Sweet Pongal is a rice pudding sweetened with jaggery and specially prepared for India’s harvest festival called ‘Pongal or Sankranthi’. Now, this is my most favorite of all dishes prepared for this festival. I can have Sweet Pongal as my main course, fill me up all the way to my throat and still ask for more :).
My mother was an expert making this and she always used to say that freshly harvested rice and aged jaggery make the perfect Sweet Pongal. The rice needs to be mashed well for this. Freshly harvested rice gets cooked really quick and can be easily mashed while aged jaggery imparts the perfect color (golden yellow/brown), taste and flavor. Last but not the least, a tiniest pinch of edible camphor (pachai karpooram) completes it by giving it such an aroma!
1 cup rice (preferably short or medium grain)
1 tablespoon moong dhal
2 cups jaggery (grated)
2 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter)
1/4 teaspoon cardamom powder
1/5 pinch edible camphor
1 tablespoon cashewnuts (unroasted)
1 tablespoon golden raisins
1 pinch saffron (optional)
Wash rice and dhal together, drain and transfer to a pressure cooker. Add 3-4 cups of water and cook it until the rice becomes soft and mushy.
Meanwhile, add jaggery and 1/4 cup water to a sauce pan and heat it (medium) until the syrup gets frothy and bubbly. Turn off heat and let it sit for a couple of minutes, this will allow the dirt (if any) in the jaggery to settle down at the bottom. Strain the jaggery syrup and set aside.
Mash the cooked rice with the back of a serving spoon, add cardamom, edible camphor and jaggery syrup and heat it on low flame for about 5 minutes. Keep stirring and mashing for the jaggery syrup to get mixed with the rice evenly. Add 1 tablespoon ghee, mix well and turn off heat.
For garnish, heat 1 tablespoon ghee in a skillet on low flame. Add cashews and fry them until they start to turn slightly brown. Now add the raisins and fry until they plump up. Make sure to fry cashews and raisins on low heat as they get burnt very quickly. Turn off heat and add this to the Pongal and mix in. Sprinkle a few strands of saffron on top, if you like.