A harvest festival is usually celebrated with great joy across the world, whether it is the Rice Harvest celebrations in Bali, Lammas in the UK, or the Thanksgiving festival in the US.
Pongal in Tamil Nadu, also celebrated as Makara Sankranti in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, and Lohri in the north, is a four-day harvest festival that marks the transit of the sun to the next zodiac sign.
‘Pongal’ in Tamil means “to boil”, and is celebrated as a thanksgiving ceremony for the year’s harvest. Pongal falls around the same time as Lohri, a Punjabi folk festival, which is around mid-January.
Special South Indian dishes like Sakkarai Pongal, Chakra Pongal, Rava and Khara pongal are cooked in most homes, making the occasion a food lovers’s delight. The most important aspect of this festival is cooking the Pongal dish and there are many varieties of this dish.
The food that is served during the festival is highly nutritious and good for health. This is because great care is taken to serve foods that are good for your well-being and will sustain you through the year.
The Pongal dish, for instance, is a mix of rice and moong dal, and is packed with proteins, vitamins, minerals and amino acids. As it combines complex carbohydrates with proteins, it makes for a complete meal. Legumes like lentils, beans and peas are a great source of protein, vitamin B and iron, and are rich in dietary fibre too.
According to nutritionist Sheela Krishnaswamy, right from the Ellu Bella, which is a healthy snack, to the pongal and the desserts, there are great nutritional benefits in each dish.
“The Ellu Bella is a healthy dish already,” says Sheela. “It’s a mixture of sesame seeds, coconut, jiggery and roasted channa, which provide protein, calcium, fibre and some minerals. The Ven Pongal is a combination of rice and dal, which is a good mix of carbohydrates and protein, while the Sakkarai Pongal too is a combination of rice and dal along with jaggery for sweetness. A sweet like ‘Paal paysam’ is a combination of carbohydrates and protein. It should be preferably made with jaggery and not sugar. If the dish is topped with almonds, then the protein and calcium content increases.”
Sheela believes it is important, however, to enjoy foods in moderation.
“While the traditional Indian meal is healthy, the festival meals can go a bit overboard on fat and carbohydrates. Therefore, it’s important to reduce the intake of carbohydrate-rich foods like rice and roti. Secondly, deep fried items and sweets need to be taken in reduced quantities. However, there’s no need to deprive oneself of any of the festival dishes. Conscious-eating helps to keep the intake in check. Finally, it’s also important to be physically active to off-load the excess intake of food on a festival day.”
1 cup Rice
1 cup yellow Moong Dal (Split)
Salt to taste
Ingredients for seasoning
2 tablespoons Ghee
1 teaspoon Cumin (Jeera) seeds
1 inch Ginger grated
1 teaspoon Whole Black Peppercorns, coarsely pounded
2 tablespoons Cashew nuts halved
1 sprig Curry leaves
• To begin making the Ven Pongal Recipe, first cook the rice and lentils in the pressure cooker. Heat the cooker on medium heat, add a tablespoon of ghee. Add the washed moong dal and roast the dal in the ghee for about a minute.
• Once the dal is roasted, add the rice, salt and five cups of water. Cover the pressure cooker, place the weight on and cook until you hear a whistle. After the first whistle, turn the heat to low and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes. After 3 to 4 minutes, turn off the heat and allow the pressure to release naturally.
• While the pressure is releasing, heat a tablespoon of ghee in a small pan, add in the cashew nuts and roast on low heat until lightly browned. Next add in a teaspoon of cumin seeds, 2 teaspoons of pounded black pepper, a tablespoon of grated ginger, the roughly torn curry leaves. Turn off the heat and stir all the ingredients in the remaining heat.
• Once the pressure has released from the cooker, add the prepared seasoning into the rice. Stir the seasoning into the rice until well blended.
• Add the rest of the seasoning and an additional 2 to 3 tablespoons of ghee into the rice. Stir until all the ingredients and the ghee are well combined into the Ven Pongal.
• Spoon the Ven Pongal onto a rounded cup and press the rice in. Invert the cup onto a plate you voila you get a cup of Ven Pongal on your platter. Pick a cashew piece from the Pongal and place on the top to decorate.
3/4 cup Rice, washed
1/2 cup Yellow Moong Dal (Split), washed
1 cup Jaggery
1 teaspoon Cardamom (Elaichi) Powder
1/4 cup Ghee
Ingredients for Seasoning
2 tablespoons Cashew nuts halved
1 tablespoon Ghee
• To begin making the Sakkarai Pongal Recipe, heat a pan on medium heat and roast the yellow moong dal until a lightly roasted aroma is released. Don’t allow the moong dal to turn brown.
• Place the roasted moong dal and the washed rice into the pressure cooker. Add 2-1/2 cups of water, cover the pan, place the weight on and pressure cook until you heat one whistle. After the first whistle, turn the heat to low and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes. After 3 to 4 minutes, turn off the heat and allow the pressure to release naturally. Keep this aside.
• In a saucepan, add 1/4 cup of water and melt the jaggery on medium heat. Allow the jaggery to come to a boil. Stir in the cardamom powder to the jaggery mixture and turn off the heat. Keep this aside.
• Now heat a tablespoon of ghee in a small pan and roast the cashew nuts until golden and crisp. Turn off the heat and keep aside.
• In the final steps to make Sakkarai Pongal; add the melted jaggery mixture and the roasted cashew nuts along with the 1/4 cup of ghee into the cooked rice and dal.
• Stir well on medium heat for about 5 minutes until the jaggery is well blended with the rice and dal mixture. The Sakkarai Pongal is now ready. Turn off the heat and transfer the Pongal to a serving bowl.
• The Sakkarai Pongal is traditionally offered on a fresh banana leaf.
1/4 teaspoon Ghee
3 tablespoons Rice
2 litres milk
1/2 cup Sugar or to taste
• To begin making Paal Payasam, we will first wash the rice and dry it with a cloth.
• Heat ghee in a heavy bottomed saucepan on low heat, add in the rice and roast on medium heat until you get a lightly roasted aroma, taking care not to brown the rice.
• Once roasted, add in the milk. Allow the milk to come to boil. Once it comes to a boil, turn the heat to low.
• Simmer the milk and rice mixture on low heat stirring occasionally until the milk condenses to half its quantity, making sure the rice is cooked at this stage, else simmer for a little longer.
• Add in the sugar at this stage and stir well until the sugar dissolves. You can add the saffron and nuts at this point and serve hot or cold.
• Serve the Paal Payasam Recipe (Rice Kheer/Pudding) as a comforting dessert.
1 1/4 cups Sooji (Semolina/ Rava)
1 1/2 cups Avarekalu (Hyacinth bean)
1 Onion, chopped
3 Green Chillies, slit
1 inch Ginger, grated
1/2 cup dry coconut (kopra), grated
1/2 teaspoon Cumin (Jeera) seeds
1/2 teaspoon Mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon White Urad Dal (Split)
1/2 teaspoon Chana dal (Bengal Gram Dal)
1 teaspoon Turmeric powder (Haldi)
6 Curry leaves
1 teaspoon Whole Black Peppercorns crushed
Salt to taste
3 cups Water
1 tablespoon Ghee
2 tablespoon Cooking oil
• Heat a pan on medium flame, dry roast the sooji or rava till it is golden brown and keep it aside.
• In a separate saucepan, add water and avarekalu beans along with salt. Bring to a single boil and turn off the flame. Drain the water and keep it aside.
• In a separate saucepan, heat 3 cups water and keep it ready.
• In a pan, heat oil on medium flame and add the mustard seeds, urad dal, channa dal, jeera seeds and then add the curry leaves, allowing the curry leaves to crackle.
• Next add the chopped onions, saute till it is golden brown, add the green chilies, ginger, turmeric powder and boiled avarekalu beans and give it a toss.
• Add in the roasted rava and mix it well, once that is done slowly add in the boiling water. Mix well, check for seasoning by adding salt and crushed pepper.
• Let it boil and let the rava get cooked. Once the rava is cooked, mix it well and add the grated coconut and a tablespoon of ghee and toss well.
• Serve the Karnataka style avarekai upma along with coconut peanut chutney.