Pongal is a simple rice dish with moong dal and spices. There are two kinds of Pongal – Ven Pongal (simply referred to as Pongal) and Sakkarai Pongal. Ven Pongal (Ven meaning ‘white’) is savory and Sakkarai Pongal is sweet.

Pongal also refers to the Festival called ‘Pongal’, which is celebrated on January 14th every year where households all across Tamil Nadu, India are inundated with the aroma of sweet and savory Pongal!  In fact, during the month preceding this festival, Ven Pongal would feature as breakfast in these households, a tradition that my mom followed religiously. I, however, religiously grimaced at having to eat this porridge every. single. Morning! Little did I know back then that the magical consistency and deliciousness my mom so effortlessly crafted was a real treat – and now I try so hard to recreate my mom’s magic every time I make it! Pongal has been a staple in my household, during the Festival and even otherwise.

Today’s Pongal recipe is for Ven Pongal – the savory kind.  It is a rice dish cooked with moong dal and spiced with black pepper, cumin, ginger, and curry leaves. The spices are tempered in ghee and give a rich aroma to the dish. The star ingredient is asafoetida. It is added to the rice and lentils right in the beginning which imparts its unique flavor to this dish.  This Pongal is normally eaten with chutney or sambar. Pongal is simple, delicious, healthy and comforting. In fact, it holds some fierce competition with yogurt rice, my other favorite South Indian comfort dish. My eldest daughter loves it!

Got 30 minutes and want a warm bowl of smooth Indian porridge? Stick with me. I got you. It’s like wrapping yourself up in a warm blanket.

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South Indian rice dish with lentils and spices
  • Rice - ½ cup
  • Moong dal - ¼ cup
  • Asafoetida - a pinch
  • Ginger finely chopped - 1 tsp
  • Water - 3 cups
  • Salt as needed
  • Ghee - 4 tsp
  • Black Pepper - ¼ tsp
  • Cumin - ¼ tsp
  • Curry leaves - 8 to 10
  • Cashews - 6 nuts
  1. Wash rice and dal well and keep aside
  2. Heat 1 tsp of ghee in a pressure pan or cooker, add chopped ginger and saute for few seconds in low flame
  3. Turn stove to high, add 3 cups of water, rice, dal, asafoetida, salt and cook for 4 whistles
  4. Once the pressure is released, open the cooker and check the consistency
  5. Pongal should be soft and smooth, like oatmeal or porridge would be. When you scoop a ladle of Pongal into a bowl or plate, it should not stick to the ladle. That’s when you know you’ve done it right!
  6. If Pongal is dry or thick, add hot water or milk, about ½ a cup, cook on low flame until it gets soft and smooth.  Stir occasionally and gently. We do not want a gooey, sticky Pongal here.
  7. Heat 1 tsp of ghee* in a small fry pan, add black pepper, cover the pan with a lid and lower the flame. When the pepper begins to splutter, add cumin. Cumin will immediately begin to splutter, add curry leaves and pour the sizzling spices onto Pongal and mix well.
  8. Fry cashews in 1 tsp of ghee in low flame until light golden.
  9. Garnish Pongal with the cashews and 1 or 2 tsp of melted ghee on top for that yummy, extra rich flavor!
Always wait until oil or ghee heats up before you add spices. When we add spices to hot oil or ghee, the spices will crackle and pop, burst out with their rich flavor and aroma, and impart them to the oil or ghee used to fry them.

The order in which the spices are added is important. The spices that are hard go in first. Here, add black pepper first.  It is important that the pepper crackles and pops fully. When it crackles, it release its bold flavor, adds nice little crunch to the dish, and tempers the heat down.

Then add cumin. Cumin will immediately begin to crackle, so add curry leaves right after adding cumin, turn the stove off, and pour the spices onto the Pongal. This ensures the cumin seeds do not get scorched.

To get nice, aromatic and crunchy golden cashews, do not wait until ghee heats up. Add ghee to the fry pan, add cashews and fry in low flame.




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