Ven Pongal – South Indian Risotto with Lentils and Rice

It’s Pongal Festival today. It’s marks the first day of Hindu Calender. It is celebrated on the first day of the Tamil Month – Thai. Every year I host an elaborate dinner for friends and family living here. This year it was low key it was a busy week for both of us at work. We invited my husband’s uncle and cousin  for dinner. You can read more about the Pongal  festival in the post I wrote last year. 

January 14, Monday is the date to celebrate pongal as per the Hindu calender. Since its  a weekday, we celebrated it yesterday. Sunday started pretty early for me. I woke up at 7.00 am, which is actually much better than my 5.30 am wake up time.  I am thankfull for that extra sleep. So no major cribbing on that. After a quick shower, I cleaned “pooja” shelf where I have placed the Hindu Deities. I placed fresh flowers I bought from safeway last night. I planned to meet my son’s classmate and her mom at Farmer’s market at 10.00 am. Before we left, I pressure cooked equal portions of  paasi paruppu / mung lentils (not MUNG BEAN) and rice with the plans to prepare sweet and savory pongal for dinner last night.

As we shopped, the kids enjoyed walking around the stalls tasting the samples and requesting for more as the fruits were so sweet and delicious. We reached home at 12.00 pm. It’s lunch time and I had few leftovers to finish. Lunch done, son napping and husband watching football. Afternoon looked peaceful and I was ready to prepare the pongal. I placed half the quantity of cooked lentil-rice mixture in two huge bowls. In hot oil, I sauteed ginger, black pepper corns, cumin seeds, asafoetida and curry leaves. The flavored oil went right into one of the bowl. Mixed it well to combine and covered the bowl  with a plastic wrap. I stored the savory pongal in one corner.

Next, I boiled little milk, water, coconut palm sugar and cruched cardamon. Once the sugar melted and reached a deep brown color, I poured into the other bowl, mixed and wrapped them tight with a plastic wrap. I placed it next to the previous bowl. I roasted a huge batch of cashews in generous amount of ghee (clarified butter) and poured them over the two varities of pongal. Tadaa! Sakkara and Ven Pongal ready in less than 20 minutes.

I soaked urad dhal / black gram for “boondas” (deep fried savory fritters) and planned to make coconut chutney and mung lentil sambhar later in the evening. I completed photoshoot for couple of dishes and watched bits and pieces of Tamil movie while I did laundry, sweeping and mopping. It was a simple meal with hot steamy vengal pongal, crispy boondas, ghee soaked sweet pongal, fresh coconut chutney and hearty sambar loaded with veggies.  Overall a busy day which ended with a prayer asking Almighty to bless us with goodness and happiness for  the new year.

Each family has their own version of the dish. Some may add ginger, some may not while some use asafoetida and many may not. The best thing about Indian cooking is that you can tweak it as per the availability of ingredients. All that’s needed is an interest and love to create delicious dishes. The dish pongal needs to be soft and mushy. It’s the best baby food (ofcourse without peppercorns and nuts) as it glides through the mouth gently and it’s can be easily digested by everyone. You can make it ghee-free too. So add the amount of ghee as per your health requirements.

You can see my sakkara pongal with brown rice recipe here. The steps are very similar and instead of brown rice, you can white rice. Even jaggery can be replaced with coconut palm sugar. Read about the goodness of coconut palm sugar here.


Source: Amma
Serves: A party of 4-6


  • 2 cups raw rice (I used Ponni raw rice – bought from Indian Grocery Store)
  • 2 cups mung lentil (called as Passi Paruppu / Mung dhaal – bought from Indian Grocery Store)
  • 14 cups water
  • Salt to taste, about 2 teaspoon
  • 1 tablespoon ghee (clarified butter – bought from Indian Grocery Store)
  • 2 tablespoon ginger, minced
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper corns + little freshly crushed ones
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 10 curry leaves , chopped
  • 1 teaspoon asafoetida
  • 1/4 cup ghee to roaste 1/4 cup cashews (optional)


  1. Pressure cook the rice and lentils in water and salt for 5-6 whistles. You can cook them in a dutch oven or cooking pan with a fitting lid for 45 minutes or until it turns mushy.
  2. Once cooled, remove and mix well.
  3. Heat ghee. Once its hot, add ginger,cumin seeds, pepper corns, asafoetida and curry leaves. Saute for 30 seconds. Pour this mixture over the hot rice-lentil mixture.
  4. If the rice-lentil mixture is too thick, I add hot water to get the desired consistency. Pongal needs to be smooth and mushy. So add water as per your requirement.
  5. Heat ghee in a clean saucepan. Once hot, add the cashews and cook until they turn golden brown. You can either add just the roasted cashews, reserving the ghee for future use or pour the entire mixture in to the pongal. Either way it will taste great. You can serve it with any chutney or sambhar of your choice.

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  2. I love reading about family traditions and it was really neat to be a part of your family’s celebration 🙂 My mom makes a Gujarati dish (called Khichdi) that is sort of similar to this (rice+mung daal) but yours sounds like it has way better spices 🙂

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