Sakkarai (Jaggery) Pongal

(30-40 minutes, serves 8-10)

For this one-pot celebration dish, rice is mixed with a little toasted mung bean and cooked down until very soft, close to custard texture. Sweeten the rice with jaggery and coconut milk, season with fried cashews, raisins, cardamom and saffron, and you have a dish fit for the gods — which was, in fact, what jaggery pongal was intended for. It was traditionally made to offer the gods as part of the harvest celebration of Pongal (typically around mid-January), and on other similarly celebratory occasions.

In modern times, many will use a pressure cooker or Instant Pot to bring the rice quickly to the right texture, but I go a bit more old school here, which requires stirring on the stovetop.

2 c. rice (white or red, your choice)
4 c. water
1 c. coconut milk
1/4 c. green grams / mung bean, toasted in a dry pan
1 c. jaggery
1 t. salt
2 T vegetable oil or vegan butter
1/4 c. cashew nuts, chopped
1/4 c. raisins
1/4 t. ground cardamom
pinch of saffron threads

optional garnish: whole cashew nuts and raisins fried in more vegetable oil or vegan butter

1. Soak the toasted green grams for 30 minutes, then add to a large saucepan, along with rice and water. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer 15-20 minutes, until rice is mostly cooked through.

2. Stir in jaggery and coconut milk, then cover and continue to cook, stirring periodically to keep from sticking. If you need to add more water, do so.

3. Meanwhile, heat the oil or vegan butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add cashews and raisings and fry until cashews are golden brown. Stir them into the cooked rice mixture.

4. Add cardadmom and saffron and continue to cook, stirring periodically, until rice has broken down, and the entire dish has a somewhat creamy texture (similar in appearance to risotto).

5. Remove from heat and cool. You can simply spoon it in to bowls for serving, or for a fancier presentation, mold into portions by pressing into greased cups, then unmold and serve garnished with additional fried cashews and raisins. A little fried ripe plantain would also go nicely with this, or fresh ripe mango.

Thank you, hibiscus tree, for giving me a single flower just in time for this photograph. 🙂

 

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