Sakkara Pongal (sweet lentil and rice porridge)

The last time I posted, I talked about the savoury version of this dish called Venn Pongal. It’s now time for the sweet version. Indian desserts are not everyone’s cup of tea but having grown up eating them, my palette can take a fair amount of sweetness. Of course, I’m also genetically and geographically predisposed to Type II Diabetes (I wonder why) and so I have to watch what I eat and exercise to make up for my sweet tooth. However, come Pongal time, I can’t help but make a small quantity of this delicious dessert to share.

In India, it is typical to serve the dessert or some form of “sweet” at the start of the meal – especially if it is a happy and festive occasion. In the case of the festival of Pongal, Sakkara Pongal is served first or alongside Venn Pongal. You always eat a bit of the sweet version first before tucking into the savoury version. Having babbled enough about the dish, here’s the recipe for it.

Ingredients (serves 4 and can be quite rich):

1 cups of short grain white rice

1/2 cup moong dal

3-4 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter) or unsalted butter

1 cup of milk

1/2 cup of freshly grated coconut or dessicated coconut

1/2-3/4 cup of shaved jaggery or palm sugar or packed soft brown sugar (vary the sugar content to suit your taste)

2 tablespoons whole cashewnuts

2 tablespoons golden raisins (sultanas and regular raisins can be used instead)

3-4 pods of green cardamom (lightly crushed with a mortar and pestle or the end of a rolling pin)

Method:

1. The rice and lentils needs to be cooked together – thoroughly and to a mush. I use a pressure cooker for this step and it takes ~ 20 minutes (4 whistles) to get to that stage.

2. If you are using a pot, I would recommend being generous with water (use 3 times the amount of rice and lentils) and make sure that the rice and lentils are soft and mushy before you declare them done. If there is still some excess water, don’t worry about it as the next stage will take care of the moisture.

3. In a large wok (or deep pot) on low heat,  add 1tbsp butter/ghee and allow to melt.

4. Add the cashews to the butter and roast until they start to turn yellow. At this stage, add the raisins and roast until the raisins start to swell.

5. Drain the swollen raisins and golden cashews on some paper towels to remove excess butter/ghee.

6. In a small and deep pot, add jaggery and sprinkle just enough water to wet the jaggery. Put this on a low to medium heat and stir until it starts to melt.

7.  To the melting jaggery, add milk and coconut, mix until it is a mostly uniform liquid.

8. Add the rice-lentil mixture to the jaggery-milk mixture and combine well ensuring no lumps remain.

9. Add more milk if the mixture is too thick to mix and turn off the heat when the Pongal starts to bubble.

10. Add the remaining butter, sultanas and cashews and serve hot on its own or beside a generous helping of Venn Pongal

Note: The rice and lentil can be cooked at the same time for both Venn and Sakkara pongal. Once they are cooked, you can divide it into  two halves where the one is used for the Venn (savoury) Pongal and the other for Sakkara Pongal. This recipe isn’t an exact science so if you have one too many cashews or one too few raisins, it is no big deal.

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