Sunday, January 12, 2014

Life’s simple pleasures – Ven Pongal

Ven Pongal – or the savory pongal, was my dad’s favorite dish to order for breakfast in restaurants.  We did not eat out that often, but if we were going on a trip or a temple visit, he would order pongal-vadai without fail, even if there were other, more interesting options available on the menu.

Ven Pongal

Pongal is also one of my husband’s favorite “tiffins” to have.  My kids don’t like it though – or rather are not willing to try it at all.  On nights when the kids have other plans or if I have something else for them to eat, I make pongal for my husband.

After Deepavali, I think Pongal was the next big festival celebrated in my house.  Pongal typically falls on January 14th, and is celebrated as the harvest festival in the south.  In villages, people cook  pongal with freshly harvested rice, in beautifully decorated earthenware pots, on a wood-fire burning stove.  People draw elaborate rangoli designs at the entrance to their homesThey clean up their homes and have bonfires on the day before pongal (called Bhogi).  Houses get a fresh coat of paint and the markets are full of freshly harvested grains and produce.

Note: Pongal is the name of the festival - as well as the dish.

Pongal (can you see the snow in the background?)

In my house, my mom would wake up early and after a shower, put the pongal panai (pot in which she will cook the pongal) on the stove.  She used a vengala panai (bronze pot) instead of the earthenware pot.  She would tie a turmeric plant around the neck of the pot and make both ven pongal (white pongal – savory) and chakkarai pongal (made with jaggery – sweet).  The meal would include vadai, some kind of mixed vegetable kootu, pachidi, and other goodies.  We would also have a couple of sugar canes as part of our feast.

I make pongal at home on the day of the festival – though I make mine in a pressure cooker and most often make it for dinner, because with work and school schedules, no one has time in the morning.  This is also the one time of the year that I make chakkarai pongal.  I will try and post that recipe soon.


Here is what you need:

  • ¾ cup split moong dal (this is a bit more than what my mom used to add – she added ½ cup)
  • 1 cup raw rice (I use sona masoori)
  • salt to taste
  • ¼ tsp. hing (asafetida)
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp. black pepper
  • 2 tsp. ghee (don't use oil - ghee adds flavor to the pongal)
  • few curry leaves
  • 1” piece ginger, chopped fine


Here is how I made it:

  1. Dry roast the moong dal for 2 – 3 minutes.  Add this to the rice and wash in several changes of water.
  2. Pressure cook the rice and dal with enough water (I added 4½ cups), salt, and hing, on low heat, for about 10 minutes after the first whistle.  Remember that the pongal needs to be mushy. So add more water than you normally would for cooking rice.
  3. While the pongal is cooking, coarsely crush the cumin seeds and pepper using a mortar and pestle.
  4. Heat the ghee.  Add the powdered cumin-pepper mixture.  Stir for a few seconds.
  5. Add the curry leaves and ginger.  Stir for a few more seconds.
  6. Pour this over the cooked pongal.  Mix well.

Serve hot with thair pacchidi (raita), gotsu, sambar, or chutney.

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