Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Ven Pongal (White Savory Pongal) and Sarkarai Pongal (Sweet Pongal) - Margazhi Special!

"Margazhi Thingal madhi niraindha.........................." sang Andal (consort of God Maha Vishnu) and today being Margazhi (Tamil lunar month - mid Dec. to mid Jan) first day, I am all the more excited for few reasons - getting up early, lighting a few earthern lamps or diyas at your doorstep, drawing big big rangolis outside your home, taking bath and going to Vishnu temple for the special pooja and later for the "suda suda pongal prasadam" (hot hot pongal offered to God and then distributed to everyone in the Temple), singing the pasurams (songs) sung by Andal - HA! no words are sufficient to describe the happiness and peacefulness you experience during that time. When I was very young, I used to learn different kolams or rangolis everyday to draw the next morning in your entrance. I put all my heart and learn those kolams and to decorate them in your home, followed by relishing on hot hot pongal early in the winter morning. Wonderful days! I love doing it today too.

Why this pongal is so special? Well, Andal, herself gives the answer in her 30 pasurams or songs aka Thiruppavai. Getting up early in the winter days (when you feel like snuggling inside the comforter and sleep for longer time), taking bath and praying to Vishnu with all your heart, HE is going to bless you with all you want - health and wealth so much that you can make this pongal (or any food) with so much ghee (clarified butter) that ghee trickles down your elbow from your hand! (pasuram 27). And we continue seeking his blessings and finally attain salvation.

Coming back to the post......So as tradition carries us, I made the special ven and sweet pongal today for Margazhi 1st.  Generally, this pongal is made in every home during this month and on any other day too as it is one of the main breakfast menu. Some make this everyday and offer to God during this month. Here is the recipe and I hope you too would try and enjoy the special flavors and special memories of enjoying prasadmas as I am sure there are thousands like me who enjoyed those times in a similar manner.

Ven Pongal

Serves 4 - 6 people


Rice - 1 cup
Split yellow moong dhal - 1/4 cup
Water - 3 cups

To season:

Ghee - 1/4 cup
Whole black pepper - 1/2 tsp
Cumin - 1/2 tsp
Curry leaves - 1 sprig
Asafoetida - 1/8 tsp
Grated ginger - 1/8 tsp (optional)
Cashews - 1/4 cup
Ground back pepper - 1/8 tsp (optional)


Wash the rice and dhal, add 3 cups of water and pressure cook for 3 whistles. Take the rice dhal mixture and mash after with salt. Heat a pan on medium flame. Add the ghee. Fry the cashews and then add black pepper, cumin, curry leaves, ginger, asafoetida and pepper powder and continue frying till cashews are golden and the spices give out the aroma. Pour it onto the rice mixture and mix well. Delicious pongal is ready to be served with cocnut chutney or sambhar or gothsu.

Sarkarai or Sweet Pongal

Serves 6 - 8 people


Rice - 1 cup
Split yellow moong dhal - 1/4 cup
Jaggery - 1 and 1/4 cup, powdered 
Cardamom - 2, crushed

To season:

Ghee - 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp
Cashews - 1/4 cup
Raisins - 2 tbsp


Wash and cook the rice - dhal, pressure cook with 3 cups of water for 3 whistles. Once it cools, mash the rice - dhal mixture. In the meantime, take jaggery, add 1/2 cup water and boil in a medium flame till all the jaggery dissolves, Strain to remove the impurities. To the jaggery water, add the cooked rice - dhal mix, cardamom and 2 tbsp of ghee. Continue cooking on a medium flame till the mixture thickens. Switch off the flame. In a pan, add 1/4 cup ghee and heat. To this add the cashews and rasins and fry till golden. Add it to the sweet rice and mix thoroughly. Yummy sweet sarkarai pongal is ready!


1. Add a couple of tbsp of ghee if you wish.
2. Mashing the rice with a big spoon (not too much) gives a great consistency, but suit your preference of separate grains or mushy texture or any where in between.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Barnyard Millet / Kuthiraivali Veggie Upma Kozhukattai (Steamed Dumplings)

In south India, traditionally upma kozhukattais (steamed oval-shaped broken rice dumplings) are made with broken rice and they are very popular as tiffin or dinner in many families and are usually served with chutney, sambhar or gothsu. It can be served for breakfast too. They are shaped with hands and that's why it is called "pidi kozhukattai" in Tamil, ("pidi" means hold in Tamil) and since these kozhukattais are shaped and steamed when they are halfway to be made into upma, they are also called as upma kozhukattais. I have made a furthermore healthier version of this cute delicacy here with broken barnyard millet and a few veggies- a very healthy alternative. 

I added corn and peanuts which gives a nice crunch when you bite them. Peanuts or veggies are not added traditionally (so go ahead and make without them for a different flavored kozhukattai one time or if you are allergic to nuts). Carrot, corn, and peas are any kids' favorite, and the addition of those veggies is sure to invite them to try this. Now, you get the rava or broken millet too in the market (you can just run the whole grain a couple of times in your mixer - blender to a coarsely ground grain) and it looks like this:


Barnyard millet rava - 1 and 1/2 cups
Corn - 2 tbsp
Peas - 2 tbsp
Carrots - 1/4 cup, chopped
Cowpeas (Thatta payar, in Tamil) - 1/4 cup, soaked and cooked
Peanut - 2 tbsp
Coconut - 1/4 cup
Green chilli  - 1 or 2 chopped
Curry leaves -1 or 2 sprig
Mustard seeds- 1/2 tsp
Urad dhal - 1/2 tsp
Channa dhal - 1/2 tsp
Asafoetida - 1/8 tsp
Cilantro - 1 tsp
Oil - 1 and 1/2 tsp
Water - 2 and 1/2 cups


Boil the veggies in a minimum amount of water and keep aside.

Heat oil in a pan and add the mustard seeds followed by urad dhal, channa dhal, peanuts, asafoetida, curry leaves, and green chillies. Fry till peanuts change to golden color and add the veggies, cooked cowpeas, and water. Add the coconut and when the water begins to boil  add the barnyard millet rava. 

Stir well and continue cooking till it thickens and there is no more water left. Switch off the flame and cover with a lid. Let it cool a bit. When it is warm enough to handle with your hands, take a handful of the millet mix and make an oval shape with your hand.

Grease an idli plate or any steamer you have. Place the oval millet balls in it and steam for 7 minutes. 

Before steaming
After steaming

Serve hot or warm kozhukattais with coconut (or any) chutney or sambhar. The kozhukattais can be served with some soup too.

The above-mentioned measurement makes about 16 kozhukattais and can serve 4 -6 people.

1. Traditionally, they are made in an oval shape. So you can add your creativity in making it in different shapes that are sure enough to catch the kids' attention.
2. You can a few more tbsp of vegetables of your choice.
3. Coconut brings nice flavor.
4. Traditionally this is made with cowpeas but you can add your own choice of cooked beans. Make sure the size of beans is medium enabling to make balls of the mixture.
5. I have reduced a tsp of oil. Feel free to add if you want.
6. You can make this with rice or any millet of your choice.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Agathi Keerai Curry & Nellikai (Gooseberry) Pachadi / Amla Raita for Dwadasi Paranai

Today is Koushika Dwadasi. Vaishnavites observe fasting on the 11th day (Ekadasi)of Kartika (not only this month but twice a month regularly) month according to the Tamil lunar calendar. There is immense importance for this Dwadasi and you can read the story in Srirangam Srimath Andavan's Blog. Also, it is only on this day in the entire year that the idol of Ugra Srinivasa Murthy is brought out from the sanctum sanctorum of the Tirumala temple. 

If analyzed, it is easy to understand how our Hindu tradition (I am sure each and every tradition would have similar ways) helps us in keeping up good health by observing fasting on specific days - which in other words a simple DETOX. This detoxing our system twice a month definitely keeps the doctor away - a simple way in the olden days without spending a fortune.

There is a scientific explanation here and here for the 11th-day ekadasi fasting.  And the fasting ended on the 12th day with dwadasi paranai (prayers to God followed by a simple and a healthy feast on the 12th day). On this day, gooseberry pachadi or thogayal is made along with agathi keerai and avial served with rice and sathamudhu (rasam) - a wonderful and delicious meal - a nostalgic trip to my childhood days. Here is a click:

The food is saatvik (our Iyengar cuisine doesn't use onion and garlic). Hence, the food is gentle and easily digestible after fasting. Gooseberry and agathi keerai help in cleaning out the toxins from our digestive system, when consumed on dwadasi days after fasting improves our health and thus increases longevity.

Agathi Keerai Kariamudhu (Curry)

Sesbania grandiflora is called agathi keerai in Tamil. It has numerous health benefits and is a rich source of calcium and iron and helps keep the digestive system in balance. That's why our forefathers made it a point to consume it atleast twice a month on dwadasi days after ekadasi fasting.

Serves - 4 people


Agathi keerai - 1 bunch (leaves alone yields 2 and 1/2 cups)
Split moong dhal - 1 tbsp
Coconut - 2 tsp, grated
Salt - 1/2 tsp
Jaggery - 1 or 2 tsp


Oil - 2 tsp
Red chilli - 1
Mustard seeds - 1/2 tsp
Split urad dhal - 1/2 tsp
Asafoetida - 1/8 tsp


Soak 1 tbsp of yellow split moong dhal in 1/4 cup of water. Remove the leaves from the stem and from a bunch of this spinach, you will get 2 and 1/2 cups of packed leaves. Wash, drain, and tear the leaves with hand.

Heat a pan, add the oil. When it is hot enough add the red chilli and mustard seeds. When it starts spluttering add the urad dhal and asafoetida. Fry for a few seconds and add the washed spinach followed by the moong dhal. Sprinkle water now and then (may need about 1/3 cup of water) and cook on a medium flame. Stir now and then and in about 15 to 20 min., the leaves would be cooked.

Add salt, coconut, and jaggery. Saute for 2 or 3 minutes till all the jaggery dissolves. This is a dry curry.


1. Elders say not to use a knife and cut the leaves, just tear it into two with hands. This step is optional. You can use the leaves as such too..
2. It takes a longer time to cook than regular spinach.
3. Instead of yellow moong dhal, can try with toor or channa dhal too.
4. The leaves have a slightly bitter taste and hence adding jaggery masks that flavor.

Gooseberry Raita

Gooseberries are a very rich source of vitamin C. This can be eaten raw or cooked, in juices, jams, pickles - innumerable recipes - all to help us keep our body in good health. It has a slightly sour and bitter taste when eaten raw, but I like the sweet taste when you drink water after eating a gooseberry - awesome sweetness. Try to include this wonder berry whenever you can and here is a saatvik and simple raita recipe for you to try.

Serves 4.


Gooseberry - 1
Coconut - 2 tbsp
Green chili - 1
Yogurt - 1/2 cup

Oil - 1 tsp
Red chilli - 1
Mustard seeds - 1/4 tsp
Cumin - 1/4 tsp
Asafoetida - 1 pinch
Curry leaves - 1 sprig


Pressure cook the berry (no need to add water for cooking it, it will cook well and break in the steam). Cool and remove the seed. To this add 2 tbsp of coconut and green chilli. Grind to coarse texture and add it to the fresh yogurt. Add salt and mix well. In a small pan, do the seasoning and add it to the raita or pachadi.


1. Adjust the number of green chillies according to your taste.
2. When grinding, if needed, you can add a little yogurt. Then add it to the remaining yogurt.