared. But what attracts the kids most is the sugarcane. They are right in season and are part of the offerings. They are nature’s stick candy, convenient to carry and a pleasure to eat. The bite into the delicious flesh and the rush of the sugarcane juice in the insides of the mouth is an experience everybody should have, at least once in their lifetimes.
On the third day, the cows are adorned and worshiped, hence the name maattu pongal (which literally translates to cow pongal). On this day, the sisters also pray for the wellness of their brothers by offering the previous day's pongal to the birds. Also, leftovers from the previous cooking, namely the different vegetables and sambar are cooked in a single pot making Ericha Kozhambu, a hodgepodge that I absolutely love. On this day, the food is fairly simple in my house after all the feasting in the past two days. Curd rice with ericha kozhmabu takes care of all the leftovers. And there is always sugarcane to indulge in.
Pongal - Sweet and SavouryIt is so much fun being around the family during festivities like such. It is imperative that I miss being home on occasions like these. But I make a point to celebrate (read as prepare the customary treats), if at all in a simple manner. Even during his bachelorhood, G celebrated pongal by making the savory and the sweet version along with gosthu. I have heard tales where his friends used to drive 6 hours to get to eat his killer pongal. I find this more convenient, than preparing rice and vegetables, in addition to sakkarai pongal, for just the two of us. Also, dessert gets to be half the meal. What is there to complain about?Today I am giving you two almost similar recipes for sarkkarai pongal. One, if you are preparing just the sweet kind; the other for making both sweet and savory versions together. They make for an excellent weekend brunch.But before going to the recipe, here is a brief explanation of the word pongal. Pongal is grammatically a verb, meaning 'to overflow'. The festival is to wish everyone an overflowing abundance of health, wealth and happiness in their lives. To mark this, sweet pongal is let to overflow in the bronze pot its cooking. The family members cheer 'Pongalo pongal', a traditional greeting, to one another. You can always find me in my mom's kitchen screaming 'pongalo pongal' at the top of my voice. Others, hmmm.. lets say they don't usually bother :DSavoury version = Ven pongal = White pongal
Sweet version = Sarkkarai pongal = Jaggery pongal
Lightly roasted moong dalSweet and Savoury Pongal
(serves 3-4)Ingredients for bothRaw rice – 1½ cups
Moong dal – ½ cup
Milk – 1½ cups, skim or fat free milk
Water – 7½ cups
Cashew nuts – 20
Ghee – 2 tbsp (more if you like)For ven pongalWhole black pepper – 1 tbsp
Whole cumin seeds – 1 tbsp
Ginger – 1-2 tbsp, finely chopped
Curry leaves – few
SaltFor sarkkarai pongalJaggery – ¾, powdered or grated (per your taste)
Sugar – 2 tbsp
Raisins – 2 tbsp
Ground cardamom – 1 tsp
Edible camphor – a teeny bitMethodRoast moong dal until light golden brown. Let cool, and wash dal along with rice in two changes of water. If cooking on stove top, combine milk and water with rice and dal in a wide, deep vessel, and cook until mushy. The mixture needs to be stirred now and then, to avoid sticking to the bottom. This traditional method of cooking takes about 25 minutes, but is delicious. If using a pressure cooker, combine milk and water with rice and dal directly into the cooker and cook for 6 whistles. Open the cooker only after the pressure has died down. When cooked, the mixture should be very soft, that it shouldn’t resist the spatula at all.
Jaggery syrup, boiling awayMeanwhile, dissolve jaggery in ¼ cup of water. Take off the heat and filter the syrup for any impurities. Return the jaggery solution back to the heat, add sugar and allow it come to a brisk boil. After 5 minutes, mix 2/5th (pardon the numbers, it is a little more than 1/3rd) of the cooked rice-dal mixture and combine thoroughly.In a small skillet, heat a tbsp of ghee, roast 10 cashews and raisins, until the nuts are golden and the raisins are plump. Add to the sweet pongal, along with cardamom, and edible camphor.Return the skillet to heat, add another tbsp of ghee, roast the remaining cashews, pepper, cumin, ginger and curry leaves. Add this mixture to the remaining 3/5th rice-dal mixture in the cooker, along with salt. Mix well and serve immediately.
Ven pongal doused with melted gheeSarkkarai Pongal
(serves 3-4)If you are making just the sweet pongal for dessert, cook rice-dal mixture with more milk. Also, instead of making the sugar syrup separately, the sweeteners are added directly to the rice. But for that, the recipe remains the same.IngredientsRaw rice – 2/3 cup
Moong dal – 2 tbsp
Chana dal – 1 tbsp (optional)
Milk – 2 cups, skim or fat free
Water – 2 cups
Jaggery – 1-1½ cups, powdered or grated (per your taste)
Sugar – 1 tbsp
Ghee – 1 tbsp
Cashew – 10-15
Raisins – 2 tbsp
Ground cardamom – 1 tsp
Edible camphor – a teeny bitMethodRoast the dals until lightly golden. Cool, and rinse along with rice. Transfer to the pressure cooker with milk and water, and cook for 6 whistles. Or cook on stovetop as mentioned above. When the pressure has subsided, remove the lid and add jaggery and sugar and mix until everything is combined well. Continue cooking this mixture for about 10 minutes on low flame. If the mixture tightens up too much, add small amounts of boiling water to maintain the consistency. The jaggery should have melted completely and should not smell raw. When good aroma wafts from the pongal, switch off the stove.In another small pan, melt ghee, roast cashews and raisins. Add this to the prepared pongal, along with cardamom and edible camphor. Whether you serve it warm, cold or at room temperature, sarkkarai pongal tastes divine.Few points
- You can enjoy the sweet and savoury pongal with ezhu kari or ericha kozhambu or gosthu to cut though the sweetness.
- The small amount of sugar added with jaggery is for added umph. Jaggery has a mellow sweetness that appears in the background. Adding small amount of sugar hits the palate immediately.
- Different brands of jaggery have different levels of sweetness. So the amount given in this recipe is only approximate, and should be adjusted accordingly.
- You can mix few tsps of sugar in the end, if you desire sweeter pongal.
- As with any pongal, this should be served immediately. For reheating purposes, sprinkle boiling water to bring back to consistency.
Sarkkarai pongal, ven pongal served in thonnai. The trio is complete with ezhukari kuzhambhu(not shown)I know its late, but my belated Sankaranthi wishes to all of you. You bloggers know it takes more time to write about food than cooking it.