When was the last time we said no to Ven Pongal for weekend brunch? Never! When was the last time we resisted ordering Ven Pongal for breakfast because we knew we would fall asleep for the rest of the day? Always! We are sure to wake up late on a Sunday morning, lazily wake up to the dining table and relish a plate of Ven Pongal with sambhar and coconut chutney. The Ven Pongal will do its trick and coax us into a peaceful mood which will soon turn into a short nap. Ven Pongal is simply comforting on a plate and is meant to be enjoyed slowly as each bite caresses our throat.
Another factor that the Ven Pongal is popular for other than its sleep-inducing powers is that it is the main dish on the namesake festival of Pongal. Soaked rice is boiled in clay pots over wood-fired stoves. The rice used is usually that of the first haul after harvest. When the rice boils over lentils and other ingredients are mixed into it and the dish is turned into Ven Pongal or Chakkara Pongal and offered as neivedhyam to the deities.
Made with simple ingredients like rice, lentils and a few spices Ven Pongal is slightly savoury, mushy and soft. It is enjoyed by people of all ages as there is really no need to bite into it. Soaked rice is cooked along with lentils, peppercorns and cumin until soft. The dish is tempered with ghee, curry leaves and cashews. The mixture is mushed a little until it is the right consistency.
Perfect Ven Pongal is soft and the right kind of mushy. The rice and lentils must be broken and fluffed up but not crushed though. Also, there should not be water pooling at the corners. The taste is simply divine with the mild heat from the peppercorns and the little flavour changes with the cumin and curry leaves. The cashews give that delicious texture without which Pongal is incomplete. The best style of Pongal is definitely the one served at temples. We all have waited in queues just because it was Ven Pongal for prasadam.
At Sweet Karam Coffee our kitchens are hard at work prepping for the festival of Pongal.