Pongal – An ode to the rice, and its virtues

Picture: Conrad Hotel, Bengaluru
Bengaluru-Chef Praveen Shetty of Conrad on the different forms of Pongal – from Ven Pongal to Kavuni Arisi Pongal
As told to Madhulika Dash

“One of my earliest childhood memories is that of this nutty fragrance weaving and wafting through my house during Pongal. In fact, it was my favourite memory about Pongal, when I would taste this velvety sweet dessert made by my mom or grandmother. Back then, it was a festival of treats. It was much later as a chef researching on his own culinary legacy that I found out the deep impact all the bowls of creamy goodness did for me. It not only gave me the meaning of Pongal, which in Tamil means “to boil”, but its significance as well. Pongal, as many know, is a harvest festival where farmers get together to thank god for a good year of harvest – and pray for the coming year as well. It is a time when the field is cleared and old grains are consumed for making space for the newer grains. 

"In fact, it is the time of the year that marks not only the change of season and climate, but also the fresh start. And the way this message is given to every new generation during the three-day long celebrations is through a delectable pudding called Pongal, the most recognised, kheer-style pudding made
of rice. The origin of this rice dish was from the Indian subcontinent, in Sri Lanka and Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana. It is a traditional food and most historic taste of the south. In fact, a Pongal is of two kinds: one, a melange of local rice variety with moong dal, ghee, cashew nuts, raisins, and mild spices; and the other a savoury version which consists of moong dal, rice, cashews, curry leaves, pepper and ghee. The right balance of carbohydrate, protein and fats, it is one of the dishes that is a must-have during winters.

Fascinatingly, though there are many versions of Pongal that are had during the week when the winters gradually shift towards summer with the days getting longer than before. Each has its own value and importance in helping the body, mind and soul adapt to the new changes of a season. In a way, Pongal isn’t just a delicious treat but a scrumptious bowl of healthfulness. Like the ones below:

Pongal just can’t be celebrated without relishing Ven Pongal. This traditional recipe is prepared using rice, moong dal, curry leaves, ghee, nuts and some spices. And usually is what most people have had to taste. It has this interesting nutty flavour with a bite, best for a cold morning treat.

Also known as Sakkara Pongal, it is the sweet variant of the Pongal, which is generally made as a prasadam for the festivities and served in temples. This traditional recipe is prepared using ingredients like jaggery, ghee, milk, moong dal, raw rice and dry fruits.

Thinai Pongal is foxtail millet pongal which is healthy, delicious and savory. It is specially prepared during the harvest festival, and is one of the oldest porridges made in the age old style with traditional ingredients.

Black Rice in Tamil called as Kavuni. Usually unprocessed, it retains most of its antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Black rice also contains important antioxidant- Vitamin E, which is useful in maintaining eye, skin, and immune health. Kavuni Rice Pongal is often made with jaggery, ghee, milk, moong dal, cashew nut and raisins. Served usually on the third day, it is one of the bowls which though takes a little getting used to but makes for a very rich pudding that is satiating, filling and extremely nourishing.