This week, one half of my family (Desi’s side) celebrated Pongal, the beginning of the new year for people from the state of Tamil Nadu. Like all Indian festivals, this is an occasion to guzzle down plate after plate of lovingly prepared luscious, delicious vegetarian food.
There are some very special dishes that are traditionally prepared for Pongal. Called Venn Pongal and Sarkarai (Sugary) Pongal, both are made with rice and mung lentils. But with the addition of just a few other ingredients, one takes on a dashing, spicy avatar not unlike risotto in texture, while the other becomes a gooey, voluptuous sweet. Amazing.
This year I made only Venn Pongal, or the spicy one, because I am trying to scale back on the sweets after the holidays. I had one major challenge: the flavor of Venn Pongal depends quite a great deal on ghee, or clarified Indian butter, which is something of a mainstay of any kind of celebration food in an Indian kitchen.
I just left it out, seasoning instead with a little canola oil and some coconut milk. The result was delicious. I served the Pongal with another traditional dish, Eggplant-Green-Pepper Gotsu, which, thankfully, did not need any special treatment in a vegan kitchen.
Happy New Year, everyone, and hope you enjoy this traditional fare with a twist.
Vegan Venn Pongal:
1 cup rice
1 cup mung lentils (mung dal)
1 tsp cumin seeds, crushed
1 tsp black pepper, crushed
1 tbsp ginger, grated
2 tbsp chopped cashewnuts or peanuts (cashewnuts are the traditional choice, but I substitute with peanuts sometimes)
1 tsp canola oil
1/2 cup coconut milk
Salt to taste
Cook the rice and mung lentils together, preferably in a pressure cooker or rice cooker, until soft.
Heat the oil in a skillet. On medium-low heat, add the cumin seeds, pepper and ginger and stir for a minute.
Add the nuts and stir until lightly golden.
Add the rice-lentil mixture. Stir and add some water if it is too dry.
Add the coconut milk and salt to taste.
Stir thoroughly until the rice is soft and creamy in texture, about a minute or two.
Serve hot with gotsu (recipe below)
1 cup mung lentils, cooked until soft.
1 medium eggplant, cubed in a small dice (about 1 1/2 cm square)
1 large green pepper, also diced to the same size as eggplant pieces
1 large tomato or two medium ones, diced
1 onion, diced
1 tbsp ginger
1 tbsp rasam powder (recipe follows, but you could use store-bought)
1 tbsp canola or other vegetable oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
Salt to taste
1 tbsp coriander leaves, chopped
Put the eggplants and pepper in a microwave-safe container and cook for five minutes on high for about 5 minutes or until the eggplant is tender.
Heat oil in a saucepan. Add the mustard seeds and when they crackle add the onion and saute for about 2 minutes.
Add the ginger and stir.
Add tomatoes and cook until they start to break up.
Add the cooked vegetables, moong dal, and rasam powder. Stir thoroughly.
Cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes until the flavors merge and the vegetables are very tender.
Add salt to taste. Serve hot with the Vegan Venn Pongal.