Pongal is easily one of my favorite comfort foods from back home. There is something about the warmth of the black pepper hitting the back of throat when you are trying to gobble down pongal when its piping hot. Whether you are making this during its namesake harvest festival of Pongal or to enjoy on any other day, this recipe is sure to carry you to that magical place where you lose yourself in those flavors if just for a few moments.
So what’s pongal?
Pongal is a traditional Southern Indian dish most famously made during the harvest festival in January which also goes by the name of Pongal in Tamil Nadu (It is also celebrated as Sankranti, Magh Bihu, Sakrat etc across India). It literally translates to “flowing over” because when pongal is cooked in a pot, we let it boil over to signify prosperity and a large harvest.
We call the savory version Ven Pongal. Ven translates to ‘white’ since we don’t add any turmeric while cooking. There is also a sweet version that is made with jaggery to serve alongside. This recipe is only for the savory version but look out for the other one since I will be posting the sweet version soon.
Rice and Lentils – 2 ingredients, 2 many dishes
Rice and lentils are used in various cuisines but nowhere does it shine more than it does in Indian cuisine. In the northern parts of the country, kichdi is really popular. It also uses the same rice and moong dal but varies vastly in taste since other spices and even vegetables are used.
Coming to the south again a really popular dish is Bisibele bath which is also based on rice and a combination of lentils. This again tastes different from the other two dishes thanks to a different set of spices being used again!Of course lets not forget dishes like idli, dosai, adai which also use the same two main ingredients. If you are ever wondering what to do with rice and/or lentils, you know exactly what to do now 🙂
Pongal is made with a combination of rice and mun paruppu/hesaru bele( also called Moong dal in Hindi). The rice and split yellow lentils are cooked until they are completely mushy. This is also the base for Kichadi which is popular in the northern parts of the country.
Typically a medium grain rice like sona masoori is used. You can use any other medium grain rice of your choice. The one ingredient that truly brings all the other ingredients in Pongal together is ghee. It might seem excessive but don’t skimp on the amount of ghee because it enhances all the other flavors. If you are vegan or dairy- free, then feel free to swap with an oil of your choice. My recommendation would be sesame or coconut oil.
The wonderful flavors and textures comes from the tempering that happens once the rice and lentils are cooked. The tempering consists of
- Cumin seeds
- Black Pepper
- Cashews – If you need to avoid nuts, then just skip the cashews
- Green Chillies
- Curry leaves
- Asafoetida – Don’t skip this!. A couple of pinches as a finishing touch goes a long way in adding its characteristic flavor.
Tempering can be done both before or after the rice-lentil mixture is cooked. The notes under the recipe card covers the former. Please make sure to check it out.
This truly is a simple yet comforting dish. It’s also really easy to make and the recipe card includes instructions for making the dish in an instant pot. There are also notes for making it on stove top and pressure cooker included.
Serving and Storage
Pongal is best had when it’s hot. It is typically served with coconut chutney and/or sambhar. You can also eat it on its own if you prefer.
Lentils tend to release starches as they are cooked and will keep releasing it once cooked as well. Hence the dish will start thickening and will stop being creamy. This is very similar to how polenta would behave once cooked.
If you have leftovers and want to serve later, remove from the refrigerator and place the serving portion in a microwaveable bowl. Add a few spoons of water and using a spoon/fork, mash the pongal until it is mixed well with the water. Add a little more water if required. Reheat until warm and serve right away. You can also reheat it a saucepan on the stove. Again add some water and mix well before gently heating the pan.
You can also freeze it for up to 3 months. Let it thaw overnight in the fridge or at room temperature for a couple of hours before reheating in the oven at 350 deg F for 40-45 minutes or in the microwave.
Did you try making pongal?
I promise you it will soon become your favorite comfort food as well. If you have any questions, comments please let me know down in the comments section below. Want to share your creations on Instagram? tag me using #dillandthyme. You can also connect with me on Facebook or Pinterest. Sign up to my newsletter for the latest recipes.
- 3/4 cup Medium Grain Rice(Ex: Sona Masoori) washed and rinsed
- 3/4 cup Split Yellow Lentils (Moong dal) washed and rinsed
- 2 tbsp Ghee sub with oil to keep it vegan
- Salt to taste
- 6 cup Water
- 2 tsp Black Peppercorns
- 1/4 cup Cashews
- 1 tbsp Cumin Seeds(Jeera)
- 7-8 Curry Leaves washed and pat dried
- 3-4 Green Chillies washed and slit lengthwise
- 2 pinches Asafoetida
- 3-4 tbsp Ghee sub with oil to keep it vegan
- Press the 'Saute' mode in the instant pot and keep it 'low' or 'medium' by pressing the same 'saute' button until you reach the desired heat level. Once hot, add 2 tbsp of ghee. After a few seconds add the yellow lentils and saute for 4-5 minutes. You will see the lentils turn golden brown and also raw 'smell' will go away.
- Now add the rice and saute for 30 seconds. Add 5 cups of water and 2 tsp of salt. Mix well. Turn off the sauté mode and press the 'pressure cook' button. Set the time to 12 minutes and turn the vent to the sealed mode.
- You can wait for the steam to release naturally which will take around 30 minutes after the cooking time or wait for 10 minutes before doing a quick release. Once the steam is released and the safety valve has dropped, open the lid and add remaining water. Stir well.
- Now place a small pan or a kadai on the stove top and heat to medium low. Add the remaining ghee and once hot, add the cumin, black pepper and cashews. Once the cashews turn golden brown, add the chillis, curry leaves and asafetida. Saute gently for 30 seconds and remove from the heat. Turn off stove.
- Add this tempering to the cooked rice and lentil mixture. Add more salt per taste. Mix well and serve while hot.
- Heat a deep pan and add 2 tbsp of ghee. Once hot add the yellow lentils and saute until golden brown. Add the rice and gently saute for 30 seconds.
- Add 6 cups of water and add 2-3 tsp of salt. Bring the water to a gentle boil and keep the pan closed. Keep stirring regularly to ensure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan.
- Add 1-2 more cups of water if more is required and the rice-lentil mixture is not fully cooked yet. Make sure the entire mixture is fully cooked and mushy before turning off the stove.
- Add the tempering once done and season more if required.
- The steps are the same as that of the instant pot. Heat the cooker to medium low and roast the lentils and rice.Add water and close the lid.
- Turn up the heat to medium. Once you notice a little steam coming out, then place the ‘weight’ on the vent. Wait for the pressure cooker to ‘whistle’ (release bursts of steam) four times before turning off the stove. Once the safety valve is down and the steam has been naturally released, remove the lid.
- Again add a cup or two of water if required before tempering and seasoning.