Pongal/Khichdi (Indian Lentil and Rice Risotto)

Pongal/Khichdi (Indian Lentil and Rice Risotto)

Pongal is both a festival as well as a dish. In Tamil Nadu (a state in South India)it is the “harvest festival” and the dish is made on this day(I suspect, that is why they both share the same name)! There are actually two versions to this dish-the sweet one(sakkarai pongal) and the spicy one(khara pongal).
As a kid I would insist that my mom made only the sweet pongal(blame my sweet tooth for it) and subsequently, I almost forgot what the spicy version tasted like.It was much later when I started my career as a Dietitian,that I was re-introduced to the khara pongal, as it was on the breakfast menu for the patients.Again, having rice for breakfast was new to me and I tried my best to avoid it for a while.Then my seniors decided that they had to make me try it, and one fine morning(I still remember that it was a cold, rainy, Friday morning) I was ordered to taste it.So,there was me,squirming in my seat when the cook brought me a tasting cup of steaming hot pongal and another cup of raitha. Duty called(it was a rule that the dietitians had to taste the food before it could be sent to the patients) and so I took the spoon and dipped it into the cup and took a little(I was after all JUST tasting) and tasted it-and my,my, it was the tastiest pongal I had eaten. I ended up finishing the whole cup(even though I had eaten a substantial breakfast at home) and have ever since become a pongal fan!! After that I would bug mom to make the khara pongal at regular intervals.
The recipe is quite easy and if you want to up the nutritional value,you could add your favourite veggies to this rice+lentil dish.The cook at the hospital even shared a secret(that even my mom didn’t know)-just before serving the dish,mix a cup of hot milk for a nice flavour(and for some added calcium indeed)!! Vegans can omit the milk.
Ingredients for Khara Pongal/Khichdi: (Serves 3)

  • Rice:1/2 cup
  • Split mung dal: 1/2 cup
  • Green chillies: 1 or two(slit lengthwise)
  • Ginger:1″ piece(chopped fine)
  • Turmeric:1/2 teaspoon
  • Milk:1 cup(optional)
  • Mustard seeds:1/2teaspoon
  • Zeera/Cumin seeds:1 teaspoon
  • Urad dal(dehusked and split black matpe bean)-1/2 teaspoon
  • Chana dal/Bengal gram dal: 1 teaspoon
  • Peppercorns: 5-6
  • Curry leaves:3-4
  • Oil: 1 teaspoon
  • Salt: to taste

Method:

  1. Wash the rice and mung dal separately and let it soak in water for 10-15 mins.
  2. In the meanwhile,heat the oil in a pressure cooker, then add the mustard,cumin seeds,urad dal, chana dal, and peppercorns.
  3. When the mustard starts to sputter,add the curry leaves, the chopped ginger and the turmeric.
  4. Stir the ginger till it turns slightly brown,then add the chopped onions and the green chillies. Fry till the onions are translucent.
  5. Drain the water from the mung and rice,add the mung dal and saute for 2-3 mins on medium heat. Then add the rice and again stir for a minute.
  6. Add a little more than 3 cups of water and salt, mix and close the lid of the pressure cooker and let it cook for about 3 whistles. (If you have a rice cooker,then transfer the contents to a rice cooker and cook till the rice and dal are well cooked).
  7. Once it is done,mix well (the dal should be completely mashed).
  8. Just before serving mix the hot milk(optional, and check for salt) and serve piping hot with either raitha or chutney(we ate it with the tomatilla chutney ).