The milk was allowed to boil over in Deepa Balasubramaniam’s Mumbai home this morning. “Spilled milk, during Pongal, is believed to welcome abundance,” she said. Then she shared a photo of her simple yet charming kolam with designs of the sun, moon and clay lamps. “We celebrate the festival by worshipping the sun and moon,” she says. It was bedecked with flowers, betel leaves, bananas, coconut and deep purple sugarcane. In the rural districts of Tamil Nadu, during Pongal, children munching on sugarcane sticks is a common sight. Fresh sugarcane is brought home to decorate a kolam, and is considered as a marker of prosperity.
“All of us eat sugarcane during Pongal,” says Kishore DK, founder of Tanjore Tiffin Room in Mumbai. It is eaten raw and used in our cooking too. “We have a classic sweet dish named Chakkara Pongal which contains jaggery. There is a variation with sugarcane juice replacing jaggery,” he says. A mildly aromatic short-grained rice is used to make this dish which is sourced from the fresh harvest of the season and is called ponni.
Chakkara Pongal is served on a banana leaf, traditionally, and the utensils needed to cook it must be brand new. “In my ancestral home in Thanjavur, I remember making it in clay pots. We would prepare a stove in the front courtyard of our home and all festive dishes will be prepared there. Everything, from the ingredients to utensils and the stove, has to be new during Pongal,” says Vetri Murugan, head chef of Zambar in Delhi.
The savoury variation of the Chakkara Pongal, called Venn Pongal, contains seasonal vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, pumpkin, brinjal and spinach. “Venne means white in Tamil and the savoury Pongal, flavoured with whole pepper and ghee, is supposed to fortify the body,” says Murugan. This year, he would be celebrating Pongal in Delhi and cooking up a storm for his guests at Zambar that has a Pongal-special menu: “After spending 10 years here, Pongal means serving for my guests now."
Chakkara Pongal Recipe
By Chef Vetri Murugan
100 grams rice
85 grams yellow moong dal
3 cups water, for cooking
Half cup jaggery
Half cup water, for the jaggery solution
1 pinch edible camphor (optional)
Half teaspoon cardamom powder
A pinch of salt
100 gm ghee
80 gm cashew nuts
50 gm raisins
1. Rinse the rice and moong dal in water a couple of times.
2. Then put them and 3 cups of water in open vessel and let it cook. Ratio of grain to water should be 1:3. You can reduce the water quantity. The amount of water depends on the preferred consistency and the quality of moong dal.
3. Both the rice and moong dal should be cooked well and appear mushy. Gently mash with a spoon till the grains disintegrate a bit. The consistency of the cooked rice and lentils is like a khichdi. Cook it in slow flame.
4. Meanwhile, make a syrup with half cup jaggery and half cup water. Strain and add it to the rice and lentils mixture. (If you are using jaggery powder, no need to make a syrup. Jaggery powder can be added directly.)
3. Now, add the crushed cardamom powder, a pinch of edible camphor and salt.
4. Mix well. The Pongal will thicken as it cools. When the mixture looks thick, immediately remove the pot from the stovetop and top off with fried cashews, raisins and ghee.
5. Stir well and serve hot.
Where to find Pongal-special menus in your city? Zambar in Delhi, Tanjore Tiffin Room in Mumbai and Oota Company in Bengaluru.