I have been involved in one of the most joyous activities for someone who loves cooking and loves Indian food – testing and proofing Indian Festival recipes for a publication soon to be released.. The publication will outline 15 Indian festivals and associated activities, including traditional foods that are cooked by families during the festival. The publications are aimed at Western audiences, and for media, ideal for when they want more information about Indian traditions. It will also be perfect for those who have lost touch with or are curious about the traditions of India and want more information.
I was involved in testing a number of dishes, including this one which did not make the final cut. Never mind, it is your gain! I hope to bring you the other dishes once the publication is released.
Pongal is one of those dishes that tastes so much better than it ought. You read the recipe and (unless you are South Indian) you go, “Nah”, and move on. Rice based, it sounds as though it could be bland.
Please think again. There is nothing not much simpler and tastier than this. You can eat it for breakfast, lunch, dinner, supper or a snack. Eat it hot or room temperature, although it will thicken up if left to stand. It is the most consumed breakfast dish in Tamil Nadu (South India).
Pongal is the South Indian answer to the North Indian Kitchari. It is mung dal and rice cooked together, and quite often it is made as a sweet dish. Ven Pongal is a savoury variety of Pongal, cooked with black pepper and cumin.
The sweet variety (Sakkarai Pongal) is often cooked with milk, and also sugar and sweet spices. It is a wonderful dish served traditionally at Thai Pongal, the traditional Indian festival similar to Harvest Festival or Harvest Thanksgiving held in other parts of the world. It is a time where the sun and the gods that oversee the land and growth are thanked for the abundance that has been provided. Sakkarai pongal is cooked under the first rays of the morning sun, outside in a tall pot over a fire. But that recipe another time.
The key to Ven Pongal, the savoury dish, is its wonderful buttery texture achieved because the rice and dal are cooked until very very soft, mixed with spices and often topped with cashew nuts. It is a wonderful, nurturing, comfort food.
Ven Pongal is a great dish to cook during Navratri, the 9 day Festival dedicated to the Goddess.
Prep time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 30 or so mins
Serves: 4 – 6 people, depending how you use it
1 cup raw pooni rice, sona masori, or use what you have
0.5 cup split mung dal
4 cups water
1 Tblspn fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 tspn whole black peppercorns
2 Tblspn raw cashew nuts, unsalted
1/5 tspn cumin seeds
4 – 5 curry leaves
2 Tblspn ghee
salt to taste
Cook the rice and dal together in the water until very very soft. Perhaps use 4 cups to begin with and add more if required. It will take around 30 minutes to cook, maybe more, depending on your cooking methods, pan and heat level. The final result will be thick, not liquid, so ease off on adding water at the end of the cooking time.
While the rice and dal is cooking, finely chop the ginger and roast it in 1Tblspn ghee.
Add the cumin, whole black pepper and curry leaves. Sauté a little without burning, to release the flavours. Set aside.
Roast the cashews in the remaining ghee until golden brown but not burnt.
When the rice and dal mixture is cooked, mix vigorously, mashing the dal and rice together. You want a buttery texture. Mix in the spices with the ghee that they were sautéed in.
Place in a serving dish and top with the roasted cashews. Enjoy!
recipe notes and alternatives
Add about 0.25 tspn turmeric as you cook the rice.
Use a ratio of 2:1 rice and mung dal.
Roast dal before cooking.
Add mustard seeds to the tadka.
Serve on its own, or with Sambar, coconut chutney and hot coffee. Goes well with Gosthu and/or chutney.