Sankranthi / Pongal - Most Auspicious Festival for South Indians
My mom was born and raised in south India, and I was born in this coastal town called Vizag (Visakhapatnam). My dad's family lived in the north east, and so after they were married, they lived in the small urban industrial town called Bokaro Steel City, in the state of Jharkhand. Each state has its own cultural nuances and it's amazing to see how that translates to food as well, in terms of diversity and taste.
Given that we lived in the north, and (sub)ethnically we are south Indians, we celebrated the festivals that were signature to both regions. However the south took dominance :) Hence our biggest festival of the year is Sankranthi (called Pongal in Tamil Nadu and Lohri in Punjab). For me it brings many fond memories as it usually meant we got to wear new clothes and lots of yummy preparations! One such dish is called pongal which is featured in this recipe. The festival signifies discarding the old, bringing on the new, and paying respects to our ancestors who died.
30 day challenge + Dr. MLK Jr Day
This month, Martha Pincoffs, a multi-talented culinary expert & entrepreneur, and founder of 30athome, and her partner in crime, Jo, invited us over to their abode for a food exchange, and to pay our respects to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Co-incidentally it was the weekend of Sankranti for us, and I thought, why not make pongal, a signature dish my mom used to make on the festival!
I had also signed up for the 30 day challenge, as something neat to kick things off this year. We have been making at least one home cooked meal each day, since the start of the challenge. It's fun and feels great, and yes - it needs some dedication for people like me, who only cook 2-3 times a week!
Addie Broyles, a superbly talented food writer in Austin and runs a popular food blog at Austin American Statesman, brought a blueberry pie (which I didn't know were MLK Jr's favorites!). We hung out, talked about food, and I walked away with delicious posole by Martha, a hearty soup made of butter beans, kale, and chicken by Addie Broyles, some delicious chicken and barley risotto and a beautiful tribute to MLK Jr.
After the event, Addie said she is writing a story in a couple of weeks, and would like to include the pongal recipe (first, yay!!). At that moment, I realized I hadn't written any blog posts this year at all! Well, what a great way to start the new year with a dish, that signifies the start of harvest season.
What I love is the simplicity of the dish - just a few ingredients and you are off singing to the fragrance of ghee and toasted lentils and aroma of curry leaves! You may need to make a trip to pick up some petite yellow lentils and curry leaves though :)
Here's the icing on the cake - this is a great way to ensure you get your fill of turmeric. To digest the curcumin compounds resident in turmeric, even a quarter teaspoon’s worth of black pepper can shoot up the bioavailability of curcumin by 2000%.
- 1 cup rice (I use sona masoori rice which is a shorter grain). You can use basmati if you don't have this rice in your pantry.
- 1/2 cup petite yellow lentils (for the description see the chart by Vegan Richa above).
- 1 tsp whole cumin seeds
- 1/2 tbsp grated ginger
- 1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- handful of curry leaves
As in any recipe, its not just the ingredients but the sequencing and cooking technique that creates that perfect balance of taste. See below:
- In a warm thick bottomed pan, add the lentils first, and then add 1 tbsp of ghee
- Toast the lentils until light brown and you can smell the aroma
- Add peppercorns and mix
- Add cumin seeds (don't add them in the beginning as they will just get over toasted)
- Add ginger and stir until the ginger is not raw anymore
- Add turmeric powder and mix well. The heat from the lentils will lightly toast the turmeric
- Add rice and mix well
- Add salt
- Add 5 cups of water
- Let the mix come to a boil, and then turn the heat to a simmering low
- Place a lid so it cooks through
- At this time, add curry leaves (what this does is retain the aroma of curry leaves. what many do is add it in the beginning which just dilutes the effect!)
- When the rice and lentils are soft, turn off heat and taste for salt
- Add the other tbsp of ghee and mix
- That my friends is some minimalistic goodness in a pot ;)
I love to eat this just by itself, but if you are craving some spice - add a side of tomato pickle or a cold yogurt chutney (recipe coming soon!) raita.