05 July 2010

More pongal love

My husband is heading home after a long trip to Chicago, and I had to think of something to make for him when he gets home. He's been mostly cooking for himself, and that's all well and good, but sometimes you need that food that only someone else knows how to make just so. I know I harp about it endlessly, but for me, the ultimate comfort food is beans and rice in some form or another. My favourite method for beans and rice, is of course, venn pongal in all its varieties.

Yesterday being the birthday of the USA meant that the thermometer was rising steadily higher, as the noise level outside grew steadily noisier. I live in Inwood, which is a part of Manhattan that's quite removed from the rest of the city. People tend to get away with more, because it's not as densely populated as say, Greenwich Village or Midtown. The buildings don't really go up that high (maybe 10 stories tops), because for the most part, prewar buildings don't have a lift. So although there is a fairly strict fireworks ban in New York, with Bloomberg getting onto the news and sternly warning people that they're engaged in Dangerous And Illegal Activities So Cease Now OR ELSE, people in a less crowded neighbourhood take those warnings as mere suggestions.

I needed to make something that wouldn't test my patience or my nerves. The dish that I turn to in a crisis is Venn Pongal. Traditionally, it's made with split mung beans, white rice, and a few spices, ginger, salt, and black pepper. Copious amounts of black pepper, if you're me or my mother. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any mung beans in the apartment, nor could I find the yellow split peas which one uses to substitute. Instead, I looked to my fridge. There, nestled between a bottle of orange juice and a couple of knobby looking yucca, was a box of lentil daal that I'd made the night before for my dinner.


I also had a full pot of brown rice waiting in the rice cooker. Hmmmmm. I had flavoured the dal simply, because when I cook for myself, I keep things very basic. I used mustard seeds, cumin seeds, sesame seeds, asafoetida, ginger, turmeric, salt, black pepper, a bit of red chile powder, salt, and curry leaves. In other words, the same spices that I'd use to make a venn pongal. In went the daal into the rice cooker, along with water to thin it out. I tend to make daal a bit on the thick side, and I wanted the rice to get thoroughly cooked. And since this is brown rice, it can take a long cooking and not fall apart on you. I hit start, and wandered into the washroom to douse myself in water so I could sit in front of the fan, soaking wet. On hot days, I prefer to cool off this way rather than using the a/c, because I saw the electric bill last month, and was Very Displeased.

Ten minutes later, the apartment filled with the aroma of the ginger and other spices cooking in the pot. While I was waiting, I ground up the soaking rice and urad daal and fenugreek seeds that I'd soaked to make dosa. Yes, I used brown rice for the dosa as well. If you're going to be healthy, might as well go all out, right? By the time I finished grinding my dosa batter (which needs to ferment overnight in any case), the pongal was cooked to perfection.

Oh but it was tasty! I think from now on, I'll use this method to make pongal, because then I can get more than one meal out of it. First night is daal and rice, where the two are cooked separately. I can serve it with a side of cucumber tomato and lime juice salad (garnished with plenty of cilantro or parsley, of course, and a few chopped green chiles for good measure). If I make a double batch of daal and rice, it'll leave me plenty for the next day. Then, when we have both eaten our fill, I can dump the leftover daal into the rice cooker along with the leftover rice, throw in some extra water and grated ginger, and hit start to cook it. When it's done cooking, I can then put it away into the fridge, and defrost some grated coconut in the fridge overnight before I go to bed, satisfied and full.

The next day, I can pull out the pongal and heat it up. While it heats, I can bang up a quick coconut chatni (coconut, green chiles, a small onion, unsalted peanuts, a bit of salt, and some water to get it moving, along with some curry leaves for pretty colour), and whiz it up in the blender. Then we'll eat the venn pongal with the side of coconut chatni, and a side of sour mango pickles. If I have any leftover venn pongal, I'll just shape them into patties, and put them in the fridge, tightly covered with plastic wrap. The next day, I just have to bake them on a cookie sheet for 15 minutes, and I'll have lovely little rice croquettes, that I can serve with a simple salad of shredded carrot, grated cabbage, onions, cilantro, and lime juice. I'll have three lovely meals for the price of one! And it's only the first meal that would take any effort. The other two are super easy, because the bulk of the cooking is done.

Or, I'll be lazy, and just eat daal and rice until I hit another day where I feel like doing something creative again. Wonder what's the next time we go on vacation ...