A new twist on the traditional, these pongal cakes, made from leftover pongal--a south Indian rice and lentil dish--are crispy and delicious, especially when served with a sweet potato gotsu.
Pongal is one of my favorite Tamil foods. I love both the sweet and savory kind, typically made during the south Indian harvest festival by the same name.
The most magical thing about Pongal is its simplicity: both the sweet (Sarkarai) Pongal and the savory (Venn) Pongal start out with the same, rather unglamorous base of mung dal and rice. But the alchemy of just a few different ingredients added to each transforms them into two totally different, totally sublime dishes.
Because I usually enjoy cooking more when I can change things up a bit, I decided to give my Venn Pongal a delicious twist: I shaped the Pongal into little cakes, coated them with some rava or sooji (the Indian answer to breadcrumbs), and then pan-fried them so they developed a crispy skin while remaining soft and gooey on the inside. Kinda like risotto cakes, because Venn Pongal has the same consistency as a risotto.
I then served my Pongal Cakes smothered in some vibrant, gorgeous Sweet Potato Gotsu, another twist on the dal dish typically served with Pongal and usually made with eggplant and green peppers. I've shared that version earlier and you can find it here.
The Pongal Cakes are delicious: it's like comfort food wrapped in a warm blanket and with fuzzy slippers on. Best part is, it is still a healthy dish: there is very little oil in this recipe, and -- bonus-- we leave out the artery-clogging ghee in our vegan version.
Here's the recipe. It's also a great way to revitalize some leftover Pongal. My next post will be about the other Pongal-- the sweet one-- also with a slight variation on the original.
A happy Pongal to all the readers of Holy Cow!
Crispy Pongal Cakes
- 1 cup rice (I used Basmati but use any kind, medium being the best choice. You want your Pongal, like your risotto, to be starchy so that it ends up being nice and gooey)
- ½ cup moong dal
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric
- 2 teaspoon cumin seeds (coarsely pounded)
- 1 tablespoon ginger (grated)
- ¼ cup cashew pieces (broken into small bits)
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- Salt to taste
- ½ cup sooji
- 2 tablespoon vegetable oil
- Cook the rice and dal together until very soft. I usually do this in a pressure cooker (I add four cups of water and let the cooker go for five minutes after it reaches pressure). But you can also do this on the stovetop. It will take much longer, but it will get there. Make sure you monitor it, like you would a risotto, and add water if it dries up. Pongal by itself can be more gooey, but because you want to shape this into cakes you want a slightly firmer (albeit not dry) consistency.
- Heat the oil in a skillet. Add the cumin, pepper, ginger and cashew and stir until the cashew pieces just start to turn golden. Add this to the rice-mung dal mixture and stir it in until everything's well mixed.
- Once the mixture cools, start shaping your cakes. I press them into balls and then flatten them on the palm of my hand. You don't need a separate binder-- the dal and rice are glutinous enough to hold firm.
- Place the rava in a dish and dredge each cake so you have a light coating on each.
- Heat the oil in a cast-iron or nonstick skillet and add the oil, spreading it evenly in a thin layer.
- Pan-fry the cakes, about two to three minutes each side, or until a golden-brown crust forms.
- Serve hot with the gotsu (recipe below) or with chutney.
Sweet Potato Gotsu
- Heat 1 teaspoon of oil and add the onions.
- Stir-fry until the onions start to soften, about 2-3 minutes.
- Add the curry leaves, tomatoes and sweet potatoes and stir. Add the ginger, green chillies, and rasam powder and stir together for another 2-3 minutes.
- Add the mung dal and stir well. Now add enough water to cover the dal, season with some salt, and pressure cook or let it cook on the stovetop until the dal and vegetables are really soft.
- Mash the dal with the back of a ladle. Add water if the mixture is too dry.
- Heat the remaining teaspoon of oil and add the mustard seeds. When they sputter, add the curry leaves. Stir for a few seconds and then add this tempering (or tadka) to the dal mixture.
- Add more salt if needed. Serve hot.