Sweet Pongal / Sakkarai Pongal
Pongal is the harvest festival celebrated by the Tamilians in South India, where I grew up.This festival just like the sweet pongal here, brings so many sweet memories of childhood.”Pongal” literally means overflowing with abundance & prosperity and is celebrated with passion & zeal starting on January 14th of every year for a period of 4 days.Schools were closed, homes sparkled, a festive air was all around. Farming,what started as a hobby, became a passion for my parents when we were kids.If it was not for the loving farming friends my Dad had, it would have stopped at that, since both my parents were totally new to agriculture( in a different land), moving from a different state, the culture , the language everything was different for them, yet they found the most loving souls in this land which I call my very own to this day, a sacred land that molded me to become the person I am today….the simplicity in people, their rich culture, their deep respect for tradition & yet embracing all that is new like their very own & sharing & growing from that…..yup, my parents had made it their home & these loving friends are a big part of my childhood memories, each one of them in their own special way. On this day,the houses were cleaned & painted like new, the courtyard sprinkled with water & colorful ‘Rangolis’ displayed everywhere, our farm hands were off work during the festive period, so they get time to shop for bright colored clothes , pots & pans….and then the festivities begin.This festival was always celebrated in the farms & so we would go “farm trotting” to each of our friends places, till we returned to our very own in the evening to celebrate & share our bounty with the farmhands, the cattle & the crops that helped us grow & reap on mother earth.The cattle are given a holy bath by the river side & brushed with wet hay till their skin shone ( this was my favorite activity as a kid, though I smelt like one of them at the end wink emoticon, then we would paint their horns colorfully & deck them up with flower garlands and dot them with vermillion/kumkum on their foreheads as a mark of all things sacred, since it was their show that night.Food was cooked for all the farmhands & the families that visited,then the drum rolls would begin & the farm hands sang loudly & folk danced around the holy tank of water surrounded by sugarcane & flowers when these cattle would march in with all their glory ( I was certain as a kid that, they smiled happily since it was a day of celebrating them, for helping us in our farms).The women would collect together & in colorfully decked earthen ware pots would face east & start cooking “Pongal” ( also the name given to the food cooked on this day consisting of rice & lentils which is our staple food in India),the joy is in watching the food get cooked & overflow from these pots signifying a bountiful year ahead.All the fresh vegetables grown in the farm would be used for the curries & then we would all sit together for a meal sharing the joy of the harvest. The emotions were so palpable then, the content feeling of surviving all the ups & downs the year brought, just immeasurable ,these farm hands had such big hearts, that to this day I hold it precious in memory …that given a chance they would share the single morsel of rice they had in their “thukku”/lunch box without a second thought, with you. This sweet Pongal I share with you,is an essential part of the festivities a memory of all that I hold close to my heart .Truly, India’s heart is in its farms ,may she always share her bounties with all that have grown in her lap, now & always.Happy Pongal !
1 .Rice- 1/2 cup
2. Moong Dhal- 1 1/2 tbsp
3.Jaggery- 1 cup
4.Milk – 2 1/2 cups
5.Cardamom Powder- a pinch ( for flavor)
7. Raisins- 8-9
8.Ghee- 2-3 tbsp
9.Water – 1.2 cup
1.Dry roast rice & dhal separately in a thick bottomed vessel.Then pressure cook them together with milk until they are soft & mushy.
2.Meanwhile in another vessel heat water, add the grated jaggery & keep stirring till it melts completely & becomes a thick syrupy paste like consistency.
3.Now transfer the cooked rice & dhal mix into the jaggery syrup, adding the ghee & cardamon powder & mixing it well.Let it simmer for a few minutes.
4.Meanwhile heat some ghee in a little bowl & fry the cashews & raisins in them & pour it on top of the ‘pongal’ which is simmering in the stove.
5.Remove from heat , offer it in prayer & gratitude, then serve it to your loved ones for welcoming a year of bounty & prosperity.