Festivities are part and parcel of Indian culture. With different cultures, states and religion, one get to see some festival or the other round the year. The festivals are started off with Pongal, the harvest festival celebrated by the state of Tamilnadu, which is known as Makar sankranthi in the rest of India.
Makar Sankranti is celebrated across the country in different ways and the cultural significance of the festival varies geographically as we move from one state to another, with every state celebrating and welcoming the new season of harvest in their own indigenous manner. Pongal is an Indian version of Thanks giving. It is the gratitude shown to the elements of nature, the sun, water and earth which helps us to sustain life on earth.
One of the major harvest festival of India, which is celebrated from 14th 17th, is the first festival which falls on a new year. Pongal is an ancient festival of people in South India particularly Tamils. The history of the festival can be traced back to the Sangam Age i.e. 200 B.C. To 300 A.D. Although, Pongal originated as a Dravidian Harvest festival and has a mention in Sanskrit Puranas, historians identify the festival with the Thai Un and Thai Niradal which are believed to have been celebrated during the Sangam Age.
According to Hindu mythology, this is when the day of the gods begins, after a six-month long night. The festival is spread over three days and is the most important and most fervently-celebrated harvest festival of South India. A special puja is performed on the first day of Pongal before the cutting of the paddy. Farmers worship the sun and the earth by anointing their ploughs and sickles with sandal wood paste. It is with these consecrated tools that the newly-harvested rice is cut.
Each of the three days are marked by different festivities. The first day, Bhogi Pongal, is a day for the family. Surya Pongal, the second day, is dedicated to the worship of Surya, the Sun God. Boiled milk and jaggery is offered to the Sun God. The third day of Pongal, Mattu Pongal, is for worship of the cattle known as Mattu. Cattle are bathed, their horns polished and painted in bright colors, and garlands of flowers placed around their necks. The Pongal that has been offered to the Gods is then given to cattle and birds to eat. (input: http://www.pongalfestival.org/history-of-pongal.html)
Rice is a staple of India, as like many Asian countries. Rice and rice in different forms are converted to rich dishes during festival time. Pongal is one such dish which is named after the festival. Pongal meal is a thanksgiving meal with a variety of spreads including the pongal dish.
The dish Pongal comes in varied formats. Today I’ve taken up Ven pongal, a savory version and Sarkarai pongal, a sweet version. Ven Pongal is the South Indian version of the North Indian Khichdi. Unlike the khichdi, where the spices and condiments are cooked together with rice and pulses, Pongal is the exact opposite version.
I have used sona masoori rice for both the recipes. I roasted the moong dal/split yellow gram to infuse more flavor. This is optional. After dry roasting, I washed and drained it. Soaked the rice for half an hour in water. We are cooking the rice and dal simpley in water for the ven pongal and with water and milk for the sarkkarai pongal. Milk in sarkkarai pongal is optional too.
The texture should be creamy and gooey for both the dishes. Tempering should be done in a generous manner so that the rice is well flavored and tasty. Ghee is generously used in both the dishes which is the taste maker of the dish. This dish is paired with chutney and Sambhar and is had as a breakfast dish mostly which can be had as lunch too.
Dry roast the moong dal and separate into two, 1 cup for venpongal and rest for the sweet pongal.
Wash and drain the rice and dal/pulse
Heat a cooker with a teaspoon of ghee and add the asafoetida, fry for 30 seconds and add the dal and stir.
Then add the the rice and combine. Add seven cups of water and cook for 4 whistles.
Heat a pan, add ghee according to your preference, add the cashews and fry till golden color.
Add the cumin, crushed black pepper and sitr further for a minute.
Then add the ginger and curry leaves and saute for couple of minutes.
Add the cooked rice dal mixture. Adjust salt and water to get a gooey consistency.
Cook for 3-4 minutes till well blended with the tempering.
Pressure cook the rice and dal with a cardamom and ghee by adding 3 cups water and 1 cup milk.
Melt the molasses/jaggery in a cup of water. Strain and add to the cooked rice dal mixture. Serve with chutney and Sambar.
Simmer on low heat till porridge like.
Heat a pan with ghee, add the cashews, fry till golden, add the raisins and fry till bubbled up.
Pop in the cardamom powder and nutmeg powder. Mix up and pour over the sweet pongal and serve hot.