Festivals have always been the perfect excuse to cook, eat and celebrate. It’s the time when people lovingly prepare delicious desserts and sweet meats at home, feed their loved ones and distribute to their friends and neighbors. I never grew up celebrating many festivals but I think the infectiousness of festivities in Bangalore is finally rubbing into me! When everybody around you in celebrating something, it’s hard to sit back and watch.
While I continue to be not too religious, I have began to celebrate some of the very famous festivals by cooking something special at home. For somebody like me who is always looking for a reason to cook and feed people, this works just fine.
Sankranti, also known as Suggi Habba, the Harvest festival is considered very special by all Kannadigas. This festival is celebrated by different names throughout India on 14th of January. It’s the festival when you worship the Sun God and the first harvest. To me Sankranti has always meant only one thing – Pongal
Let me shamelessly admit that the only thing I did to celebrate Sankranti is cooking a big pot full of Sweet Pongal! Chakkara Pongal or Sakkare Pongal is one dish I cook and enjoy every year on this special day. Of course that does not mean I don’t cook this many times through the year! I cook ‘Kara Pongal‘ or the Savory Pongal a lot more often but the sweet one has a special place in my heart.
I tasted ‘Sweet Pongal’ for the first time only after I came to bangalore a decade ago. My first encounter with this creamy delicious goodness was at a very popular (at least then it was) restaurant called ‘Kadambam‘. There was something about the way they made their Pongal. I fell in love with it immediately and ever since that day my idea of perfect Pongal was that Pongal at Kadambam.
I cooked and tasted several other variations of Sweet Pongal but to me personally nothing beats Kadambam Pongal. The recipe I am sharing with you all today is the closest I could get to that after several attempts. Sweet Pongal is just rice and yellow lentils cooked till creamy and then sweetened with jaggery. But like all simple recipes, here too it’s about balance. The right amount of sweetness with perfect aroma and richness from ghee, the best proportion between rice and lentils and the ideal consistency… Use the best quality ingredients in this recipe as it’s all about that.
One of the unique things about this recipe is that it uses ‘Pacha Karpuram’ or ‘Edible Camphor’. It lends a very unique flavor to this dish which can’t be replaced with anything else. It is a accuired taste and not everybody enjoys it. You can skip it completely if you don’t like it. To make this dish a little more special I have used raw unpolished rice instead of the usual white rice. This variety of rice I used is called ‘Rajamudi Rice’ and is locally available. It’s has a sweeter taste, mild bite to it and is far more nutritious than your regular polished rice. The taste and color of Rajamudi rice is perfect in this dish. Please give it a try. Of course, like most Indian desserts this recipe has a good amount of Ghee or Clarified Butter used in it. I have used homemade Ghee which is made out of Organic Milk from ‘Akshaya Kalpa’, a sustainable dairy in Tiptur. Good ghee makes all the difference so if you are buying make sure you buy the best quality available. The color of the Pongal will depend on the color of Jaggery used. I have used a dark colored organic Jaggery powder as I wanted a darker Pongal. My jaggery is slightly salty and not overly sweet which is what I love it.
I know Sankranti is already over but please don’t wait for an entire year to try this recipe. This Pongal has been the best I have ever made as I think the favors are spot on. A recipe like this needs to be shared and a delicacy like this needs to cooked in every household!
If edible camphor is not available use crushed cardamom instead. It’ll taste different but still very good.
Do not reduce the amount of ghee in the recipe. This is a treat so enjoy it in small quality if you are concerned about fat content.
Sweetness of each variety of jaggery is different. Taste your jaggery before you using it. I have used almost 3 cups of powdered jaggery here but if you think your jaggery is very sweet, start with 2 cups and increase if needed.
You can use desiccated coconut instead of copra.
You can add a cup of milk to it instead of water for a creamier Pongal.
You can dry roast the yellow lentils till golden brown, for a nuttier Pongal.
- 1 cup unpolished Rajamudi Rice
- 1 cup split yellow lentils or moong dal
- 2-3 cups of jaggery powder
- 1/2 – 3/4 cup ghee or clarified butter
- 1/4 cup grated copra or dry coconut
- a generous pinch of camphor
- 1/4 tsp salt (optional)
- 1/4 cup cashew nuts
- 10-15 raisins
Clean and pressure cook the rice and lentils together. For 1 cup rice and 1 cup lentils, I used 5 cups of water.
Place the powdered jaggery in a tick bottomed vessel with 1 cup of water and place it on the stove with medium heat. Keep stirring till the jaggery melts. Reduce the heat to low flame and continue to simmer it till it gets a little thicker. Add the cooked rice and lentil mixture and stir fully. Let the mixture simmer while you dry roast the grated dry coconut. Add the coconut and camphor to the Pongal and mix well. Now add the ghee and mix till it is fully absorbed by the rice and lentil mixture. Now at this stage if your Pongal is beginning to look very thick, add a cup or two of water and bring to a boil. Remember that the Pongal will continue to thicken as it cools down.
Roast the cashew nuts and raisins with a little bit of ghee till the cashew nuts are golden and add it to the Pongal. Serve hot with extra ghee if desired.