Pongal

Happy Thai Pongal! இனிய தைப்பொங்கல் நல்வாழ்த்துகள்!

Tomorrow is Pongal for Tamils around the world. Pongal is a celebration that occurs annually on the first day of the month of ‘Thai’ (Tamil month equivalent to January) and is a harvest festival, traditionally meant to honour the sun. It is also the name of the key rice dish that is made to celebrate most Tamil festivals, but particularly its namesake festival.

I shared a simple recipe of the home-cooking version of Pongal in this post last August. Today, I also wanted to share some of the photos from one of our Pongal celebrations with the families in our apartment building a couple of years back as it is more of a community festival where people get together in the temple or courtyard, or as in this case – the car parking area. I was going to post this tomorrow on the festival day but as one of my friends has sent me a recipe of one of the snacks she makes for Pongal, I decided to post her recipe tomorrow. So, here’s the photo-story of Pongal making.

The kolam (designs made of rice flour paste) is first drawn. Within its boundaries, the traditional Tamil welcome is set up facing north, with the kuthuvillaku/lamps and the coconut with mango leaves placed in the kudam/pot

The kolam (designs made of rice flour paste) is first drawn. Within its boundaries, the traditional Tamil welcome is set up facing north, with the kuthuvillaku/lamps and the coconut with mango leaves placed in the kudam/pot

Water for Pongal

Setting up the Pongal pot facing the rising sun in the east

Milk boiling for pongal

Milk (usually dairy milk but at home, my mother uses coconut milk) is added to the water in the pot

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Everyone waits for the milk to boil over – this symbolically means prosperity for all for the coming year (‘Ponguthal’ means boiling over and is the word that festival name and dish derived its name from)

Adding rice to the pot

The rice is then added to the pot – a handful at a time by some of the elders, women and men, present.

Pongal

After the rice is cooked, jaggery, nuts, raisins are added to the pot and stirred well. Finally, the pongal is ready to be blessed and served.

While Thai Pongal is an important Tamil festival for Tamils living around the world, it is celebrated differently in different countries. In Sri Lanka, Pongal is mostly celebrated as described above whereas in India, it is a three-day festival with a day dedicated for cows. A harvest day festival around this day is also celebrated across India and Nepal but called different names (Makara Sankranti, Lohri, Uttarayana, Magh Bihu etc.) in different regions and has different rituals.

Wish you a Happy Pongal!

Kurakkan Pittu

Kurakkan, also known as ragi, is a type of millet that is gluten-free and diabetic friendly. At home, the most common and popular form of pittu is the rice flour pittu. Occasionally, my mother makes the atta flour pittu or the kurakkan flour pittu.

Below is the simple recipe for making kurakkan flour pittu. The rice flour pittu and atta flour pittu easily blend with any curries and is a convenient meal to prepare. Kurakkan, however, has a distinctive taste that I find does not easily merge with just any curry. As such, I prefer to eat kurakkan pittu simply sprinkled with coconut and jaggery.

Kurakkan Pittu

Time taken: 25 mins

Serves 2

Kurakkan pittuIngredients:

  • Kurakkan flour/ ragi – 1 cup
  • Coconut – ¼ cup, freshly scraped
  • Jaggery – 2 or 3 tbsp, finely chopped
  • Salt – pinch

Method:

  1. Add a pinch or two of salt to the kurakkan flour.
  2. Stir in boiled and slightly cooled water until the flour mixtures becomes coarse and grainy.
  3. Steam the kurakkan pittu for 10 mins.
  4. Mix the freshly scraped coconut and chopped jaggery into the steamed pittu and serve hot.

Recipe source: Raji Thillainathan.

Dodol

To celebrate Eid, my mother made some ‘dodol’. This sweet has its roots in the Malay cuisine of Sri Lanka but has since become popular across the entire country.

The second best ‘dodol’ that I have tasted is the ‘dodol’ sold in a little family-run shop on a tiny road across the Peacock beach hotel in Hambantota district. The best was the exquisite dodol wrapped in woven reed that a relative had sent us. He unfortunately omitted to get the contact details of the entrepreneur he had randomly come across and purchased it from. So, I only have the remembrance of the taste by which I have compared all other ‘dodol’ since. I have also hoped that that entrepreneur would have been successful enough in his business and his products would be available at some popular outlet other than his previous door-to-door sales.

At my house, while everyone likes dodol, it is time-consuming to make. My mother doesn’t like to take much time over cooking so she created her instant ‘dodol’ version, which I would say is the third best in my dodol tasting experience.

So, today, I will share my mother’s recipe for her instant dodol as well as my grandmother’s recipe for regular dodol.

(a) Dodol (regular) – grandmother’s recipe

Time taken: 2 hours

Makes 20 pieces

Ingredients:

  • Coconut – 2 cup, freshly scraped
  • Roasted rice flour – 2 cup
  • Jaggery – 2 cup, grated
  • Crushed cardamom – 1 tbsp
  • Cashewnuts – ¼ cup, chopped

Method:

  1. Blend freshly scraped coconut with 10 cups of water and make coconut milk.
  2. Mix all ingredients in a large pot and keep stirring continuously over a medium heat for around 1 hour. Do not allow mixture to burn.
  3. Once it starts thickening and the oil starts separating. Separate the dodol from the oil and transfer to a tray and allow to cool for at least ½ hour. The separated coconut oil can be reused for cooking.
  4. Store in an air-tight container and slice and serve, when required. The regular ‘dodol’ can be stored for at least 2 weeks.

(b) Instant dodol – my mother’s recipe:

Time taken: 25 mins

Serves 4

DodolIngredients:

  • Coconut – ½ cup, freshly scraped
  • Roasted rice flour – ¼ cup
  • Jaggery – ¼ cup, grated
  • Cashew nuts – 1 tbsp, chopped
  • Cardamom – 3 or 4, crushed
  • Vegetable oil margarine – 1 tbsp

Method:

  1. Blend ½ cup of freshly scraped coconut with 1 cup of water to make coconut milk.
  2. Mix all ingredients in a pan and stir continuously over medium heat for about 10 mins.
  3. As the mixture thickens, add 1 tbsp of vegetable oil margarine and mix well. In the instant version, the stirring does not go on till the oil separates, hence the margarine is added before removing from stove.
  4. Transfer to a plate and allow the instant ‘dodol’ to cool for at least 15 mins before slicing and serving. The instant ‘dodol’ has to be served within 12 hours or so and cannot be kept for more time.

Recipe source: Raji Thillainathan.

Aval

A Navarathri festival favourite from childhood is ‘aval’, a simple, quick to prepare delicious snack. So, for the first day of the Saraswathie poosai, I would like to share this simple recipe for ‘Aval’.

I have always thought of ‘aval’ as a sweet snack, generally prepared during ‘home poosai’ (prayer ceremony) as a ‘prasadam’ (blessed offering), but I came across the Indore Kanda Poha a few months back and was happily surprised it was a savoury, breakfast food. Here though, I am sharing the traditional way it is prepared in north Sri Lanka.

Aval

Time taken: 10 – 15 mins

Serves 2

AvalIngredients

  • Aval (flattened rice or puffed rice) – ½ cup
  • Coconut – ¼ cup, scraped
  • Sugar – 3 tbsp or Jaggery – 2 tbsp, chopped
  • Crushed cardamom – 1 tsp
  • Cashew nuts – 1 tsp, chopped
  • Raisins – 2 tsp

Method:

  1. Rinse the ‘aval’ in a bowl of water and drain it.
  2. Add ¼ cup of hot water to the cleaned ‘aval’ and let it soak for 5 mins. Drain.
  3. Heat a pan on low heat and dry roast the coconut for about 2 mins.
  4. Add the jaggery or sugar to the pan and continue cooking for another 2 – 3 mins.
  5. Add the crushed cardamom to the pan and stir before adding the ‘aval’ to the pan. Mix well before removing from heat.
  6. Garnish with chopped cashew nuts and raisins.

Recipe source: Raji Thillainathan.

Kolukkattai

With the start of Navarathri today, I thought of posting nine of my mother’s recipes of some food that she typically makes during this nine-day festival. I have always been fond of Navarathri, since my childhood, and I think of all the religious festivals that my family has observed, this has been the favourite and better observed.

The nine days of the festival are dedicated to Goddesses starting with the first three days for Goddess Durga, symbolizing courage and strength, the next three days for Goddess Lakshmi, symbolizing wealth and beauty, the last three days for Goddess Saraswathi, symbolizing knowledge and wisdom. The last three days are the most special of the nine days.

To start off the Navarathri food fest, I will first share one of my favourites – Kolukkattai. This is a steamed half-moon shaped dumpling made especially during the Aadi pirappu (July 15th, which is the first of the month of Aadi in the Tamil calendar) and during the ceremony that marks the arrival of a baby’s first teeth. It is actually ‘Mothaham’, a round shaped version of the kolukkattai, that is made during Navarathri but at my home, my mother prefers to make kolukkattai generally.

Mothaham

Mothaham

Kolukkattai

Time taken: 40 – 45 mins

Makes 10

Kolukkattai

Kolukkattai

Ingredients:

  • Green gram – ½ cup, roasted and split
  • Water
  • Wheat flour – ¾ cup
  • Rice flour – ¼ cup
  • Salt – pinch
  • Low fat oil, as required
  • Coconut –½ cup, freshly scraped
  • Jaggery – ¼ cup
  • Cardamom – 4, crushed

Method

  1. Boil the green gram in about 1 ½ cups of water, for about 20 mins, until it is well-cooked. Add water if the liquid dries up before the gram is cooked. Drain and keep aside.
  2. Meanwhile, mix the wheat flour, rice flour and a pinch of salt. Add hot water slowly while stirring the flour mix with a spoon.
  3. Add a little oil and bring together the mixture into a ball of dough.
  4. Divide the dough into 10 small balls, adding a little oil, to have a smooth dough mix.
  5. In a pan, cook the jaggery on low heat and stir as it melts.
  6. Add the scraped coconut and quickly stir for a couple of minutes, not allowing the coconut-jaggery mixture to burn.
  7. Add the boiled and drained green gram and the crushed cardamom to the coconut-jaggery mixture. Mix and remove from heat. Let the mixture cool.
  8. Roll out each of the ten small balls of dough and spoon 1 tbsp filling in the center of the rolled out dough. Close the dough wrap over the filling in a half-moon shape, by hand or using a pre-fabricated mold shell, or into a round dumpling shape. For the ceremony that marks the arrival of the baby’s first teeth, tiny coconut chips are embedded into the dents pressed by the mold or finger along one half of the half-moon shaped dumpling.
  9. Steam the ‘kolukattai’ (the half-moon shaped) or ‘mothaham’ (the round shaped dumpling) for about 10 mins.

Recipe source: Raji Thillainathan.

Date chutney

The second recipe I would like to share today is my mother’s recipe for her version of date chutney. She is particularly fond of the unique flavour arising from the chilli infused date sauce.

Date chutney

Time taken: 10 mins

Serves 3 – 4

Date chutney

Ingredients:

  • Dates – 2 tbsp, finely chopped
  • Jaggery – 1 tsp
  • Brown sugar – 1 tsp
  • Water – 4 tbsp
  • Crushed chillies – ½ tsp
  • Cumin powder – ¼ tsp
  • Mixed 3C (cinnamon, cardamom, clove) powder – ¼ tsp
  • Sesame seeds – 1 tbsp
  • Salt – pinch

Method:

  1. Heat the jaggery, brown sugar and water in a sauce pan, on low heat, stirring continuously for about 2 to 3 mins.
  2. Stir in ½ tsp crushed chillies and ¼ tsp cumin powder and cook for a minute.
  3. Add the mixed 3C powder to the pan and let the sauce simmer for a minute.
  4. When the sauce starts to boil and bubble, add the sesame seeds. Mix well.
  5. Add the chopped dates and continue to let the sauce simmer on low heat for a few minutes till the sauce thickens and the liquid starts drying up.
  6. Season with a pinch of salt before removing from heat.
  7. The chutney can be kept for several days in an airtight container.

Recipe source: Raji Thillainathan.

Pongal

My mother often recounts a story from her childhood years, particularly ones that include her grandmother. One story she is fond of narrating is about how her grandmother used to undertake her own farming and not use machines or chemicals. My great-grandmother, who was the last farmer in our family lost her husband at a young age and raised her three children on her own. She had some paddy land and a small vegetable farm, which she managed to buy with her own earning. While she did hire farm labourers when needed, she did a lot of work on her field herself. Also, she raised cows and goats and undertook organic farming. Compost was made on her farm and used in her field. She had her land ploughed with a hand-plough and planted the paddy seeds. When the seeds started growing, just like any other small time farmer, she undertook the weeding together with the help of some hired hands.

The harvesting season was a special process and the cut grain stalks would be loaded onto bullock carts and brought home for the grains to be separated from the husks. By the time they were brought home, it would be night. As there was no electricity in their home at that time, three or four petromax lamps were lighted. My mother remembers that she was very much excited during those days and didn’t want to go to sleep but stay up and watch. It seemed like a carnival at her grandmother’s home, with the place lighted up and movement of people throughout the night.

A pole was planted in the middle of the yard and large woven mats placed around the pole. The cut stalks were spread on the mat. The buffaloes were tied to the pole and two or three hired help would walk the buffaloes around the pole. This was the old process to separate the grains from the husks. My mother remembers watching the men walk the buffaloes calling out, “poli.” The stalks were then picked up and thrashed onto the mat and the grains would separate out and fall. These were then packed up in sacks.

Local rice varieties

The first handfuls of grain were beaten in a stone or wood “ural” to separate the raw rice from the grain. This was made into the first pongal of the harvest. Everyone who helped would be invited for a meal and given bags of grains.

Family members who had died were also remembered on that day and a large variety of food was made. My mother mentions that a special offering was made that day, as part of the remembrance ritual, called the “puthir.” Her grandmother used to take some of the pongal made from the first rice from the harvest and spread it out on a large tray. Then, all types of available fruits were cut up and layered on top of the pongal. Honey was poured over the fruits. A sampling of all the vegetable curries that were made were also layered on top of the pongal-fruit-honey mix. Finally, ghee was poured over the tray of food and everything was mixed together. After the prayers were made, a little “puthir” was handed as “prasadham” (blessed offering) to everyone present.

Today, I will share the recipe of pongal that is made with the first harvest of the season by farmers and by non-farmers on festival days such as the Pongal festival in January, New Year in April and other celebrations.

Pongal

Cooking time: 30 to 40 mins

Serves 4 or 5

Pongal

Ingredients:

  • Rice – 1 cup
  • Roasted split gram (without skin) – ¼ cup
  • Jaggery – 1 cup (grated)
  • Coconut – ½
  • Cardamom – 4 or 5, crushed
  • Cashew nuts – few, chopped
  • Raisins – 1 tbsp
  • Water

Method:

  1. Wash the rice and gram and cook them in a pot with 2 ½ cups of water. Cook for around 15 to 20 mins, till the water dries up.
  2. Grind and extract coconut milk by blending the freshly scraped half of a coconut with 1 cup of water.
  3. Once the rice and gram is cooked, add the grated jaggery and mix.
  4. Then, add the coconut milk and crushed cardamoms. Bring to a boil on high heat and cook for a few more minutes before reducing the heat.
  5. Add the chopped cashew nuts. Cook until the pongal mixture starts coming together and starts to thicken.
  6. Just before removing from heat, add the raisins and mix.
  7. Remove from heat and cover.
  8. Serve pongal with bananas.

Recipe source: Raji Thillainathan.