I wasn’t always a fan of Ven Pongal, the peppery rice-and-lentil confection that is so very popular in South India. Growing up in Ahmedabad, it always meant to me boring food for the sick or the elderly, with nothing – absolutely nothing – to its credit. It was only after I moved to Bangalore that I tasted some really well-made versions of Ven Pongal, and realised just how beautiful it can be. My love for this savoury pongal grew with time, helped along by the fact that the husband appreciates it a whole lot. Trial and error taught me to perfect this dish, and it is soul-satisfying comfort food for me today.
Ven Pongal, also called Khara Pongal, is a thing of great joy when made right. No wonder it is such a popular breakfast dish down South (Psst: We love having it for lunch or dinner too!). You will also often come across Ven Pongal being served as ‘tiffin’ in weddings and religious events, in South India. It makes a frequent appearance as prasadam in temples, and in homes as an offering to the Goddess Durga, for Navratri. This is one of the types of pongal prepared for the Pongal festival in January, alongside the sweet version.
We prefer the Khara Pongal runny, moderately spiced with coarsely crushed pepper, slit green chillies and cumin giving it a flavour boost. I don’t use any milk in it, or cashewnuts – we love it in all its simplicity. More so because it is so very easy to prepare and so light on the tummy!
I share below my way of making Ven Pongal, the way my family likes it. I have also included tips and tricks to get the taste and texture just right. Do try it out this festive season – I would love to hear how you liked it!
Ingredients (serves 4-5):
- 1 cup rice
- 1/4 cup moong dal
- 2 tablespoons ghee
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 2 pinches of asafoetida
- 2 dry red chillies
- 2 green chillies
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 2 sprigs fresh curry leaves
- Salt to taste
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1. Take the rice and moong dal in a wide vessel. Wash well under running water, a couple of times. Drain out all the water.
2. Add 4-1/2 cups of water to the rice and moong dal in the vessel. Place the vessel in a pressure cooker. Cook on high flame for about 5 whistles, or till the ingredients are well cooked. Let the pressure release naturally.
3. Meanwhile, coarsely pulse the black peppercorns in a small mixer jar. Keep aside.
4. Slit the green chillies length-wise. Keep aside.
5. When the pressure from the cooker has gone down completely, open it and get the cooked rice and moong dal out. Mash them well, using a potato masher. Keep aside.
6. Heat the ghee in a large pan or kadhai. Add the mustard, and allow it to sputter. Now, add the slit green chillies, dry red chillies, asafoetida, cumin seeds and curry leaves. Let the ingredients stay in for a couple of seconds, taking care not to burn them.
7. Now, add the cooked and mashed rice and moong dal to the pan. Also, add in about 1 cup water, salt to taste and the coarsely crushed black peppercorns. Mix well.
8. Turn the flame down to medium. Let everything cook together on medium heat till well integrated and the pongal starts to thicken. If too thick, add some more water. Switch off gas when done – should take 3-4 minutes. Your Ven Pongal or Khara Pongal is ready. Serve hot with a simple coconut chutney, gojju or raita of your choice.
1. Sona Masoori or Kollam rice work best in the making of this Ven Pongal. Any non-fragrant variety of rice would work.
2. Don’t skimp on the ghee. A good amount of ghee is a must in Ven Pongal.
3. Some people dry roast the rice and moong dal till fragrant, before proceeding to make the Khara Pongal. We don’t.
4. You may use a little less moong dal if want the Ven Pongal to be a bit less sticky. I prefer the above proportion of rice and moong dal. Some people prefer using 1/2 cup of moong dal for 1 cup of rice.
5. Some people prefer using whole peppercorns in Ven Pongal, while some others prefer using coarsely crushed cumin and peppercorns. I like keeping the cumin whole, but coarsely crush the peppercorns.
6. Adjust the quantity of water you use, depending upon the consistency of the Ven Pongal you require. The above recipe yields runny pongal, the way we like it in our family. Please do keep in mind that the Ven Pongal thickens considerably upon cooling – hence, it is best served hot.
7. Age-old Ven Pongal recipes do not suggest the use of green chillies or dry red chillies. They use only black peppercorns for spicing up the pongal – either whole or coarsely crushed. I, however, like adding in green chillies and dry red chillies.
8. Slivers of coconut, broken cashewnuts and finely chopped ginger can be added to the tempering too. I usually avoid these.
9. Make sure the rice and moong dal are well cooked and mashed, before proceeding to make this Khara Pongal.
10. Some households cook the rice and moong dal in a mix of water and (boiled and cooled) milk. We usually use only water.
Did you like this recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!