Happy New Year everyone and Happy Sankranti/Pongal to all those who celebrate! I know people usually struggle with the cold weeks of January. Personally though I have a lot of good things to look forward to besides the cold and rain that is ;). We have a birthday in the family and an exciting trip to Costa Rica coming up. But right bang in the middle is Sankranti and Pongal. This is the harvest festival celebrated across India and goes by various names. In Southern India, we mark this festival by preparing the dish which also goes by the name of Pongal or Suggi. I am showcasing the sweet version called Sweet Pongal.
Rice and moong lentils comes together with jaggery and looottsss of ghee to make this delicious dish. Its completely gluten-free and can be made vegan easily. Its quite rich but even a few spoonfuls go a long way in comforting me on those long cold days of the sort we see here in January.
Tidbits about Sankranti-Pongal
- The harvest festival goes by multiple names of Makara Sankranti/Suggi in Karnataka, Makara Sankranti in both Andhra,Telangana, Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Bihu in Assam, Poush Sankranti in Bengal, Lohri in Punjab and Uttarayana in Gujarat
- Pongal itself means “to boil over” in Tamil which signifies prosperity and abundance.
- Both a sweet and savory version is prepared for the festival.
- In India, the festival also signifies the beginning of warmer weather and longer duratiions of daylight ahead.
- A popular activity that people do on sankranti is flying kites. There are kite flying competitions held in many places.
Ingredient List for Sweet Pongal
The ingredient list is quite simple and short. These are all pantry staples in an Indian kitchen. However if you dont regularly cook Indian food, you might need to plan a shopping trip to an Indian store or buy online.
Grains and Starches
Rice – Any medium grain white rice will work. Preferably use a variety with lower starch content. I always use sona masoori rice which I also use to make steamed rice while preparing other Southern Indian food.
Split Yellow(Moong) Lentils (Hesaru bele/Pasi Paruppu/Moong dal) – These are small lentils that in light yellow in color. Moong lentils are considered to be more gentle on the stomach and also cook quickly. If you are new to cooking with lentils, moong is the best place to start.
Jaggery – This is just unrefined cane sugar available as cubes or rounds. Jaggery is usually available as dark or light varieties although the only thing that will affect is the final color of the dish. It is widely available in all Indian stores outside India and online as well.
If you are unable to find any at all, then you can substitute with regular cane or brown sugar. You could also use a liquid sweetener like agave syrup or maple although none of them will replicate the flavor provided from jaggery.
Ghee – Besides the jaggery, the other ingredient that adds a lot of flavor to Pongal is ghee. The only tip I would add is do not skimp on the ghee that you add to the sweet pongal. It makes a big difference when you add the right amount. Although there is really no substitute to ghee, you can use vegan butter in its place to keep it dairy-free or vegan.
Spices and Other ingredients
Cardamom/ Cardamom Powder – You can use freshly ground cardamom or even store bought powdered cardamom.Remove the seeds from the pods and crush in a mortar-pestle or a small spice grinder. You can also throw in the outer pods while making the pongal for added flavor and fragrance. Make sure to fish them out later before serving.This spice is very important to bring the authentic flavor to Indian sweets.
Cashews, Raisins, Coconut chips/shredded coconut – Cashews and raisins provide the finishing touches for a lot of Indian sweets including pongal as well. I have also included coconut here. They are lightly roasted in ghee before adding to the finished dish.
Paccha Karpoora(Edible Camphor) – Now this is optional but I grew up eating sweet pongal with this added in and for me, the dish is incomplete without it. Having said that, I have literally never found this anywhere in the US. If you do have this at home or can get someone to bring it over from India, then do make use of it. You will only need a pinch or two because it can easily overpower the dish and make it inedible. Add a pinch by crumbling it between your index finger and thumb, mix and taste the pongal. Add another pinch if you need more.
Looking for more Southern Indian recipes to try? Start here
Making sweet pongal in a pressure cooker vs instant pot
You can make this dish entirely on the stove top by cooking the rice and lentils together before adding the other ingredients. I used a small pressure cooker and my instructions in the recipe card walk you though it. However many of you might want to try and make this in the instant pot so I have provided instructions for cooking the rice and lentils in the IP also along with making it on the stove top. All other steps will remain the same for all three methods.
Instant Pot(IP) Method – Add a spoon of ghee and once slighly hot, add the rinsed rice and lentils. Keep the heat low on the “saute” mode and toast the rice and lentils for a few minutes. You will notice the fragrance of the lentils being toasted.
Now turn off the “saute” mode and add 4 cups of water. Close the lid and set it to “sealed” position. Turn on the “pressure cook” option and set the time to 12 minutes. Set the pressure to “high”. Once done, wait for 15 minutes for natural release before force releasing any remaining steam.
Stove Top Method – In a large patram (traditional Indian cooking pot) or kadai, roast the rice and lentils in some ghee as mentioned in the IP method. You can also use a wide sauce pan to do this. Add 3 cups of water and bring it to a boil.
Close/cover with a lid and check every few minutes to stir. If you see the rice or lentils is not done but it needs more water, add another cup of water and stir. The rice and lentils will be done cooking after around 15-20 minutes. Again keep aside and follow the remaining steps in the recipe card.
Storage and Reheating Suggestions
Sweet pongal will keep in the refrigerator for 4-5 days although it may not last that long! Reheat in the microwave until warm. The ghee in the pongal can get really hot so be mindful before you take the first bite.
You can also store in the freezer. Let it thaw overnight before heating in the microwave oven or reheat in the conventional oven at 350 deg F for 40-50 minutes.
Usually both the sweet and savory versions are served together. The savory version is usually the main meal and this sweet one as a side. Pongal is typically eaten as breakfast and is also popular for lunch. I have a recipe for the savory version of pongal here if you are interested.
If you are looking for something sweet and comforting, you cant go wrong with sweet pongal. Its great anytime of the year and especially during the winter months! Please let me know if you give this dish a try and also if you have any questions/comments. I would really appreciate if you can give the dish a rating once you try it. I am also on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest if you want to follow along on this culinary journey.
- 1 Pressure Cooker
- 1 Large Saucepan
- 3/4 cup Medium Grain white Rice ex Sona Masoori
- 1/4 cup Split Yellow(Moong) Lentils
- 6 cup Water
- 1 1/2 – 2 cup Jaggery adjust according to sweetness required
- 1/2 cup + 4 tbsp Ghee
- 2 tbsp Halved Cashews roughly broken in to smaller pieces
- 2 tbsp Dark or Golden Raisins
- 1/2 tsp Cardamom Powder
- 2 tbsp Coconut Chips/ Shreds optional
- 1-2 pinches Paccha Karpoora(Edible Camphor) optional
- Heat a pressure cooker base to medium low. Add 2 tbsp of ghee to the cooker and add the rinsed rice and lentils. Saute for a few minutes until you can smell the toasted lentils.
- Now add 4 cups of water and cover with the pressure cooker lid. Ensure it is properly "sealed". Place the "weight" or pressure regulator on the valve and turn up the heat to medium. Once the whistle goes off 4 times, turn off the heat and let the pressure naturally release for 20 minutes.
- Heat a patram, kadai or sauce pan to medium level. Pour 2 cups of water and add the jaggery. Once the jaggery has melted, pass this liquid through a sieve to remove any impurities or pieces that have not melted.
- With the stove still on, add this syrup back to the pan and add some of the 1/2 cup of ghee to it. Now add the cooked rice-lentil mixture. Mix well to ensure there are no lumps. Add the remaining ghee and cardamom. Mix well.
- In another small pan, add the other 2 tbsp of ghee. Once it has melted, add the cashews, raisins and coconut chips. Saute until lighly golden brown.
- Top the pongal with this cashews, raisin and coconut mixture. Add a couple of pinches of paccha karpoora if using and mix again before serving hot.
- The nutritional facts provided are approximate values only and not absolute. These values will vary based on quantity, brands used and substitutions(if any) made.
- The dish can be made entirely vegan by replacing ghee with vegan butter. However the flavors will vary quite a bit from the original.