Sunday, February 17, 2008

Shakkara Pongal (Sweet Rice With Cashews, Coconut and Raisins)

Shakkara Pongal is made as 'neyvedyam' or a divine offering on the day of Pongal or Makara Sankranthi as well as other special occasions. Makara Sankranthi is the day, I believe, when Winter Solstice occurs. The sweet pongal is made with Shakkarai or Vellum (in Tamil), the Indian brown sugar named 'jaggery' (Gur in Hindi). Pongal means 'boiling over' (it is equivalent to the phrase in English 'the cup runneth over') to denote abundance. Do use Jaggery/Gur if you can since it has a wonderful flavor but the regular brown cane sugar will suffice in a pinch. Cardamom pods, Jaggery/Gur, Mung Dal, Ghee, etc are readily available in Indian grocery stores.

Any type of rice such as Basmati, Patna, Jasmine rice, etc. will work; but par-boiled rice is not traditionally used for making any type of sweet rice dishes.

Ingredients:

1 cup Rice
1/3 cup yellow Mung dal (Optional)
1 cup Milk (Optional)
11/2 cups Jaggery (Gur) or Brown Cane Sugar
1/4 cup Ghee (Clarified Butter) or unsalted butter
1/2 cup grated coconut, fresh or frozen
1/4 cup raisins (Optional)
1/4 cup raw cashew pieces (Optional)
6 to 8 green cardamom pods
1 pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (Optional)

Method:

Roast the dal in a dry skillet stirring constantly until lightly browned and fragrant. Or spread in a baking pan and toast in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. Let cool.

Wash the rice and roasted dal in several changes of water and place in a large pan with 2 cups of water and the milk. Bring to a boil and cook stirring occasionally until soft. Stir in the jaggery or brown sugar and 2 Tablespoons of Ghee or butter and cook stirring until thickened. Although the pongal will get a little watery when sugar is added at first, it will thicken with cooking. When thick, turn off heat.

Crush the cardamom pods slightly and gather the seeds inside. Discard the empty pods. Crush the cardamom seeds finely using a mortar and pestle. Add a few gratings of nutmeg if using, to the ground cardamom and set aside. Sprinkle with ground spices over the shakkara pongal.

Heat 2 Tbsp of the Ghee or unsalted butter in a small skillet and cook the cashew pieces until golden. Stir in the raisins and cook until raisins plump up. Turn off the heat, remove the nuts and raisins with a slotted spoon and set aside. In the same skillet cook the coconut in the remaining ghee or butter until golden and pour over the pongal. Add the nuts and raisins and stir well to combine and serve hot, warm or at room temperature but never cold.

Variations: Although the traditional pongal is prepared with mung dal, Chana Dal makes a welcome substitution. At our home a practically dal-less and milk-less version was prepared. To satisfy tradition, just a couple of drops of milk and a few grains of the dal (untoasted since it is such a small quantity) were added to the rice. Adding at least a tiny pinch of dal is considered auspicious. Our Thathi (grandmother) and Amma usually left out the cardamom, nuts and raisins also. Instead they added a liberal amount of browned coconut and spiced it with a little freshly ground dry ginger.

10 comments:

Mama P said...

Are these the kind of ingredients I can get at Ralphs, or do I need more of a speciality store? And are these dishes for the beginner type? I'm not a... ahem... throat clear... cook my nature.

Mama P said...

I mean, cook by nature.

Geetha said...

Hi Mama P: Some of these ingredients are available at any grocery store; but others are probably only available at Indian grocery stores such as India Sweets and Spices (some of the ingredients are actually cheaper as one can buy in bulk. They can be made by a beginner of course. Try once and see how it works for you and I will be glad to help if you need clarification of any step or ingredient. The dal can be left out of this particular dish altogether with no problem at all. Cheers!

Mama P said...

Okay, I am going to cook something for Easter. I will look over the recipes and give it a shot. I will have you sample it to see how I did before I serve it to 20 unsuspecting guests and their McDonald's laden toddlers. Guess I had better curry up! Oh, I'm funny....

Anonymous said...

This is very nice Geetha :) ..thank you very much. I was looking for a recipe with sweet rice and gur, and you just posted it recently! I loved what you wrote at the end about how your mother and grandmother made it. Reading it made me nostalgic. I'm a student from India... also missing that most important ingredient in the food I cook... mother's love.

Shall try cooking sweet rice tomorrow! Thank you very much for posting these precious recipes handed down through generations :) -Priyanka

Geetha said...

Hi Priyanka: I am so glad that you found what you were looking for. I agree wholeheartedly with you - although we cook with their recipes we cannot add that one wonderful ingredient...which is our mothers' love. Best wishes with your studies and I am glad that you find some comfort in this blog.

God Bless,
Geetha

Anonymous said...

Hi Geetha,
Thank you very much for your kind and touching words above :)
By the way, I tried the sweet rice and it was good... but I'm sure not as good as yours! I normally call and ask my mother recipes on the phone (terrible, terrible habit!), but this one she did not know... so I seeked out the traditional recipe of your mother and grandmother :)
That's how I stumbled upon your blog! I'm not usually on the net.
By the way, I saw your recent posts. Very unique recipe ideas! I was also wondering: are you vegetarian? Because store-bought cheeses usually (I was looking at the sandwhich recipe) have animal rennet in them. I make paneer at home whenever I need cheese. Tastes all the better!
My sincere and warm regards to you...
May God bless you as well :)
Priyanka

Geetha said...

Hi Priyanka: Thank you for your comments :). I am glad the Shakkarapongal turned out good. It is a traditional South Indian dish made especially on the holiday called Pongal. I am a vegetarian too and use the specific cheeses mentioned in the sandwich recipes - they are made with microbial rennet(enzymes) and not with animal rennet (I read the labels to make sure of that). Generally creme cheese, goat cheese, yogurt cheese, etc are made without any animal rennet. Some rennetless cheeses are available at the regular grocery stores and more perhaps at special markets which offer more healthful products such as Trader Joe's, Whole Food, etc. I hope you can find some of these cheeses at your local markets. Happy Shopping and Good Eating:)!

Anonymous said...

very useful really good information thanks for posting such a good information it will hepls the people a lot keep it up , Regards,
chakkara pongal recipe

Geetha said...

Thank you Anon. for your comments. Happy cooking!