Ven Pongal / Ghee Pongal / Khara Pongal
Pongal is one of the most important festivals celebrated in the South Indian Community. The festival is dedicated to the Hindu Sun God, Surya and also marks the beginning of Uttarayana (the 6 month transition phase of the Sun Northwards).
Along with South India, this day is celebrated as Makar Sankranti in Western parts like Maharashtra and Gujrat, Lohri in Punjab amongst Hindus and Sikhs and Bihu by the Assamese Community.
In India, no festival is complete without some food attached to it. This is probably the main reason that we still look forward to celebrating so many festivals in India. The sharing of food and sweets especially, getting together strengthens our bonds, in our otherwise busy lives.
While Maharashtra and Gujrat have their Til Gud (A sweet ladoo made of jaggery and sesame seeds along with cardamom for flavor) is usually shared with people by saying “Til Gul ghya ani god god bola”. Whereas in South India, it is celebrated by cooking Pongal – a dish made with rice and lentils, namely Yellow Moong Dal. There are 2 variations of the Pongal, one being the savoury, while the other sweet.
The name “Pongal” means boiling over or overflowing. In olden days, when space was not an issue and it was the age of “joint families”, Pongal festival was celebrated in a huge courtyard. They would purchase new vessels or Ponga Pannai that are usually mud / clay vessels and cook over a chulha. But now a days, its mostly steel utensils. Tieing of the fresh turmeric plant around the vessel is a must and drawing figurines of “sun” and “moon” with a chuna / limestone paste, signifying the importance of the sun and moon in our life. The vessel is then filled with washed and soaked rice and water for cooking the same. Just when the rice is about to reach a boil, milk is added so that the Pongal or boiling and spilling over of the rice and water takes place while everyone in the background shout in unison “Pongal O Pongal”. Once the rice is cooked, it is served to all at home for lunch. We follow this custom at home and the vessel used for boiling the rice is atleast 100 years old, handed down by generations.
The Savoury (Khara) version, which is the recipe that I am sharing with you, is also popular as a breakfast option in South Indian households as well as restaurants. If you wonder, whether consuming rice as a breakfast would be an ideal option, when the whole world is crazy about smoothies and buddha bowls for breakasts. Pongal is extremely healthy and which is perhaps one of the reasons, it is also served as prasadam too in temples across South India. It has carbs, protein in the form of lentils (moong dal), good fats in the form of ghee or clarified butter, nuts like cashew, spices like cumin and pepper for digestion and curry leaf as herbs. Besides, a small portion of this is sufficient to keep you full for a hectic day at work. Well, they say, if your tummy is full, you will always end up being cheerful and if you are hungry, you get cranky.
If you are looking at accompaniment ideas for pongal, you may see the recipe for Ginger chutney. on the blog
Let’s look at the recipe and enjoy some Pongal for Makar Sankranti.
Wishing everyone a Happy Pongal. Stay prosperous and healthy.
Recipe for Ven Pongal
- Rice – ½ cup
- Yellow Moong Dal – ¼ cup
- Pepper (Coarsely grounded) – a small pinch plus 5 whole peppercorns
- Cumin seeds or Jeera – ¼ tsp
- Ghee or clarified butter – 1 tblsp
- Cashew Nuts – few roughly chopped (optional)
- Water to pressure cook the rice and lentils
- Curry leaves – one sprig
- Salt as per taste
- Wash and soak the rice and lentils together for atleast 15 minutes before pressure cooking with required water and salt for atleast 3 whistles.
- Heat a kadhai, add the ghee and once it melts, add cumin seeds and the whole pepper corns along with cashew nuts (optional) with curry leaves.
- Now add the cooked rice and lentil mixture, coarsely ground pepper powder.
- Stir the mixture and check and adjust the salt, if required.
- Serve it hot with coconut chutney or you could eat it just like that.
Recipe Notes –
- Adding of cashew nuts is optional. It does bring about richness to the dish. Usually temple prasadams have dry fruits in it.
- I prefer using pepper in 2 stages, pepper corns that are slightly roasted and then added in a ground form, when the rice and lentil mixture is added. If you feel, its slightly spicy for your taste and palate, you can reduce the quantity of pepper. Don’t skip it though. It is great for the digestion process.
- I have used Ponni Raw Rice (A South Indian Rice Variety). You can use any Kolam or Sona Masuri short grain rice variety.
- In case you are trying this recipe using brown rice, suggest you to increase the soaking time of the rice and lentils and also the time to cook in the pressure cooker by a couple of more whistles, as Brown Rice takes time to cook.
- Avoid making Pongal using Basmati Rice.
- Do not replace 1 tblsp of ghee / clarified butter with oil. It won’t have a great taste, trust me! You can, by all means, add more ghee if you like, it tastes heavenly.
- I prefer eating a slightly mashed up creamy Pongal, hence I add more water while cooking. Pongal shouldn’t be dry in consistency like a pulao though.
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