Sunday, January 14, 2007

Recipe: Sarkkarai Pongal

Pongal is already here. Though many varieties of Pongal are made these days, Sarkkarai Pongal (sweet) and Venpongal (savoury) are the top hits. Since many visitors to my blog informed me that they were trying out the recipes I publish, I thought I will give the recipe for Sarkkarai Pongal before Pongal, so that my friends out there can prepare the pongal and enjoy.

Though Sarkkarai pongal had not made inroads into rural Kerala when I was growing up, I learnt long ago about the genuine article, true vaishnavite Sarkkarai pongal, from an authentic source: Komala mami. Thank you, Komala Mami.

In the olden days, (may be even these days in some households) Pongal was made in a vengalapanai, which is made of bronze and is a very thick deep vessel with a slightly narrower neck (top). It was customary to gift a few vengalapanais to the daughter at the time of her marriage. The Iyer households used these vesels for regular cooking of rice, boiling milk and preparation of curds before the advent of cooking gas and presuure cookers in rural areas of Kerala. The main source of heat those days used to be firewood.

On Pongal day, raw turmeric roots and green mango leaves and flowers were strung in a thread and tied around the vengalapanai and milk was boiled in it. It was customary to greet each other with “Pal Pongitha” (have you boiled the milk). To the boiling milk was added the fried green gram dal and rice and pongal was made. The Pongal prepared in the vengalapanai tasted delicious. It was a tedious process though. One had to keep stirring it constantly so that it would not get burnt nor would it boil over.

Here then, is the easiest and quickest way of preparing Sarkkarai Pongal in a pressure cooker. It will taste as delicious and sweet. (My husband says, these days, nobody remembers the taste of Sarkkarai Pongal cooked in a vengalapanai, so it doesn’t make any difference).


Rice : 1 cup
Roasted green gram dal: ½ cup
Jaggery: 2 cups
Milk: 1 cup
Ghee : 4 tbsp or more
Cashew nuts : a few
Raisins: a few
Saffron : 2 or 3 strands
Cardamom powder: 1 tsp
Cloves : 2 nos.
Jaiphal or Jathikkai or nutmeg :1 no.
Pachakarpooram or edible camphor (cinnamonum camphora) : a pinch


Boil the milk with 3 cups of water in a pressue cooker. (For sarkkarai Pongal always use the regualr south Indian cooking raw rice like Ponni or Sona Masoori or Nellore, don’t use Basmati). When the milk and water boils, reduce heat and add the washed rice and green gram dal into it. Close with the lid. When steam starts escaping through the vent place the weight valve and cook on low heat for 15 – 20 minutes (This is for people using gas stoves and where the heat can be brought to absolute minimum. Those using electric stove, be careful to switch off after one whistle and allow the pressure cooker to remain on the same stove for another 15 – 20 minutes). Open the cooker only after ½ hr.

In the meantime, melt the jaggery in 1 cup of water and strain to remove any impurities (In the olden days, jaggery was crushed and added to the cooking rice and dal mixture, I would always recommend to melt and strain the jaggery as it will always have some fine sand particles).

Dissolve the saffron strands in a tbsp. of boiled milk and keep aside.

Lightly roast the cloves. Powder it with 1/8 of the nutmeg.

Open the pressure cooker and mash the contents well with a metallic spatula. Pour the strained jaggery syrup into the cooked rice and dal mixture and heat ,stirring continuously, until the mixture becomes homogenous and is of a dropping consistency. (Care should be taken to see that all the moisture doesn’t evaporate and the pongal becomes dry). It should be in a loose but not running consistency. Add 2 tbsp, or more ghee and mix well. Add the saffron mixture. Remove from fire.

Heat the remaining ghee and add the raisins and broken cashews. When they turn golden brown pour into the Pongal. Add the pachakarpooram and cardomom powder and cloves and nutmeg powder. Pour one more tbsp of ghee.

Offer the Neivedyam to Sun God and enjoy with family and friends.

The Vaishnavites pour one more spoon of ghee in the palm of the guest after serving Sarkkarai pongal.

Don’t be stingy with the ghee or whatever reason. Sarkkarai pongal’s taste lies in its richness. It is said that ghee should not be measured but poured into the Pongal with closed eyes (Kannai moodindu ney vidanum).

The pachakarppooram has a strong flavour, so use it only if you like it. All other ingredients, like cloves, nutmeg, saffron are also optional. So If you don’t have one of these, don’t panic. You will still get a tasty pongal. These ingredients only add to the flavour of the Pongal.

P.S. Many people complain that their Pongal turn out very dry and hard. The secret is in switching off the flame when there is still some moisture in the pongal.



Narayanan Raghunathan said...

Great Work. I am from a Kerala Iyer family and I specially learn subtleties from you. The writing is just brilliant ~

Ammupatti said...

thank you Narayanan. We wish you a happy Pongal

La Vie said...

Your blog and especially the little notes in Iyer Tamil in between take me back to Palakkad and festivals at home. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post! I am a Bengali, married to a Palakkad Iyer. I just love Iyer traditions, customs, festivals, and food. I will try it out on 14th Jan.
Pongalo Pongal

Gayatri said...

Happy Pongal Ammupatti!
I'm making Sarkkarai pongal this year to offer as prasadam.
Thank you.

Urmi said...

Hi Ammupaati - hopped over for this recipe for tomorrow, thanks for the lovely post :) You are really a gem! :) Happy Pongal!

Ammupatti said...

Hi Urmi

hope your sarkkarai Pongal turned out delicious. mine did, as always.

Happy Pongal.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ammupatti

Your writing brings so many memories of my grandmother. Your family traditions are very similar to ours and I am so thankful that you have careful recorded the with such great detail in your blog.

Best wishes to you and your family!Happy Pongal.