Pongal is the Tamil festival that celebrates the beginning of the northward journey of Surya. It is also a harvest festival that is a thanksgiving to God and Nature for blessing us with a plentiful harvest. Cattle – both cows and oxen are worshipped too, for their contribution to the abundance. It is the beginning of the Tamil month of Thai, which is the most preferred month for weddings and other auspicious functions.
The three-day-festival consists of Bhogi, Pongal festival and Kaanum Pongal and is one great gastronomical adventure, as we make a multitude of dishes as naivedyam. This includes puran-poli, kheer and other goodies for Bhogi, Chakkara pongal or sarkarai pongal (sweet pongal), a kootu (vegetable gravy) with seven different vegetables, vadas, raita etc. etc. Kanum Pongal, the following day is when sisters celebrate the bond with their brothers by offering coloured rice balls to crows, entreating them to take the message of their wellbeing to their brothers. People meet relatives and friends (Kanum meaning seeing) on this day. A variety of mixed rice and avial are made on this day. Avial, like the kootu above, has a lot of fresh vegetables. (I am planning a series on mixed rice soon!)
‘Pongal’, in Tamil means ‘rising’ and signifies the abundance around. The pongal is made in milk, and just before it boils over, the washed rice and dal are added to the accompaniment of shouts of ‘Pongalo pongal!’
It is traditionally made in a vengala panai but most of us these days make it in a pressure cooker. Of course, we decorate the cooker or any other vessel used, with chandan-kumkum and tie a fresh turmeric plant with its root around the vessel.
The 7-kari kootu is made with freshly ground masala and is similar to the sambar, except that tur dal is not added. Instead a little roasted rice and til are ground and added to thicken the kootu. This is not a rule, as some add the dal too. My recipe is without the tur dal and you will love the flavour of til that takes it to another dimension altogether!
Like avial, this kootu can be made any day, not just on Pongal, when there is a bit of many vegetables around. It goes well with rice, dosa and even chapati.
I am sharing here, the recipes for chakkara pongal and this kootu and also ven pongal and a special chutney with til. Do try them out.
Chakkara pongal (Sweet pongal) (5-6 servings)
- Rice 1 cup
- Moong dal ¼ cup
- Chana dal 1 tbsp
- Jaggery 1½ – 2 cups (depending upon how sweet you want it)
- Milk 1 cup
- Water 2 cups
- Cashew nuts 12-15 (broken into half)
- Ghee 2-3 tbsp
- Cardamom powder ½ sp
- Dry roast chana dal and moongdal till they evenly turn golden brown.
- Wash rice and dals and keep aside.
- Heat the milk and water in a cooker till it boils and add the rice-dal mixture to it. Close the lid and cook for 2-3 whistles or till the rice-dal is cooked well. (It should be soft enough to be mashed well).
- Take the jaggery in a pan and add just enough water to immerse it (about 1/4 cup) Let it melt in the heat. Switch off the flame and filter it for any impurities. Put it back on fire and bring to a boil till it turns frothy.
- Mash the cooked dal-rice mixture well with the back of a ladle and add it to the jaggery. (It is important to mash it before adding it to the jaggery, else the grains will become hard and won’t get the pongal consistency).
- Mix it well and let it come together. Stir it as it cooks for a couple of minutes. Add 2 tbsps of ghee, mix and switch off the heat. Add the cardamom powder and mix well. If it is a little runny, don’t worry. It will harden as it cools.
- In a small pan, melt the remaining ghee and fry the cashews and raisins. Pour into the pongal. It tastes good when hot, though it is fine eaten cold too.
7-kari kootu Ingredients:
- Yellow pumpkin 100 gm
- French beans/ broad beans 10-15
- Carrot 1 large or 2 small
- Raw banana 1 medium
- Potato 1 large
- Brinjal 3-4 (small)
- Sweet potato 1 small ( I added drumsticks)
- Tamarind 1 small lemon sized ball
- Turmeric powder ½ tsp
- Salt to taste
- Curry leaves 10-12
To roast and grind:
- Coconut ½ cup
- Raw rice 1 tbsp
- Black or white til 1 tbsp
- Dhania 1 tsp
- Tur dal 1 ½ tbsp
- Chana dal 1 tsp
- Urad dal 1 tsp
- Red chillies 5-6 (more or less to suit your taste)
- Mustard ½ tsp
- Red chillies 2
- Hing ¼ tsp
- Cut the vegetables into large cubes ( nearly 2”)
- Roast the rice till it turns a light brown in colour. Roast til till it fluffs up and pops. Coarsely grind the two together and keep aside.
- Saute the dals in a little oil till they begin turning brown. Add the dhania, chillies and saute well. Finally, add the coconut and switch off the flame. Keep a tbsp. coconut aside for garnish. Cool and grind everything finely with a little water.
- Heat some oil in the same pan (coconut oil preferably, but any oil would do) and saute the remaining coconut and curry leaves until the coconut turns light brown. Keep aside for garnishing.
- Cook the vegetables with a little salt and turmeric powder in a cooker for 1 whistle. You can even cook them in a heavy bottomed vessel. Take care to see that they do not become soft or mushy.
- Soak the tamarind in a cup of hot water and extract the pulp. Cook the brinjals in it with a pinch of salt till it is ¾ cooked. Add to the rest of the vegetables.
- Add the ground masala and when it comes to a boil, add the rice and til mixture to it. Let it all come together. Add the jaggery and half the curry leaves at this stage. Let it boil for a minute and switch off the flame.
- In a tadka pan add some oil and pop mustard seeds and when it pops, add the red chillies and hing. Pour into the kootu.
- Finally garnish with the roasted coconut and curry leaves mixture.
- Eat with rice, with a generous dollop of ghee.