Tag Archives: sarkkarai pongal

My 200th Post – Thinai / Foxtail Millet – Payasam and Sarkkarai Pongal : Two to Celebrate !!

My 100th Post was Kootanchoru – Typical Home Town One Pot Meal, way back in 2014. Dosaikal, my blog entered into its 10th year in May 2020. In my 10th year, jotting down my 200th post feels ecstatic.

It has been a slow and steady journey for me and a patient journey for my readers. Thanks a ton, for travelling at my pace, encouraging me to do what I’ve been doing.

When I sit back and think, the commitment of not endorsing junk foods and not blogging on unhealthy stuff has never faded. That I wouldn’t post a recipe, which I feel is unhealthy for my family; and wouldn’t cook any junk, that I wouldn’t prescribe to my readers, has been a norm that I set for myself.

In my quest to explore various versions of traditional foods, I felt THINAI / Foxtail Millet would be an apt food to post for my 200th.

Why Thinai?

Thinai is among the oldest millets consumed by Tamils. Sangam Literature, which dates from 300 BCE to 300 ACE, mentions Thinai, alongwith a few other millets and rice varieties, used by the ancient community.

Bamboo rice, Red rice, Foxtail, Kodo, Finger Millets, Black gram, Horse gram are a few rice, millets and lentils mentioned in Tholkappiyam (the most ancient Grammar Text of Tamil Language) and Sangam Literature.

With my quest to cook more, and write more and more on the traditional foods of the Land I belong to, I chose to do a post on one of the ancient millets of Tamilnadu.

It is the outcome of an urge to cling on tightly to my roots (quite strong with at least 2500 year old heritage), and transferring the wealth and knowledge my ancestors passed on to me through generations, to my offspring and others.

Thinai – Two Ways for the Sweet Tooth

Including Millets in our everyday diet is one of the most recommended health formulas of the 21st century, and hence, the internet overflows with the health benefits of all. Name it and you get it. Benefits of Thinai/ Foxtail Millet can also be found very easily in the net.

Any happy occasion demands a dessert. Why not 2 sweets for 200? That’s why I thought of making a Payasam and Sarkkarai Pongal with Thinai.

The basic ingredients are almost the same – Thinai and Jaggery; Payasam has the inclusion of coconut milk and Pongal doesn’t have the milk to bring it to thinner consistency.

Thinai Payasam and Thinai Pongal

As mentioned above, the Ingredients for Payasam and Pongal are almost the same, with the addition of coconut milk in Payasam.

The basic steps in making Payasam and Pongal are again, almost the same. In simple terms, a thinner mixture and addition of coconut milk makes it Payasam; a thicker version with the glow of more clarified butter, makes it Pongal.

Hence, the procedure below might be repetitive. Yet, for better comprehension, I chose to make different recipe presentations.

THINAI PAYASAMIngredients (serves 3-4)

Ingredients (serves 3-4)

  • thinai/foxtail millet – 1/2 cup
  • vellam/jaggery – 3/4 cup
  • chukku podi/ dry ginger powder – 1/2 tsp
  • elakkai podi/cardamom powder – 1/2 tsp
  • nei/clarified butter – 2 tbsp
  • mundhiri paruppu/cashewnut – 10-12 pieces
  • thengai pal/coconut milk – if freshly squeezed -1/2 cup thin second milk and 1/2 cup thick first milk; if using canned coconut milk – 1 cup thick, add extra water accordingly

Method of Preparation

  1. Wash Thinai and Pressure cook with 1 1/2 cups water.

How I cook – After the first whistle, reduce flame to sim and switch off after 2 whistles

Meantime-

2. Boil jaggery with water to dissolve and remove impurities. Strain and keep aside

3. Squeeze milk from fresh coconut, separate thin second milk and thick first milk

4. Over sim flame, keep the cooked millet in a hard bottomed pan or in the same pressure cooker, in which it was cooked

5. Time to add strained jaggery water- Check if you would need the whole jaggery water. Add 3/4th of it and add more if needed

Extra jaggery water, if retained can be used for various other purposes

Stir well after addition of jaggery water

Add dry ginger and cardamom powders

Let the millet cook in jaggery water and the spices, and thicken

Fry cashew nuts in nei/clarified butter till golden; Add to the cooked thinai-jaggery pongal

When the jaggery is well incorporated in thinai, add coconut milk

Be careful not to boil the Payasam too much after adding coconut milk, as it might curdle

Hot Thinai Payasam is ready to be served.

THINAI SARKKARAI PONGAL – Ingredients (serves 3-4)

Ingredients (serves 3-4)

  • thinai/foxtail millet – 1/2 cup
  • vellam/jaggery – little less than 3/4 cup
  • chukku podi/ dry ginger powder – 1/2 tsp
  • elakkai podi/cardamom powder – 1/2 tsp
  • nei/clarified butter – 4 tbsp
  • mundhiri paruppu/cashewnut – 10-12 pieces

Method of Preparation

  1. Wash Thinai and Pressure cook with 1 1/2 cups water. How I cook – After the first whistle, reduce flame to sim and switch off after 2 whistles
  2. Boil jaggery with water to dissolve and remove impurities. Strain and keep aside
  3. Over sim flame, keep the cooked millet in a hard bottomed pan or in the same pressure cooker, in which it was cooked
  4. Add strained jaggery water- Check if you would need the whole jaggery water. Add 3/4th of it and add more if needed. Store extra syrup.
  5. Let the millet cook in jaggery water again and thicken well
  6. Add dry ginger and cardamom powders

7. Fry cashew nuts in nei/clarified butter till golden; Add to the cooked thinai-jaggery pongal

my favourite step –

Thinai Pongal is ready to be served.

Note:

  1. I have reduced the quantity of jaggery for Pongal, as coconut milk might balance the sweetness of jaggery in Payasam.
  2. I have added 2 more tbsps of nei/clarified butter to Pongal. This gives a beautiful glow and wonderful consistency to the dessert, not to mention the awesome taste.
  3. Feel free to omit, reduce or add more nei.
  4. Also, jaggery and coconut milk can be altered according to family preferences.

Pongal in Abu Dhabi

This year’s Pongal – the Harvest Festival of the Tamils, was a special one for me. After posting my experience of Pongal in Cambodia , way back in 2014, now, I am delighted to post my experience of Pongal in Abu Dhabi, in 2020. Pongal was celebrated on 15th January.

Abu Dhabi, as many of us know, is a place very close to a South Indian’s heart. I recall a few lines I already wrote in one my previous posts – Navaratri in Abu Dhabi

Living in Abu Dhabi, one doesn’t feel out of homeland, with millions of Indians, especially South Indians quite huge in number. But, it is certainly an amazing place where festivals are celebrated in their best traditional way, with undoubted authenticity.

The same feeling of being at home, was felt during Pongal too. Firstly, there was a Pongal celebration by local Tamil Community, at Khalifa Park, Abu Dhabi on the 10th of January, 2020. That gave a great start to the essence of our own Harvest Festival. There are a few more to join, in the coming days as well.

Apart from the events, that give a welcome feeling of being part of one’s own society, one of the most essential things to celebrate a traditional festival, is the availability of ingredients – exclusive to one’s native soil.

So, first step – I listed down the necessary things I needed to buy, for an authentic, traditional celebration – almost close to home, but away from home.

My list –

  1. Pongal Paanai – a new Mud Pot to make Pongal – The sweet rice pudding
  2. Manjal Kothu – Fresh Turmeric with the root and leaves, to tie around the pot
  3. Inji Kothu – Fresh Ginger with root and leaves
  4. Karumbu – Sugarcane
  5. Panakizhangu – Palmyra Sprout
  6. Maavilai – Fresh Mango leaves to make Thoranam or decoration in the house entrance
  7. Fresh traditional vegetables of Tamilnadu
  8. Banana Leaf
  9. Coconut
  10. Banana
  11. Rice
  12. Jaggery

Now, Rice, Jaggery, Banana, Coconut and vegetables are abundantly available in Abu Dhabi. Hence, the concern of getting those didn’t pop up at all.

My longing to make Pongal, in a new mud pot was fulfilled by Dar Al Meena Food Stuff Trading, located in Sharjah, which delivers organic produces from Tamilnadu, every week, on different days to different parts of the UAE. Click here to know more about the shop.

They deliver required native produces to Abu Dhabi every Sunday. So, my anxiety to get these trademark Pongal Agro products, was sorted out very quickly.

This post is not going to be one, with a recipe. But this one is, to share my happiness and fulfilment that resulted in this year’s Pongal celebration. Happiness, not because I could get those quintessential things – but specially and more specifically because, I could show my daughter, at least a glimpse of Pongal – the festival, so earthy, and so close to our roots.

Pongal is so special to the Tamils because, it is an ancient, non-religious, traditional festival, that is very strongly connected to the earthy aroma of our native soil. It is the Harvest Festival as well as a Thanksgiving Festival. Though, it is a festival in which the farmer is thanking his own eco system of nature, including the Sun, Soil and Cattle, for providing the strength to achieve best yields. In turn, it is our duty to thank the Farmer, who produces the grains and vegetables we consume daily. Then, isn’t it very important to make our next generation value the sheer Hardwork of those humble souls, without whom, our filled plates with nutritious food and satisfied palates after each meal wouldn’t be achievable?

These are the things I procured from the shop, including my first priced possession of the new year – my Pongal Paanai/Mud Pot.

Pongal in Abu Dhabi

The quintessential things –

mud pot, coconut shell ladle, the pirumanai to place the pot, fresh turmeric with root and leaves, fresh ginger with root and leaves.

my priced possessions – mud pot and coconut shell ladle

Seasoning the Man Chatti/Mud Pot

After soaking the mud pot in water overnight, I washed it well with gram flour using coconut scrub. The next step, in the process of seasoning the mudpot, I fried grated coconut and nei/clarified butter. This aids in removing any mud, impurities and also makes the pot stronger. Coconut and nei/clarified butter, would provide a nice aroma to the mud pot, while making sweet dishes in future. This is because, the clay would absorb the flavour and aroma of the things fried or cooked first, for the rest of its life span. I discarded the fried coconut. Then, washed the pot with the coconut scrub and gram flour. Man chatti/mud pot is ready to make Sarkkarai Pongal, in fact every year.

Rest of the products – Karumbu/Sugarcane

Panang kizhangu/Palmyra Sprouts

Maavilai/Fresh mango leaves and Maavilai thoranam

the vegetables and different kinds of rice – mappillai samba, hand pound white, hand pound brown

Making Sarkkarai Pongal

I made Pongal, with 3 cups rice and approximately 4 to 4 1/2 cups jaggery. Too much for a nuclear family. But, the joy of sharing with friends during such festivals is the true spirit of celebration.

To start, I tied the fresh turmeric root with leaves to the neck of the manchatti. Placed the man chatti with water to boil, on the stove. A tip here – Add sufficient water for rice to cook… this is not pressure cooker cooking.. so no water measurements. Add water in between, if water is insufficient to cook rice.

Sufficient water and washed rice immersed in it.

Meantime, I kept the jaggery with water on stove. Once water boils and jaggery is completely dissolved, switch off stove. We shall strain later, directly into the pot.

Checked the rice off and on, until it had become soft

After a few minutes, the rice had become thicker, with most of the water absorbed while cooking;

At this stage, I strained the jaggery liquid into the pot

I added freshly ground cardamom into the rice and jaggery pongee

It was time to mix well and check whether everything was going right.

I used this beautiful coconut shell ladle, to mash the rice well. This dual purpose ladle, also serves as a masher.

I fried cashew nuts in clarified butter/nei and added to the almost done sarkkarai pongal

Sarkkarai Pongal was a thickened pudding now. I closed the lid and got ready to thank the farmers, cattle and nature – all at heart, in front of the worship area, with all family members present.

Symbolising the new Harvest – vegetables and rice

Thanksgiving Time! Pongalo Pongal!!!

After the humble celebration at home, traditional meal with rice, sambar, avial, pachadi, poriyal, vadai and pongal was the treat of the day. It was truly a festival, remembering and thanking the Farmers, and their eco system of Nature, including the Sun, Soil and Cattle, that provide them their basic means of livelihood, besides enabling us to reap the benefits of our primary food grains and vegetables.

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