Friday, January 14, 2011
The word Pongal literally describes an overflowing, boiling pot of rice. Figuratively, it signifies prosperity and is a time to give thanks for everything you're blessed with-- an Indian Thanksgiving, so to say. And what better way to celebrate prosperity than with delicious food?
South Indian women cook up a feast in their kitchens this day, but there are two dishes that are the centerpiece of any Pongal celebration: Venn Pongal and Sakkarai Pongal. Or, Savory Pongal and Sweet Pongal.
I have blogged my Pongal recipes before, but this time I wanted to try something a little different-- I wanted to make a vegan "ghee" (clarified butter) to use in them, because ghee is usually added to both kinds of Pongals to give them a unique flavor.
I had some Earth Balance butter sticks on hand and I melted them down, exactly as one would melt down butter to make ghee, and let the solids fall away. Cynical though I was when I started, the final result looked exactly like ghee. There was one downside: Earth Balance tends to be rather salty, and the "ghee" was saltier than I would have liked it to be. Whatever, though, because it worked really well in the recipes.
Pongal is traditionally eaten with gotsu, or aviyal. I've posted my gotsu recipe before, as I have my Pongal recipes and avial, but because I made them a little differently this time I am going to give you the recipes anyway. Although they may sound formidable to someone new to them, the two Pongals are among the easiest dishes you can cook up: they use a bare minimum of ingredients and there really is no way you can go wrong if you follow the directions.
Masala vadai are also traditional eats at Pongal celebrations, and you can see that recipe here.
1 cup rice
1 cup mung lentils
1 tsp cumin seeds, crushed
1 tsp black pepper, crushed
1 tbsp ginger, grated
2 tbsp chopped cashewnuts or peanuts (cashewnuts are the traditional choice, but I substitute with peanuts sometimes)
2 tbsp Earth Balance ghee (use canola or other flavorless oil if you can't find the Earth Balance butter sticks)
Salt to taste
Cook the rice and mung together, preferably in a pressure cooker or rice cooker, until they get really soft and mushy.
Heat the "ghee" in a skillet. On medium-low heat, add the cumin seeds, pepper and ginger and stir for a minute.
Add the nuts and stir until lightly golden.
Add the nuts and ginger mixture to the rice and lentils, and salt to taste. Stir to mix and add some water if it is too dry. You want the pongal to be soft and creamy.
Enjoy it with some aviyal (recipe follows)
3/4 cup rice
1/4 cup mung lentils or mung dal
Boil the rice and mung dal together, preferably in a pressure cooker, until really soft. I added about 3 cups of water to the pressure cooker, which gave me the right consistency.
Add 1 cup almond milk to the rice-mung mixture and set it on a low flame.
Add 3/4 to 1 cup grated jaggery and stir well.
Cook on a low flame until the raw jaggery smell has dissipated. This took about half an hour for me. The pongal should not be dry, but creamy and slightly fluid. If it gets too dry, add some more almond milk or water.
Heat 1 tbsp of the vegan "ghee"
Add 1 tsp powdered cardamom seeds
10-15 cashew nuts, broken into pieces
10-15 golden raisins (optional. I didn't use any this time)
Toss until the nuts are lightly browned. Add to the rice.
Stir well. Serve warm or at room temperature.
4 cups of mixed vegetables (I used potatoes, green beans, pumpkin and carrots. You can add other veggies like sweet potatoes, plantain, eggplant, green peas or white pumpkin)
1/2 cup coconut milk
2 tsp cumin seeds
3 green chillies
2 tbsp bengal gram dal
2 tbsp grated ginger
1 tsp canola oil
2 tbsp coconut oil
1 sprig curry leaves
Heat the canola oil and add the bengal gram dal. Put the bengal gram dal in a blender along with the ginger, coconut milk and 1 tsp cumin seeds and blend to a smooth paste.
Cook the vegetables with some water until almost tender. I put them in a microwave-safe dish with about half a cup of water, cover them with a microwave-safe lid, and zap them for seven minutes.
Heat 1 tbsp of the coconut oil in a saucepan. Add the ginger and curry leaves and stir for a minute. Add the vegetables and their cooking water, and turmeric powder.
Bring the vegetables to a boil, then add the coconut paste and salt to taste.
Once it starts to bubble, lower the heat and cook for another five minutes until the vegetables are quite tender.
Heat the remaining coconut oil in a separate pan.
Add 1 tsp cumin seeds and when they sputter, pour them into the aviyal.
Stir in and turn off the heat. Check salt and add more if needed.