10 January 2013

Pongal, the lazy way

So Thai Pongal is coming up. It's a Tamil harvest festival, where we celebrate the sun, the harvest, and delicious food. Traditionally, white rice and yellow lentils are cooked together with ginger, black pepper, mustard & cumin seed, asafoetida, and curry leaves. Nuts are added if you can afford them, and the whole thing is sort of the ultimate comfort dish. It's a bit mushy, and creamy. It's got this real stomach-filling, comforting feeling whenever I eat a bowl. Think of it like the South Indian answer to macaroni and cheese.

I don't quite have the patience, however, to fiddle around with white rice, and its propensity to stick to the bottom of any cooking pot I put on the stove. I also don't much care for the long cooking time. When I want pongal quickly, I cheat. I use cooked rice, and cooked mung daal (the split one).

4 cups cooked brown rice
2 cups mung beans, soaked for 1 hour
4 cups water
3 TB vegetable oil (preferably a mix of peanut and sesame oil)
1/2 tsp mustard seed
1/2 tsp cumin seed
1/8 tsp asafoetida
1/4 tsp turmeric (optional; I like a bright yellow pongal, but you may prefer yours more light coloured)
1/4 cup grated ginger (do NOT substitute dried or candied ginger)
2 stalks curry leaves (if you can't find them, substitute 3 leaves of sage for a wonderful flavour)
Salt, to taste
Generous grindings of black pepper
2 cups water, reserved

In a pot, add the vegetable oil, and let it heat over high heat. While the oil heats, drain off the mung beans. Add the mustard seeds, and allow them to pop. Add the cumin seeds and asafoetida. Wait 5 seconds. Sprinkle in the turmeric, and stir well. Add the ginger, curry leaves and a generous bit of salt. Add the drained mung beans, Add the 4 cups of water, and allow to come to the boil. Because the stove is so hot, the water should take about a minute flat to come to the boil.

Let the beans boil for a good 7 minutes. They should be mostly cooked by now. Stir around, to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom. In another 5 - 8 minutes, the mung beans should be cooked through. Add the cooked brown rice. Stir well to combine.

Keep cooking over high heat. Once the pot comes to a boil, you'll notice the brown rice try to absorb all the liquid remaining. Pour in some of the reserved water, and let it come back to the boil. Let the brown rice and beans cook together for another 5 minutes. By now, you'll have likely used about 1 cup of the reserved liquid (or more, if your stove is very hot, or your brown rice was on the firm side).

Once everything is boiled together, check for salt. Add generous grinds of black pepper, and serve piping hot, with coconut chatni, kootu, sambhar, or green beans curry.