January 14, 2011

Quick Avalakki Pongal - Sankranthi festive food

I wish all my South Indian friends a very happy Makara Sankranthi. “Sankranti” is the Sanskrit word, which refers to the transmigration of the Sun from one zodiac to the other. Makara Sankaranti is the transition of the Sun from Sagittarius to Makara or Capricorn.
In my home town, Karnataka, South India, it is the harvest festival for farmers. After the Sun god is worshiped with the offering of Pongal, the ladies and little girls dress up and visit their extended families to do a ritual called "Ellu Birodhu". This means they take a bowl of white sesame seeds mixed with fried groundnuts, neatly cut dry coconut & fine cut jaggery. The mixture is called "Ellu Bella". The plate will also contain sugar candy moulds of various shapes, fruits and a piece of sugarcane. There is a saying in Kannada "Yellu bella thindu olle maathadi" which means 'Eat the mixture of sesame seeds and speak only good'. This signifies the harvest of the season, since sugarcane is predominant in these parts.
Another important ritual is to decorate the cattle in colorful attire, and take them on a procession. They are also made to cross a pyre, marking the end of the old and emergence of the new. How I miss all these rituals :(
If you want to make the traditional pongal, here is the recipe. Here is a quick version of the pongal using poha rice (flattened/beaten rice) and moong dhal.

What I used: Serves 4
2 cups avalakki/poha rice
2 cup Moong dal (yellow moong lentil)
2-3tsp ghee/oil
4tsp coconut milk or 8 tsp plain milk
For sweet pongal
1 cup brown sugar/jaggery
4-6 whole cashew nuts
4-6 dry raisins
2 whole cardamoms peeled and seeds powdered. You may use it as a whole too.
For spicy pongal
1 small onion chopped (optional)
4-6 red chilies
1 stem of curry leaves
1 small bunch cilantro finely chopped
½ tsp finely chopped ginger
½ tsp mustard seeds
½ tsp of each powdered – jeera and pepper seeds
4-6 whole cashew nuts
Salt to taste
 
Soak the poha rice in 3 cups of water and set aside for 15-20 minutes. Pressure cook or boil the moong dhal with 3 cups of water, until soft and mushy. Mix them both together and let them boil for 5-7 minutes on medium heat to form a uniform mixture. Divide the mixture into 2 equal parts. Set aside.

To make the sweet pongal: Bring sugar and 2Tbsp water to a good boil. Add in the poha and lentil mixture. Cook on medium, for 5 minutes. Add 2tsp of coconut milk or 4tsp plain milk. Cook on low heat for 5 minutes. Finally, in a separate pan, heat 1tsp ghee, add cashew nuts, roast to a golden brown. Add in the dry raisins. Once they swell, toss the mixture into the sweet. Sprinkle powdered cardamom and serve hot!

To make the spicy pongal: Heat a large pan on medium flame. Add 2tsp ghee. Toss in the cashew, roast to a light brown. Add mustard seeds, after a minute, add chili and curry leaves. Once they splatter, add the onions. Toss in the powdered jeera and pepper. Add the cooked 2nd part of lentil and poha porridge. Put in salt and 1 cup water. Let it boil for 5 minutes. Finally, mix in 2tsp coconut milk or 4tsp plain milk. Give it a gentle stir, and let it boil on low for 5 minutes. Garnish with freshly chopped cilantro. Serve hot with a top coat of ghee. Enjoy!