Pongal is the turkey equivalent of the Tamil harvest thanksgiving Festival of Sankranti. The festival occurs around mid-January, celebrating the winter harvest in India and also commemorates the journey of the northward journey of the sun, heralding the advent of spring.
Freshly harvested rice is cooked along with mung dal & milk in a pot decorated with turmeric leaves and allowed to boil over, signifying the abundance of prosperity for the year to come.
There are two versions. The traditional, sweet variety is cooked with milk and jaggery (unrefined sugar combined with the molasses) and spiced with cardamom & saffron.
The savory version is spiced with a seasoning of cumin & cracked peppercorn.
The finishing touch is always a generous drizzle of melted, homemade ghee. The 'venn' in the dishes name comes from the tamil word for butter (vennai). —Panfusine
Test Kitchen Notes
WHO: Panfusine is a mom and food blogger living in New Jersey.
WHAT: A bowl of South Indian-spiced goodness.
HOW: Sauté your spices and aromatics; add mung dal and cook until brown and nutty; add rice and water; let simmer until creamy. Top with ghee.
WHY WE LOVE IT: The texture here is one that's comforting and familiar -- think a hearty porridge or risotto -- but the spices are exciting, new. We love that this is a traditional celebration dish, but we're just as quick to make it for a soothing weeknight dinner. —The Editors
4 to 5 servings
freshly cracked peppercorn
6 to 8
curry leaves, torn
whole green serrano chile split in 1/2 lengthwise (optional)
Rinse the rice and mung dal separately until the water runs clear. Drain and set aside.
In a 5-quart Dutch oven pan, heat the ghee and allow it to shimmer. Add the cumin and cracked pepper. When the cumin seeds 'split,' add the ginger, curry, the single split chile and the cashews. You may add the asafetida at this time if you're using it.
Once the cashews begin to turn brown, add the mung dal and sauté till the residual water evaporates and the dal just begins to emit a nutty aroma. At this point add the rice, turmeric, and 4 cups of the water.
Bring the mixture to a boil, lower the heat to its lowest setting, cover with a lid and allow the mixture to cook until the rice is completely soft (the consistency of a risotto). Feel free to mash the mix up with the back of a spoon. Add salt and and taste for seasoning. Add the extra half cup of water, cover again with the lid, and allow the mixture to cook for about 10 minutes more. Find & discard the cooked up chile in the mix. You do NOT want it sneaking up into anybody's mouth.
Ladle the risotto into bowls and drizzle generously with the melted ghee as per your taste. Serve with toasted paapad, achar, and a side of yogurt.