Sweet Pongal is an integral part of the menu on Pongal Thirunaal
In many ways this festival is a thanksgiving to the Sun God
The melting of the jaggery is the key process in Sweet Pongal
I only had one request for my grandmother every time she made the short trek to the Parthasarathy temple in Triplicane, Chennai - Sakkarai Pongal or Sweet Pongal. Just like the famous Tirupati laddoo at the Venkateswara temple in Tirumala, this sweet Pongal has a long list of fans. The Parathasarathy temple’s time-tested recipe for its rich sweet Pongal includes 700 grams of ghee and 400 grams of cashew nuts for every 2 kgs of rice. It’s not the only temple in South India that keeps churning out Sweet Pongal (with flavours enriched with its wood fired cooking process) on a daily basis, it is the offering (prasad) of choice for many deities across South India. But ultimately the dish is always associated with the harvest festivals – Pongal in Tamil Nadu and Sankaranti in Andhra Pradesh.
The Pongal Festival
Sweet Pongal is an integral part of the menu on Pongal Thirunaal (falls on January 14th this year) or Pongal day that is the most important day of the Pongal festivities. In many ways this festival is a ‘thanksgiving’ to the Sun god for an abundant harvest and begins with cooking pongal in large earthen pots outdoors. The first Pongal of the year is usually a ‘paal pongal’ (Milk Pongal) where the first rice crop of the year is cooked with milk and a pinch of salt. Almost all homes cook the Ven Pongal (a popular breakfast item across Tamil Nadu) spiced with whole peppercorns and curry leaves and the sweet (Sakkarai) Pongal.
‘Sakkarai’ is the Tamil word for sugar but oddly enough Sakkarai Pongal is usually cooked with jaggery and not sugar. The melting of the jaggery is the key process in this dish, which is blended with a rice and green gram mixture (typically in a 2:1 ratio). There’s also a hint of camphor that lends a unique flavour to the dish. Sakkarai Pongal is not a regular fixture on menus in South Indian restaurants but there’s Murugan Idli Shop (in Chennai and Madurai) that serves a terrific version around the year.
Here’s the recipe of Sakkarai Pongal for you to try at home-
Sakkarai Pongal Recipe by Chef Shankar Padmanabhan of Taj Coromandel, Chennai
100g raw rice 50g green gram 125g jaggery 30ml ghee 5g raisins 5g cashew nuts 2g edible camphor 3g green cardamoms
1. Dry roast the green gram in a thick bottom pan and add it to the raw rice. 2. Wash the rice and green gram mixture at least twice. 3. Add water to the rice and green gram mixture and bring it to boil. 4. Grate the jaggery and take it in a separate pan, add water to it and heat it till the jaggery melts to form a syrup. 5. When the rice and dal mixture is completely cooked, simmer it and add the jaggery syrup to it. 6. Mix all the ingredients well and mash it with a ladle. 7. Heat ghee in a pan and add the cashew nut and raisins to it. When they begin to turn brown, add it to the kedgeree. 8. Combine the edible camphor to the above mixture. Slightly pound the green cardamom and add it to the sweet Pongal. Cook it for a short while over a low flame. Serve hot.
Akkaravadisal - Where Sweet Pongal meets Payasam
Pongal marks the beginning of the Tamil month of Thai that follows an auspicious month of Margazhi. The Marghazi month typically runs from December 15 to January 14; it isn’t just a month of special prayers but also a time when most temples offer special delicacies to the presiding deities. One of these is Akkaravadasal, a version of Sweet Pongal. It’s almost where a Sweet Pongal meets a Pal Payasam (rice kheer) and made on the 27th day of Marghazi, a few days before Pongal at temples. This dish is also served at many Iyengar weddings in Tamil Nadu. This dish is also quoted in Thirupavai, an important religious text – “The ghee from the hand should trickle down to the elbow”. It’s been a long running tradition at my home too.
100g raw rice 25g moong dal 500ml milk 200g jaggery 50g unsweetened khoa ghee 10 almonds, finely ground A few strands saffron 4 cardamom pods A pinch nutmeg 10-15 cashew nuts A handful of raisins
1. In a pan fry moong dal in a teaspoon of ghee. 2. Clean the rice and add the rice in the same pan along with moong dal and milk and cook on slow fire till the mixture reaches a pasty consistency. Add more milk if required. 3. Once it is done, add finely powdered jaggery and keep stirring till the jaggery is fully blended with the rice. Now add the almond paste and little milk and stir so the almonds do not get into lumps. Add khoa and stir well. 4. Add crushed cardamom and nutmeg in a pan. Place the ghee when it is heated and add cashew and raisins. 5. Add saffron to quarter cup milk and mix well. Pour over the mixture. Stir well and serve (you could top it with a spoon of ghee just before you serve).
About the Author:
Ashwin Rajagopalan is a cross cultural training expert and lifestyle writer. When he's not writing about food, he thinks about gadgets, trends and travel experiences. He enjoys communicating across cultures and borders in his weekday work avatar as a content and editorial consultant for a global major and one of India's only cross cultural trainers.
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