Chakkara Pongal/Sakkarai Pongal (Rice-Jaggery Pudding)
Hope you all had a wonderful Pongal yesterday. For those of you who do not know about this festival, here’s a small insight. Pongal is a south Indian harvest festival, which celebrates the new crops of rice and sugarcane. We pay tribute to the Sun god, Surya on this day, thanking him for the bountiful harvest and praying for prosperity in the coming year. Pongal is the special rice preparation made on this day, with the new harvest rice, as an offering to the Sun god. This day also marks the Uttarayan, the beginning of the northward journey of the Sun. Pongal also coincides with Makara Sankranthi, which is celebrated throughout India as the winter harvest festival.
According to the Tamil calender, Pongal is celebrated on the first day of the Tamil month Thai. Pongal is celebrated for 3 days. The first day is Bhogi, second day is Pongal and the third day is Mattu Pongal. Each day is significant in its own way. Bhogi is the day before Pongal. People clean their houses and discard old things. Usually there are huge Bonfires, in which all old things are burnt. This marks the preparation for the coming New year with new hopes and aspirations, leaving everything old behind you. The special food on this day is Poli, Bobbatlu/Obattu.
The second day, Pongal is the first day of the Tamil month Thai. On this day, we make Pongal. New rice is cooked with Milk and jaggery and this is offered to the Sun god. The milk is first heated and when it comes to a boil, we put the new rice into the boiling milk. Everybody in the house says “Pongal O Pongal” loudly at this time!! I have fond memories of this day. Of course the food is special and we ate way too much! But the best part about Pongal for us was the sugarcanes!! We buy loads and loads of sugarcane during this time and after a hearty lunch, we used to sit out in the porch and chew on the juicy sugarcanes. I don’t like peeling and cutting the sugarcane into small pieces and then eating them. There is something extremely satisfying about tearing away the hard skin and then chewing on the juicy cane. It is definitely a good workout for your teeth, but so enjoyable!! All of us, mom, dad, me, my sis and our neighborhood kids used to assemble in our front yard, grab a piece of the sugarcane and sit around, chatting and eating away!! I really really miss those days. God, why can’t we be children forever?? Sigh! Anyways, the special food for this day includes Chakkara pongal (sweet), ven pongal (savory), sambar and vada.
The third day is the Mattu Pongal. This day is to honor the cattle that have worked hard throughout the year and are equally responsible for the good crops. They are decorated with flower garlands and fed good food! At home, we go looking for a cow and feed it some of the pongal that is made the previous day. Also on this day, the ladies and girls in the household, celebrate Kanu Pidi. We feed the birds sweet pongal and paal pongal on turmeric leaves and pray for the well being of our brothers; and brothers are supposed to give us gifts or money!! The special lunch on this day includes variety rice, like tamarind rice, coconut rice, curd rice, kalkandu sadam (sweet) and usually, aviyal (a mixed vegetable curry).
This is Pongal to me!! Do share your Pongal memories with me in the comments section! Now for the Chakkara Pongal recipe:
Rice – 1 cup (I used Basmati, but any short/long grain rice, not too starchy rice is fine)
Jaggery (grated) – 2 cups
Water – 1/4 cup
Channa Dal – 4 Tbsp
Sugar/Kalkandu – 3-4 Tbsp (optional)
Green Cardamom powder – 1/2 tsp (or 3-4 no.)
Pachai Karpooram (edible camphor) – a pinch OR
Jathikai (Nutmeg) powder – a pinch
Milk – 3 cups
Cashewnuts – 10-20 no.
Raisins – 1 Tbsp
Ghee – 4-6 Tbsp
- Wash the rice and keep aside. Boil the milk and when it comes to a boil, add in the rice. Alternatively, you could combined the washed rice and milk and cook it in a pressure cooker for 3-4 whistles.
- Boil the channa dal until tender and keep aside. (You could combine this with the rice in the pressure cooker method in the above step, if you are not making it on Pongal day)
- Combine the grated jaggery with 1/4 cup water and cook to 1 string consistency. Skim off any impurities in the jaggery. They usually float on the top after the jaggery is melted.
- Then mix in the cooked rice from step 1 and the cooked channa dal from step 2, and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Do not mash the rice, it will disintegrate as it is cooking. Cook until everything is combined very well and the pongal is not too runny and the liquid has almost evaporated, about 15-20 minutes. At this point, add 4 Tbsp of ghee and mix well. Cook for another 5-10 minutes, you will see a beautiful shine, when the Pongal is cooked through. But again, do not cook for too long, the rice will harden and the Pongal will be gritty.
- Mix in the cardamom and nutmeg/pachai karpooram powder and remove from heat. Perfect chakkara pongal will almost melt in your mouth!!
- Heat 2 Tbsp of ghee and add the cashews into it. Fry the cashews in it until golden brown, adding in the raisins when the cashews are almost done. The raisins will become plump! Add this into the chakkara pongal. Leave it on the top like a garnish, or mix it in!