Today I’m sharing my recipe for Chakkara Pongal, a sort of sweet rice and lentil pudding from South India. I haven’t been very regular with my posts in the past few months. and really appreciate all of your comments on my posts. Even more so because I haven’t returned the favour, or followed my favourite blogs and posts despite very good intentions to do so. I’ve been too busy with things, and some days I’ve been happy that the day was done and I could get to bed. My food photography has suffered and these photographs of the Carnival happened only because I had a little time to kill while waiting to pick up my daughter. Life has a tendency to throw a few spokes every once in a while. Writing a reasonably informative/ researched post or cooking-plating-composing-shooting a photograph for a post isn’t a priority then. So I may get a bit irregular with my posts every now and then, but this blog is here to stay.
Getting back to Chakkara Pongal. We celebrated Pongal about 2 months back and this post has been waiting in the draft folders. Pongal is a word that describes Indian festival and a couple of the dishes cooked for it. Celebrated in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Pongal/ Thai Pongal usually falls on the 13th/14th/ 15th of January every year. This corresponds to the first day of the Tamil month of “Thai”.
Pongal is celebrated over 4 days traditionally and is a celebration of Makara Sankranthi . This celebration marks the end of the winter solstice, th northward movement of the sun and the beginning of warmer and longer days. This is celebrated all over India but by different names depending on where you are from. It is also primarily a harvest festival celebrating the new harvest. In Tamil Nadu, Pongal is typically celebrated with a ritual where milk is allowed to boil over in an earthenware pot. This overflow signifies prosperity and a hope that the coming year will “overflow” with good luck and tidings.
Palakkad Iyers celebrate Pongal but just for two days. The first day being Pongal itself and the next day is called Kanu. We don’t follow the tradition of boiling milk till it overflows. Instead, apart from ritual baths and all the other things we do for all festivities, we make Chakkara Pongal and Venn Pongal . Both are rice and lentil dishes and traditionally made using freshly harvested rice. Chakkara Pongal is made by cooking rice and moong lentils roasted in a bit of ghee, till soft. This is further cooked in a jaggery syrup with fresh coconut, , Here I chose to make Chakkara Pongal with Kerala’s famed medicinal and indigenous Njavara rice. If using Njavara rice, please soak the rice for a couple of hours before cooking it. Njavara is an unpolished rice and will not cook very well if not soaked.
On Kanu, the day after Pongal, married women and young girls in the family traditionally perform a ritual. Each person places small servings of rice cooked the previous day mixed with yogurt, small pieces of coconut, a small piece of turmeric, bits of jaggery and banana pieces on a piece of banana leaf. This is offered to the crows. The belief is that we’re making the offerings to the spirits of our ancestors. This is perhaps the only ritual performed before having a bath and where food is offered is not freshly cooked.
Chakkara Pongal (chakkara means sugar or sweet) is best described as a rice and lentil pudding sweetened with jaggery. It is a bit like this Nei Payasam but not as rich. The consistency of Chakkara Pongal is somewhat sticky and almost mushy, perhaps like the Italian risotto. Pongal is always cooked using raw rice (not boiled, par-boiled or steamed). You can also use an unpolished variety of rice similar to that used for payasam (kheer) in Kerala. Please note Basmati rice is never used in any of our traditional rice based dishes, sweet or savoury.
The lentils in Pongal are moong or split green gram lentils. The colour of the Pongal (and taste) would depend upon the colour of the jaggery you use, andt a dark brown coloured jaggery is ideal. This is my mother’s recipe and part of a collection that she sent me when I first started cooking for myself. As with all traditional recipes, the proportions are open a slight change either way where required to be changed to taste.
- 1 1/2 cups raw rice
- 1/4 cup split green gram lentils (moong dal)
- 1/8 cup ghee
- 1/8 cup halved cashewnuts
- 2 tbsps golden or black raisins
- 1 cup milk
- 1 to 1 1/4 cups powdered jaggery (or according to desired sweetness)
- 1/3 cup freshly grated coconut
- 5 to 6 pods cardamom powdered
- Heat the ghee in a small pan and fry the raisins till they puff up, then remove and keep aside. Now fry the cashewnuts till golden in colour. Remove from the ghee and keep aside.
- To the remaining ghee, over low heat, add the lentils and fry till they give off an aroma and just start changing colour. Do not brown. Remove the lentils to a plate.
- In a large pot or pressure cooker, cook the washed rice and the fried lentils with the 1 cup of milk and enough water till very well done but not mushy.
- The rice I use usually needs about 2 1/2 cups of water for every 1 cup of rice so here that would mean 1 cup of milk + 2 3/4 cups water. If you're using the rice used for payasam you would need more water per cup of rice. If you find, after the rice has cooked well, that there is a little extra water with the rice and it is a bit wet that's alright. You can cook it off later.
- Take a large heavy bottomed pot/ saucepan and put the jaggery and about a 1/4 cup of water in it. Cook this over medium heat, stirring frequently, till the jaggery has dissolved and becomes a bit thick and syrup-like. Add the cooked rice-lentil mixture and stir well. Cook this over medium heat, stirring again to make sure it doesn't stick at the bottom, until it becomes thick and there's just a little liquid visible.
- Add the coconut and stir a couple of times and then add the cashewnuts, raisins and the powdered cardamom. Mix very well and take it off the heat. You can add a teaspoon of ghee at this point if you want and mix it in. The Chakkara Pongal is ready to be served. As with all traditional cooking,especially festive fare, this is offered to the Gods before it is served.
- Chakkara Pongal is traditionally not served as dessert but along with breakfast and sometimes lunch.