I remember the time during my early graduation days, when I was invited by a friend to her house and her mom made this delicious spicy mushy rice dish with a tangy sauce. I did not know back then what I was eating. It was pongal with a tangy tamarind sauce. I was a very shy and an introvert back then.
In Southern India, like most of Asia, rice is the life blood of civilization. It is the primary source of food for almost a quarter billion people. It is not surprising that rice plays a very important role in the traditions and culture of South India. The ebb and flow of life in general is tied to the annual rainy season widely known as the monsoon season. In the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala it is celebrated in the mid August to September and it is called Onam – signalling the start of harvest season. Onam is probably the most important festival of Malayalam culture.
The meaning of the word ” pongu ” in my mother tongue Telugu is to boil and spill over. For every house warming ceremony, the milk is boiled and spilled over in the kitchen, doing this is believed to bring good luck and well being to the house and the people in it.
In the folklore of Kerala, there are stories of an ancient demon king known as Mahabali – who despite being an Asura , was considered to be a great ruler. His rein was considered a golden era because of the king’s generosity and his rule brought peace and prosperity to people and his kingdom. It is said that he has always been true to his name which meant great sacrifice. But like countless other mythical kings, his generosity was overshadowed by pride and arrogance from the divine boons he received for his penance that made him undefeatable by any king in heaven, earth or the underworld. His ultimate defeat was at the hands of the supreme god Vishnu who in his fifth avatar as the dwarf brahmin Vamana. People belive that Maveli (local name of the king Mahabali) comes to Kerala annually to see his subjects after his defeat at the hands of Vishnu.
- ½ cup Rice
- ½ cup Moong / Mung dal (Split yellow lentils)
- 1 tbsp Ghee
- 4 cups Water
- 4-5 Black peppercorns
- 1 tsp Salt
- 2 tbsp Ghee
- 2 Green chili, finely chopped (Hot Thai chili)
- ¼ cup Red onions (Diced)
- 4-6 Cashew nuts
- 1 Dry red chili
- 1 tsp Black mustard seeds
- 1 tsp Cumin seeds / Jeera
- 1 tsp Turmeric powder
- A sprig of curry leaves
- Pinch of Asafoetida / Hing
Tangy tamarind sauce
- Fresh tamarind (size of a lemon)
- 1 cup Water
- 1 tbsp Jaggery powder
- 1 tbsp Rice flour
- Few curry leaves
- 1 tsp Oil
- 1/2 tsp Black Mustard seeds
- 1/2 tsp Cumin seeds / Jeera
- 1/2 tsp Salt
Serving size 2
Cook time 25 – 30 min
Prep time 15 min
Passive time 15 min
As rice is the main crop harvested, dishes like pongal are prepared as offerings to the gods and distributed to the devotees. Black peppercorns are generally used to spice pongal. This is a direct link to India’s culinary history that goes back to thousands of years before the Europeans introduced chill peppers from south america. There are many kinds of pongal and Ven pongal is a very popular variation from Tamil Nadu. It is generally eaten for breakfast and sometimes for lunch or dinner.
- Soak tamarind in a bowl of water.
- On medium heat, roast rice and moong dal along with ghee for 2-4 min until the moong dal turns slightly golden color. Set it aside.
- I used a pressure cooker for the next step, you can totally use a deep pot as well.
- Add 4 cups of water to the pressure cooker and add the roasted rice moong dal mixture to it. Add salt and peppercorns and mix well.
- Cook for 4-5 whistles on Medium to high heat. In case you are using a deep pot , you could cook for 20-25 min.
- The rice mixture will now have a mushy texture to it. Mix well and set it aside.
- In a sauce pan add ghee, and roast cashew nuts, onions and chopped green chili for 2 -3 min.
- Add red chili, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, turmeric powder, curry leaves , salt and hing.
- Once the curry leaves stops to splatter, add the rice mixture to the tempering. Mix well, cook for 2 minutes and set it aside.
- For the tamarind sauce use a small sauce pan on medium heat , add oil, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, curry leaves. Squeeze pulp from the soaked tamarind into the sauce pan. Bring it to a boil.
- Add jaggery powder, rice flour and salt to the sauce and mix well. Cook for 2- 3 min.
Serve hot !
Ven pongal is usually served with sambar, tamarind sauce or coconut chutney.
- Authentic pongal recipe does not have onions in it, you can totally skip the red onions in the tempering if you wish to.
- I used basmati rice in this recipe because we got used to this kind of rice. Usually sona masuri rice is used for making pongal.
- For the tamarind sauce, when you add the rice flour it tends to form clumps, so work quickly and you could always use any tool to remove the clumps. I used a potato masher for this.
- Pongal tastes best when it is hot, when it cools down it would become a bit hard and chewy.
- The servings size given in the recipe for pongal is for two people but sauce can be used for four servings.
I loved making this recipe and also, it’s been ages that I ate a meal over a banana leaf it was such an amazing feeling.
This is the best part of being a food blogger I guess 🙂
Hope you enjoy making this recipe too. Do let me know if you give the recipe a try.
Happy Onam to all those who celebrate this festival 🙂 !!