Pongalo Pongal!

Pongal Aviyal

A very happy Pongal to the south Indian readers of Holy Cow!

The word Pongal literally describes an overflowing, boiling pot of rice. Figuratively, it signifies prosperity and is a time to give thanks for everything you’re blessed with– an Indian Thanksgiving, so to say. And what better way to celebrate prosperity than with delicious food?

South Indian women cook up a feast in their kitchens this day, but there are two dishes that are the centerpiece of any Pongal celebration: Venn Pongal and Sakkarai Pongal. Or, Savory Pongal and Sweet Pongal.

I have blogged my Pongal recipes before, but this time I wanted to try something a little different– I wanted to make a vegan “ghee” (clarified butter) to use in them, because ghee is usually added to both kinds of Pongals to give them a unique flavor.

I had some Earth Balance butter sticks on hand and I melted them down, exactly as one would melt down butter to make ghee, and let the solids fall away. Cynical though I was when I started, the final result looked exactly like ghee. There was one downside: Earth Balance tends to be rather salty, and the “ghee” was saltier than I would have liked it to be. Whatever, though, because it worked really well in the recipes.

Pongal is traditionally eaten with gotsu, or aviyal. I’ve posted my gotsu recipe before, as I have my Pongal recipes and avial, but because I made them a little differently this time I am going to give you the recipes anyway. Although they may sound formidable to someone new to them, the two Pongals are among the easiest dishes you can cook up: they use a bare minimum of ingredients and there really is no way you can go wrong if you follow the directions.

Masala vadai are also traditional eats at Pongal celebrations, and you can see that recipe here.

Enjoy, all!

Ven Pongal

Venn Pongal:


1 cup rice

1 cup mung lentils

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)

2 tbsp Earth Balance ghee (use canola or other flavorless oil if you can’t find the Earth Balance butter sticks)

Salt to taste

Cook the rice and mung together, preferably in a pressure cooker or rice cooker, until they get really soft and mushy.

Heat the “ghee” 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 nuts and ginger mixture to the rice and lentils, and salt to taste. Stir to mix and add some water if it is too dry. You want the pongal to be soft and creamy.

Enjoy it with some aviyal (recipe follows)

Chakkarai Pongal

Sakkarai Pongal

3/4 cup rice

1/4 cup mung lentils or mung dal

Boil the rice and mung dal together, preferably in a pressure cooker, until really soft. I added about 3 cups of water to the pressure cooker, which gave me the right consistency.

Add 1 cup almond milk to the rice-mung mixture and set it on a low flame.

Add 3/4 to 1 cup grated jaggery and stir well.

Cook on a low flame until the raw jaggery smell has dissipated. This took about half an hour for me. The pongal should not be dry, but creamy and slightly fluid. If it gets too dry, add some more almond milk or water.

Heat 1 tbsp of the vegan “ghee”

Add 1 tsp powdered cardamom seeds

10-15 cashew nuts, broken into pieces

10-15 golden raisins (optional. I didn’t use any this time)

Toss until the nuts are lightly browned. Add to the rice.

Stir well. Serve warm or at room temperature.


4 cups of mixed vegetables (I used potatoes, green beans, pumpkin and carrots. You can add other veggies like sweet potatoes, plantain, eggplant, green peas or white pumpkin)

1/2 cup coconut milk

2 tsp cumin seeds

3 green chillies

2 tbsp bengal gram dal

2 tbsp grated ginger

1 tsp canola oil

2 tbsp coconut oil

1 sprig curry leaves

Heat the canola oil and add the bengal gram dal. Put the bengal gram dal in a blender along with the ginger, coconut milk and 1 tsp cumin seeds and blend to a smooth paste.

Cook the vegetables with some water until almost tender. I put them in a microwave-safe dish with about half a cup of water, cover them with a microwave-safe lid, and zap them for seven minutes.

Heat 1 tbsp of the coconut oil in a saucepan. Add the ginger and curry leaves and stir for a minute. Add the vegetables and their cooking water, and turmeric powder.

Bring the vegetables to a boil, then add the coconut paste and salt to taste.

Once it starts to bubble, lower the heat and cook for another five minutes until the vegetables are quite tender.

Heat the remaining coconut oil in a separate pan.

Add 1 tsp cumin seeds and when they sputter, pour them into the aviyal.

Stir in and turn off the heat. Check salt and add more if needed.

(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.

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  1. says


    Happy Pongal to you as well. I really liked how to make vegan Ghee from this post, along with yummy recipes to eat!

    I like to make Pongal at home, sometimes peppercorn are too much for me, when eating it from restaurants.

  2. J says

    Can you please elaborate what’s meant by “let the solids fall away” in “…I melted them down, exactly as one would melt down butter to make ghee, and let the solids fall away.” I’ve never made ghee but would like to try making your vegan ghee. Apart from the saltiness, did it taste like ghee? Thank you!

  3. says

    J, the melted butter will bubble for a while and then it will clarify on top and the solids will settle on the bottom. Keep a close eye on it because you don’t want the ghee to brown too much. You can filter off the solids or just use the whole thing.
    The texture is very much like ghee but the salt really overrode the taste. I’ve heard Earth Balance is coming out with unsalted butter sticks and I am waiting for those. Ghee made with dairy tends to be nuttier tasting than this was, but overall the vegan ghee gave a better tasting result with the pongals than oil would have.

  4. says

    Marian, if it’s labeled “vegetable ghee” it is very likely shortening, which would be the same as Crisco or any other vegetable shortening you can get here in the US.

  5. Vidya says

    My resolve as a new vegan was broken during Pongal this year. I was actually in India and succumbed to the relatives encouraging me to eat their sakkarai pongal. I don’t even regret it, now I’ve had a recent sample of the real thing, I know how best to go about recreating it next year. I unfortunately do not have access to Earth Balance, or a decent vegan margarine of any sort. Most of them are just disgusting. I’m thinking some coconut oil, or a rich nut oil, e.g. macadamia or even walnut might work okay, what do you think?

  6. says

    Vidya, a nut oil is a great idea. I sometimes use walnut oil for pongal, but macadamia would be wonderful too. Good luck! And sorry about the delayed reply– I’ve been traveling with spotty access to email.

  7. says

    Thanks for this recipe, Vaishali. Tried the Avial out today for a school event and came out great. Thank you! A couple small recipe notes . . . you mention ginger twice but don’t say how much to use each time . . . and cumin seeds (1 tsp.) also appear in the recipe twice but aren’t on the ingredients list . . . I also popped mustard seed (with cumin) and added asafetida to the popped spice mixture. Thanks again, Rachael

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