Tag Archives: maatu pongal

Pongal In Cambodia – 2014!

Pongal – The Harvest Festival of the Tamils was celebrated on the 14th of January. The four day festivity- Bhogi Pongal, Thai Pongal, Maatu Pongal and Kaanum Pongal has been discussed in https://dosaikal.com/thai-pongal-the-harvest-festival.

This Year Pongal was a simple affair as usual, but just tried showcasing a few traditional things to my daughter.

Concentrated on a basic menu, not indulging into a feast meal (that tuesday being a working day for the father-daughter duo) with –

 

vaazhai ilai saappaadu – the banana leaf platter

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sarkkarai pongal -sweet jaggery rice (dosaikal.thai-pongal-the-harvest-festival) – the special delicacy of the day
maangai sambaar – lentils and vegetables in tamarind, spice gravy (dosaikal.sambar)
avial – mixed vegetables in coconut, yoghurt curry (dosaikal.pongal-in-cambodia)
beans thuvaran – beans dry vegetable curry (dosaikal.beans-poriyal)
maangai pachadi (raw mango and jaggery chutney)
maangai thokku (grated raw mango pickle)
vadai (dehusked black gram fritters)
yoghurt to end the meal
mor milagai for the yoghurt rice (dosaikal.curd-rice-sun-dried-chillies)

and the Cambodian Brown Rice to go with the curries.

 

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We had our meal on the banana leaf (dosaikal.thamizhar-virundhu-feast-of-the-tamils). The different dishes kept on the disposable leaf bowls are only for display. (Special Thanks to friend ‘R’ for letting us cut banana leaves from their trees.)
Dhonnai – disposable eco-friendly bowls

The leaf bowls are called ‘Dhonnai’ – a typical temple meal server. The prasadhams or the food provided to the worshippers in the temples are served in dhonnais – made of different kinds of leaves stitched to form cups (palm leaf, banana leaf, lotus leaf are a few leaves used to make dhonnais). I’d like to highlight here that these are eco-friendly, bio-degradable bowls.

 

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Any festival comes with a package of preparatory processes. Those vary from family to family. A person not familiar with all, but a keen learner that I would like myself to be – I thought of doing some minimal preparations to showcase the festive spirit.

So now to those few things I could make my daughter know that excites us during festivals – in the preparation of the special day –
1. Maavilai Thoranam

 

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Maa is the short form of maangai/mango and ilai means leaf.  Thoranam is a festoon which would be hanged at entrances of homes. During festivals, the thoranam/festoon made with mango leaves would adorn every house.  Any family occasion, thoranams are an important part of home decoration – to tell the clan, community and the village/town that there is an auspicious occasion at their home. Inauspicious occasions call for different thoranams, differently hanged.

I do not know when the earliest reference of thoranam is found in Tamil Literature. But,  ‘Naachiyaar Thirumozhi’ written by Andal, one of the Alvars (Vaishnavite Saints) of the Bhakti movement has these verses (dosaikal.com/maargazhi-maadhathil-ven-pongalven-pongal-in-the-month-of-maargazhi). Andal, the only female Alvar …in the 8th Century AD, mentions the Thoranams/festoons in her poetry!

 

vaaraNam aayiram suuzha valam seidhu
naaraNa nambi nadakinraan enredhir
pooraNa porkudam vaithu puramengum
thoraNam naatta kana kanden thozhi naan

Here, Andal talks about her dream of getting married to Lord Vishnu. She elaborates the festive occasion in her dream –

Her beloved Lord walks gloriously amidst thousands of elephants; For his majestic arrival,  golden pots (again a symbol of auspicious occasion) are arranged everywhere and the whole of Srivilliputhur – her town is completely decorated with thoranams/festoons.

 

Maavilai Thoranams are available in the market in Tamilnadu for Pongal celebrations. With numerous mango trees around, I got a few mango leaves from friend ‘P’ (with mangoes too). Made the thoranam with tooth pick and hanged it in the entrance.
2. Karumbu – Sugarcane

After a long search, we could get the whole sugarcane. Pongal would have been incomplete without the true bite of sugarcane.

 

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3. Kolam – traditional drawings with rice flour.

 

A Kolam is a geometrical line drawing composed of curved loops, drawn around a grid pattern of dots. The patterns range between geometric and mathematical line drawings around a matrix of dots to free form art work and closed shapes.

Though not as flamboyant as its other Indian contemporary, Rangoli, which is extremely colourful, a South Indian Kolam is all about symmetry, precision, and complexity. Due to their complexity, trying to figure out how, exactly, these designs were drawn can be a challenge that some viewers find enjoyable. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kolam)

 

I am not a good artist – in terms of drawings or paintings. But watching amma and aachi draw kolams everyday in front of the house and special kolams in the poojai arai (worship room), my work was to do some kolams for Pongal and Deepavali. During Maargazhi Maadham, the month of Maargazhi (Dec-Jan), when the women display their drawing skills in front of their houses, mine would be a genuine attempt but not certainly one of the best or wouldn’t even be categorised ‘better’. Still the event wouldn’t stop.

Aachi (grandma) who would draw wonderful elephants and birds when we were small as she was a great artist. With such patience and dedication, her kolams were picture perfect  – no compromise. She had her ‘Kola nottu’ – the note for kolams (now with cousin ‘A’, who is again very good at it – so in right hands), with her precious kolams drawn to perfection.

This year, Kolam was there in my agenda of traditions during Pongal. So, I requested my friend ‘L’ in Chennai who was sending me pictures of her beautiful Kolams, to send me some simple ones with procedures too. With improved technology, the step by step procedure reached in seconds and we drew our own kolams with chalk. My little enthusiast colored them!

 

my version… great artists over there – forgive me please…

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and the original by ‘L’

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my pongal paanai – pongal pot

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Here are a few beautiful kolams done for Maargazhi and Pongal by ‘L’ –

 

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Thanks ‘L’ for sharing these with me and letting me share with all!

One more important thing in Pongal is the turmeric plant tied to the pot in which Pongal would be cooked. Not available here. Hope to find it for my next Pongal.  There is a saying in Tamil – ‘Thai pirandhal vazhi pirakkum’ which means  – with the start of the new month of ‘Thai’ – mid January to mid February (after maargazhi), good things would fall in place.

 

Wish everyone a happy, healthy and success filled Year 2014!

Pongal in Cambodia with AVIAL!

 

my pongal platter

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  • In the plate: Cooked Rice, left bowl – Mangai Sambar (Raw Mango Sambar) , next bowl – Thoothuvalai Rasam (SOLANYMTRILOBATUM Soup) , right corner – Sarkkarai Pongal (Jaggery Rice) ;
  • three of the side dishes – up left corner – Pappalikkai Poriyal (Raw Papaya Dry Vegetable Curry), middle – Keerai Kootu (Spinach Stew) and next – Avial (Mixed Vegetables in coconut and curd gravy)


Wishing you all a very happy and success filled NEW YEAR 2013! Thankyou for being such wonderful readers. For me.. each one of you have made this world a delightful arena to share my thoughts.

For those who would have wondered why there has been no news for quite some time.. I was busy planning, listing, shopping and packing my groceries, clothes and other necessary and unnecessary stuff to carry to my next destination!

Leaving some beautiful memories behind in Thoothukudi and Chennai (apart from those special moments I’ve brought with me..), here i am, in my new place, slowly trying to settle down.  New house, New school for my daughter, New shopping area, New vegetable market,  everything new, except for the same old cooking….. idlies, dosais, chutney, sambar, rice, kuzhambu and the normal list of courses that follow in line! But a new kitchen.. with bare minimal utensils, those of mine yet to arrive from the Netherlands.. I have managed a few clicks this time!!


It is was Pongal time! Sankaranthi to other states and Thai Pongal to Tamilnadu!! (https://dosaikal.com/2012/01/13/thai-pongal-the-harvest-festival/)

In this new new new life, number one – I mis-calculated the date of Pongal and thought it was on the 15th of January. When I called home to ask for the vegetables for AVIAL – a special down south vegetable dish to make on Pongal day, I had a shock that it was actually the festival Pongal the same day!! Number two – With some other programmes to attend, I decided I would celebrate Pongal on 15th… not to stop the rice boiling ritual that is exclusive part of Pongal celebration. The word ‘Pongal’ itself means ‘to boil’. Paal Pongiyaacha? means has the milk boiled? Here, the sweet jaggery rice made on the day of the festival Pongal is called Sarkkarai Pongal meaning sweet pongal.

There would be two Paanais/vessels. One with plain white rice and water and the other with plain white rice and when it boils, jaggery is added to make Sarkkarai Pongal – the sweet jaggery rice – the delicacy associated with the festival. When the new rice boils and spills over the paanai, women of the house say – ‘Pongalo Pongal’ in chorus. https://dosaikal.com/2012/01/13/thai-pongal-the-harvest-festival/

This time, instead of the pressure cooker pongal, I had brought a steel Paanai to make my Pongal celebration.

steel paanai and jaggery in the adjacent bowl

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15th of January is the third day of the four day Pongal celebration. First day being Bhogi – cleaning of house and shedding away old unwanted things; the second day is the harvest festival or the thanksgiving to farmers – this Pongal day is the first day of the month of Thai; the third day is Maatu Pongal – thanksgiving to cattle that help in harvest; the fourth day is Kaanum Pongal – the Picnic Pongal!!

As such, when we were young, my mama (maternal uncle) would always ring us up early in the morning on Maatu Pongal day, to wish us Happy Maatu Pongal – a teaser for kids. So Mama, this time I go by your words… I truly celebrate Pongal on Maatu Pongal Day!

So now, in the capital of Cambodia – Phnom Penh, when I saw those sugarcane juice shops which extract fresh juice like those in chennai, I felt delighted… Now, i was in a country where I could buy sugarcane, which is an inseparable ingredient for the true taste of pongal festival. I bought two to keep on either sides of my house entrance.


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and later, the transformation till it reached everyone’s taste buds…..


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the way aachi cuts

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Next, I had to hunt for those harvest vegetables … The traditional, indigenous ones grown inland! My grand plan was to make AVIAL – the humble yet classy dish of Tamilnadu and Kerala.

Avial is a sumptuous combination of all indigenous (ofcourse carrots and beans have become part of it) non-watery vegetables, harvested during the season… made to a semi gravy consistency with the addition of curds and coconut-chilli-cumin paste. Vegetables like ash guard, bottle guard are not used as they shed water while cooking and would hinder the consistency of the dish.

I went to the big kaaikari chandhai – vegetable market in Tamil.. which we had explored couple of days ago and got lost while searching a way to come out. Where all vegetables, fruits, unknown varieties of meat and fish (remember I am still a beginner especially a recently converted non-vegetarian!), freshly grated coconut and many small eateries serving various other unknown food varieties, which I need to explore in the near future!

the ones I could get

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I found a few of those I needed … I could not get yam … wasn’t available. Even if they were, I have not yet learnt the differentiation! Others that I missed but can be added in Avial are Avarakkai – Hyacinth Beans, Murungaikkai-Drum sticks, Pudalangai-Snake Guard.

I was so happy to also find more and more of the tropical fruits that I used to love in Tamilnadu…

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(bananas, guavas, sugarcane, papaya, tender coconut and jackfruit…  and Oh!! I missed those beautiful yellow mangoes kept in the fridge).


Now, before coming to the recipe of Avial… festive sweet of the day – my Sarkkarai Pongal- this time the authentic pacharisi (raw rice) and vellam (jaggery) in the pongal paanai, without the addition of split green gram. https://dosaikal.com/2012/01/13/thai-pongal-the-harvest-festival/

on the way

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the special festive food –  mangai sambar and thoothuvalai rasam

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Though delayed by a day, I tried making a simple feast meal with mangai -raw mango sambar (https://dosaikal.com/sambar/) and thoothuvalai rasam ( SOLANYMTRILOBATUM) a herb found in many kitchen gardens.. I got the dry powder from my naatu marundhu kadai- traditional tamil medicine shop.  (Rasam is a thin soup not used as an appetiser as popularized outside the south of India and abroad, but is a digestive soup. https://dosaikal.com/2011/10/14/thamizhar-virundhu-feast-of-the-tamils/). For the side dishes, Keerai/Spinach Kootu  (a stew of vegetables) and pappali kai/raw papaya poriyal (dry vegetable curry) and AVIAL.


AVIAL


Ingredients

  • mixed vegetables – carrots, beans, egg plant, chow chow\chayote squash, pumpkin, raw banana and potato – 2 to 2 1/2 cups – cut into long pieces
  • shallots – 6 no.s
  • yoghurt – 1 cup
  • grated coconut – 1 cup
  • green chillies – 3 no.s
  • cumin seeds – 2 tsp
  • oil (preferably gingelly oil) – 2 tsp
  • mustard seeds – 1 tsp
  • dehusked black gram – 1 tsp
  • curry leaves – a few
  • turmeric powder – 1/2 tsp
  • salt – to taste

vegetables cut long

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coconut paste and yoghurt

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Method of Preparation

  1. Wash and cut the vegetables into long pieces
  2. Steam the vegetables till done. I do it in a microwave steamer for about 8 minutes. Vegetables should not be mushy, but just right to stir well with the gravy
  3. Make a paste of grated coconut, cumin seeds and green chillies and keep aside
  4. Heat oil in a wide bottomed vessel; Let mustard seeds splutter, then add dehusked black gram and curry leaves
  5. Add the shallots and stir fry for a minute till they become opaque
  6. Now add the steamed vegetables and turmeric powder
  7. Usually turmeric powder can be added while the vegetables are cooked in pressure cooker. This helps the raw smell of turmeric powder go away faster. Since I steamed in microwave, I added the turmeric powder while stirring in the vegetables
  8. Stir for a while and add yoghurt and stir
  9. When yoghurt has blended well with the vegetable, add the ground paste and salt
  10. Let this cook till the vegetables are cooked well and absorbed  in the coconut and yoghurt gravy
  11. When a semi thick consistency is reached and the raw smell of turmeric and coconut has gone off, Avial is ready.

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Note:

  1. Vegetables like egg plant or pumpkin might become mushy very quickly. It is better to cook them just right. When they cook again in the gravy, soft texture would arrive.
  2. Cooking the vegetables in coconut paste and yoghurt gravy and adding thaalippu/thadka/seasoning in the end can also be done. By this method, mustard seeds and oil would glow on top of Avial and the dish is better presented.
  3. Vadagam – sun dried onion balls (which contain mustard seeds, curry leaves and other seasoning imgredients) is added in the end instead of seasoning which gives Avial a remarkable flavour.  In the absence of vadagam, coarsely chopped shallots are fried dark brown in oil and added for nearly the same flavour.

Thai Pongal – The Harvest Festival and Sarkkarai Pongal

Pongal is the harvest festival of the Tamils. After the tamil month – Maargazhi, comes Thai (not pronounced as in Thailand. Pronounced as in thigh). It marks the end of the harvest season.  According to the tamil seasons – the month of Thai falls in Mun Pani Kaalam – early winter.

These are the tamil seasons classified in the literary works-

  • Ila Venil Kaalam – Milder Hot Season – The months of Chithirai and Vaigasi (mid april and mid june)
  • Muthu Venil Kaalam – Hot Summer – The months of Aani and Aadi (mid june to mid august)
  • Kaar Kaalam – Cloudy/Rainy Season -The months of Aavani and Purattasi (mid august to mid october)
  • Koothir Kaalam – Cold Season – The months Aippasi and Kaarthigai (mid October to mid December)
  • Mun Pani Kaalam – Early Winter/Dew – The months of Maargazhi and Thai (mid December to mid February)
  • Pin Pani Kaalam – Later Winter/Dew – The months of Maasi and Panguni (mid February to mid april)

(http://sangamtamilforeignscholars.wordpress.com/robert-butler/)

 

Pongal cannot be considered a religious festival, though it is more popularized as a Hindu Festival. It can be called as a thanks giving celebration – the farmers thank the Sun God for a bounty harvest and thank their cows for their milk and the bulls who helped them plough their fields and pull their carts.

People living in cities are not really connected to this professional affair. With much population moving towards towns and cities for non-agriculture based livelihoods, what keeps the tradition still alive?

The quintessential grain of the people of south india – ‘Rice’ is needed for making Idli, Dosai, Cooked Rice, Payasams, Savouries and many more food items. Might be this connection between those farmers and city dwellers keeps everyone celebrate pongal alike. When the farmers thank their cattle and nature for helping in their bountiful harvest, people in other parts celebrate Pongal as a thanks giving festival to  the Farmers who provide them with the incomparable and unsubstitutable RICE, other crops and vegetables.

 

Pongal is a four-day affair.

1. The first day – the last day of the month of Maargazhi – this year (2012) January 14 – is called Bhogi Pongal and is the day of cleaning.  All old unwanted things are shed away. People white wash their houses and new Kolams – traditional drawings on the floor with rice flour and the house gets ready to celebrate Pongal the next day.

 

Kolam  from free pongal wall papers 

 

 

All the houses from the richest to the humblest are thoroughly scrubbed and whitewashed. Homes are cleaned and decorated with “Kolam” – floor designs drawn in the white paste of newly harvested rice with outlines of red mud. Often pumpkin flowers are set into cow-dung balls and placed among the patterns. Fresh harvest of rice, turmeric and sugarcane is brought in from the field as preparation for the following day. http://www.123pongal.com/pongal/festival/bogi-festival.html

 

2. The second day is Thai Pongal. The day of Pongal, which falls on January 15, 2012 is the first day of the month of Thai. The Tamil saying goes –
‘Thai pirandhal vazhi pirakkum’ – meaning when the month of Thai is born,  good things start coming into everyone’s life.

Pongal is also called Thai Thirunal and Thamizhar Thirunal – which means the festival of the Tamils – beyond religions.

Pongal means boiling or spilling over in reference to rice or milk. It is celebrated in cities on the gas stoves in the kitchen. In villages and towns, mud stoves or brick stoves are used to cook the newly harvested rice on man chatti/earthen pots or vengala paanai/brass pot. The stove is kept on the traditional kolams drawn on bogi night and pongal – plain rice and sweet jaggery rice is cooked not in the kitchen but in front of every house – thanking the Sun God.

 

pongal wishes from free pongal wall papers

 

 

The Vengala Paanai used only for Pongal purpose, is also called the ‘Ponga paanai’ is given to every bride by her parents and the first pongal after marriage is called ‘Thalai Pongal’ and the new daughter-in-law celebrates Pongal with her new Ponga paanai. After a few years of usage, unfortunately now, mine lies back home and so I use the normal pressure cooker in kitchen to make Pongal.

There would be two Paanais/vessels. One with plain white rice and water and the other with plain white rice and when it boils, jaggery is added to make Sarkkarai Pongal – the sweet jaggery rice – the delicacy associated with the festival. When the new rice boils and spills over the paanai, women of the house say – ‘Pongalo Pongal’ in chorus.

Maavilai thoranam/decorating houses with fresh mango leaves, Manjal Kizhangu/Fresh turmeric with the fresh leaves tied to the Pongal Paanai, Karumbu/Sugarcane and Panankizhangu/Palm Root are certain things associated with Pongal and those which I miss a lot during these special days, not to mention the fresh Banana leaves.

Not only Sarkkarai Pongal, the whole feast meal consists of those traditional vegetables – the normal four coarse meal – ilai saapadu – is enjoyed by the whole family. Sambar, Rasam and Yoghurt being normal, Avial – a vegetable dish with coconut gravy – using raw banana, egg-plant, pumpkin, drum sticks and many other root vegetables is the highlight of the day. By the end of the day, the tongue would have lost its taste co-ordination due to the unlimited intake of sugarcane!

The strong and courageous use their strong teeth to peel the skin of sugarcane – enjoying the real taste of course. The more pampered ones like appa – my father – would have their share of sugarcane cut to bit size pieces by his mother – aachi . The sight of my then sixty-five to seventy year old aachi sitting down on the floor with her arivalmanai – colloquially aruvamanai – the all in all traditional metal knife with a base – which cuts, chops and grates coconuts, and cutting sugar cane for appa is still framed in my mind. Even now, she is ready for it, but we don’t let her do it!

For photo of Aruvalmanai – see – http://www.flickr.com/photos/techno_freak/512113871/

 

3. The third day is Maatu Pongal – the day to thank the cattle. When in Thoothukudi in my maternal grandparent’s home, since there were cows, maatu pongal would be a colorful affair. Mamas/Uncles would paint the horns of cows and calves in different colours and we youngsters would tie colorful flower garlands to their necks. Thaatha would bring the bullock cart from his farm – and when we were very young, would even taken a ride in the bullock cart. That diminished later, and only painting horns and worshipping them continued till there were cows at home.

This day is also famous for Manju Virattu or Jallikattu – the bull fight – the tradition that is regarded to be more than 2000 years. In ancient days, parents of a girl would give their daughter to a courageous man who tamed the bull.

 

Jallikattu is more than 2,000 years ago old. Good proof for it are cave paintings, showing men chasing bulls, that were found in Karikkiyur village located in the Nilgiris district. Long time ago Jalikattu used to be a way for local women to choose their husbands. http://traditionscustoms.com/strange-traditions/jallikattu

 

4. The fourth day is Kaanum Pongal. It is the day of meet and greet. People visit their relatives and friends on this day. This is also a day of family picnic with ‘kootanchoru’ – the mixed rice packed by aachis and ammas for everyone for lunch. My maternal grandfather – thatha would drive us – the grandchildren – to River Thamiraparani in Vallanadu in Tuticorin district. We would swim in those cold waters – or literally warm water – nearly for three to four hours enjoying kaanum pongal picnic. Thatha made it a thatha and peran/pethigal – Grandfather-grand children day. When we were older, thatha took us again – just to see the water which had turned ankle depth – that made us really sad.

 

 Now for the true essence of Pongal, Sarkkarai Pongal!

 

 

 

 Sarkkarai Pongal

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • pacharisi/raw rice – 1 cup
  • paasi paruppu/split green gram/moong dhal – 1/3 cup
  • grated vellam/jaggery/gud – 1 1/2 cup
  • yela podi/cardamom powder – 1/2 tsp
  • nei/clarified butter/ghee – 4 tbsp
  • mundhiri paruppu/cashew nuts – 3 tbsp

 

 

 

 

Method of Preparation

  1. Cook rice and lentil in enough water in a pressure cooker (I used 5 cups for my rice quality)
  2. Mash well and keep aside
  3. Boil jaggery in 1/4 cup water till it dissolves and filter it straight into cooked rice and lentil
  4. Add cardamom powder and cook till jaggery syrup mixes well in rice and pongal reaches a thick consistency
  5. In a separate pan, heat ghee and fry cashew nuts
  6. Pour into Sarkkarai Pongal and mix well till everything blends well
  7. Sarkkarai Pongal is ready.

 

 

 

 

Note:

  1. The quantity of jaggery can be reduced if preferred
  2. Though amma prepares sarkkarai pongal with only rice as in traditional pongal paanai, this is the standard pongal cooked at all times – with split green gram mixed to it
  3. For an even better traditional taste – a bite of banana and coconut with a spoon of pongal tastes heavenly for some (I am one among those)
  4. For those with no sweet tooth or less sweet preference, but like to taste pongal – might try this one – have the sweet pongal with some sambar or coconut chutney.

 

5. January 16 of every year is also celebrated as Thiruvalluvar Naal/Thiruvalluvar Day. Thiruvalluvar is the author of Thirukkural. This would give a clear picture of the man and his contribution to Tamil Literary Works.

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Thirukkural is the masterpiece of Tamil literature with the highest and purest expressions of human thought. It is written in the form of couplets (two line poems) expounding various aspects of life. It contains 1330 couplets, divided into 133 chapters of 10 couplets each

Thirukkural was written by Thiruvalluvar, who is believed to have born 30 years before Jesus Christ. The Tamil Calendar is dated from that period and referred as Thiruvalluvar Aandu (Year). We find Thiruvalluvar as a moral philosopher, political scientist and master of public administration in the first two parts of Thirukkural. We find him to be a creative artist in the third part, depicting the fascinating aspects of lovers.

Thirukkural’s immortality and universality are unquestionable. Its ethics and values are applicable to all religions, countries and time. It has been translated in over 60 languages of the world. http://www.tn.gov.in/literature/thiruvalluvar/thiruvalluvar.htm