Today is one of my favorite seasonal observances. It marks the day in the solar calendar of the sun moving into Capricorn on its northward trajectory. In agricultural societies, it is also the culmination of the winter growing season and a time of harvest. So this day is a celebration all across the Indian subcontinent (Nepal and Bangladesh as well), a giving of thanks to the sun, the rain, and hardworking farm animals for a plentiful winter harvest. I love that this festival is named for a food!
‘Pongal’ (in Tamizh) literally translates to ‘spilling over’ as in a pot left untended on a fire that then boils over. It is a symbolic celebration of a plentiful harvest and a wish for prosperity in the year to come. Pongal is also the name of the porridge-like dish made on this day. Suffused with celebration and hence a particularly sacred meaning, this dish is cooked in a special bronze pot adorned with fresh sugarcane, turmeric, and ginger just harvested. It elevates everyday fare like porridge to a feast. There are savory and sweet versions, both usually made on this day.
While today dawned rainy in my part of the world, Sweet Pongal is ready. The kitchen window is steamed up! Here is a simple recipe for this immensely satisfying dish!
For generous servings for 8 ~
1 1/2 cups short grain rice (I prefer any short-grain from India; Ponni is grown in the south of India and is available at Indian markets.)
1/2 heaping cup yellow mung daal (an easy to cook and easy to digest lentil, usually baby’s first food; used extensively in Ayurvedic cuisine as part of a pacifying and soothing diet; also available at Indian markets)
2 cups Indian Jaggery, broken into bits with a mallet or heavy rolling pin (a traditional rustic sweetener made from cane syrup without separation of molasses)
1 tablespoon green cardamom pods
1 tablespoon sugar
Ghee or coconut cream/oil; any nut milk will works as well.
- Rinse the rice and daal separately. If using a pressure cooker, the two may be cooked together with about 4 cups of water. If cooking stove top, simmer and cook the rice in 3 cups of water and the daal in 2 cups of water separately, covered, adding water as desired until they’re both creamy and done. It is customary to overlook the rice for this porridge like dish. Mix the cooked rice and daal together.
- Combine cardamom pods and sugar in a coffee mill and powder smooth.
- Heat a cup of water in a pan and add the jaggery pieces. Shut off heat and stir to dissolve. Add the cardamom sugar and mix well. Filter this sweetener with fine mesh sieve to take out the husks and grit from the cardamom and the jaggery itself.
- Add this sweetener to the rice and daal mixture. Heat thoroughly in a heavy bottom, adding ghee (clarified butter) or any nut milk to blend the dish into a smooth porridge. At this point, it is tradition to let this pot boil over to mark this occasion! The cook yells out ‘Pongalo-pongal’ as a celebratory salud and everyone within earshot echoes this greeting!
- Garnish with almonds and cashews that have been toasted in a little ghee.
Serve warm and enjoy! Pongalo-Pongal!!!!