Sakkarai Pongal, jaggery-based rice and dal pudding, is another fabulous sweet treat from the Indian subcontinent. Ladled with ghee and topped with cashew nuts, it is a quick and easy-to-make decadent dessert
What is Sakkarai Pongal?
Sakkarai (pronounced chak-k-arai ) Pongal, a traditional sweet from Tamil Nadu, south India, is mainly prepared during the Indian harvest festival - Pongal. It is a sweetened rice dish made of short grain white rice, split moong dal, jaggery, ghee, cardamom and cashew nuts.
Origin of Sakkarai pongal
Cooking rice and pulses together has been in existence in India since ancient times. Kichdi, bisibelebath, ven pongal are all a combination of rice and various dals (mung, masoor, toor etc…). According to the legend K.T. Acharya, pongal has been offered to gods as naivedyam (offerings) since Vedic times.
"Pongu" means to seethe or bubble up in Tamil. In earlier days, this dish was made in a heavy bottomed bronze vessel called "uruli or vengala panai" - a traditional vessel used to cook rice before the advent of pressure cookers. As the rice and dal cooks, the liquid starch bubbles up, rises and spills over the vessel. Hence the name of the dish, pongal and as it is sweetened with jaggery, it is sakkarai (sweet) pongal.
Pongu also means abundance and good fortune in Tamil. This could also be why the dish is named pongal as the Indian harvest festival signifies richness and prosperity.
Ingredients required to make chakkarai pongal
Rice, moong dal and jaggery are the main ingredients that go into this dish.
Rice - Normally, we use any short grain non-sticky white rice. But it can easily be substituted with basmati or any long grain rice variety.
Pasi parupu / Split yellow moong Dal - Moong dal gives a nutty flavour to this dish. Replacing moong dal will alter the taste and hence, I do not recommend substituting it.
Jaggery - Jaggery (Gud or Gur in Hindi or Vellam in Tamil), a healthy alternative to sugar, is a traditional sweetener used in Indian kitchens since ancient times. It is an essential ingredient for making a variety of Indian desserts. To make sweet pongal, use the regular sugarcane jaggery. In Tamil Nadu, we normally use pagu vellam - a type of jaggery which is dark brown in colour, slightly sticky and easily melts. In South India, most traditional dishes make use of jaggery syrup. Since this pagu vellam melts easily, we prefer to use this for making traditional sweets like adhirasam, vella seedai etc…
How to prepare sweet pongal?
Toast the moong dal and rice until the dal starts emitting a nutty aroma. Turn off the heat, let it cool and then rinse under cold water. Add 3 times the liquid - water or a mix of water and milk. Pressure cook it on high heat for 5 minutes and turn off the heat. Meanwhile, prepare a thick jaggery syrup; add the cooked rice and dal mixture. Stir well. Garnish with cashews and serve warm.
Substitutions and variations
- Traditional grains like thinai (foxtail millet), sama (little millet) or kuthiraivali (barnyard millet) can replace rice to make a healthier version of the dish.
- Do not substitute moong dal with any other pulses or lentils. It will alter the taste of the dish completely.
- Replace normal jaggery with karupatti vellam (palm jaggery).
- Chocolate chips / cocoa powder can additionally be added for a modern twist.
Other Rice and Dal Dishes
Ven pongal is the savoury version of sakkarai pongal. Rice and moong dal mixture is seasoned with cumin, black pepper, ginger and curry leaves. It is a typical weekend or holiday brunch.
Khichdi - Ultimate savoury comfort food. Combination of rice and dal (moong or toor) with a mix of veggies of your choice.
Bisibele bhath - From the southern state of Karnataka, bisibele bhath is a traditional dish made of rice and toor dal.
- First and foremost, the rice and dal should be smashed completely and its almost like a porridge. So add extra water while cooking rice and if using a pressure cooker (most certainly) keep it for a couple of more extra whistles than you would keep for the regular rice. Also, add the mixture to the syrup when it is warm. As it cools it thickens and when you add the mixture it the jaggery syrup, the rice grains would again pulp up. We need a porridge texture that is smooth and velvety.
- Also add this cooked mixture after the raw smell from the jaggery syrup is gone. So let the syrup boil for sometime in med-low flame until it reaches a sticky state. If you touch the syrup should be sticky and the consistency of the jaggery syrup must have thickened. No need of string consistency but make sure the syrup has boiled well.
- Adjust the jaggery amount according to one's sweet preference.
A traditional rice based dish that is made during Sankarnati / Pongal. Rice and moong dhal cooked in jaggery syrup. This is a gluten free dessert.
- ¾ cup rice
- ¼ Cup pasi parupu | moong dhal
- 1.5 Cups powdered jaggery (refer notes)
- 1 cup milk
- 5 tablespoon ghee
- 12 cashew nuts, into pieces
Roast the Moong dhal on medium flame. As it turns golden brown and when you can smell the wonderful aroma of the dhal; turn off the stove.
Cook the dhal and rice, separately in the pressure cooker in one cup milk and enough water to cook it well. (1) The rice should be mushy and smashed very well. So add more water than usual and keep extra whistles. Smash the cooked rice and dhal. You can add warm milk to it if it becomes very dry. (2) Keep it aside.
Heat the pan and add jaggery and 2 tablespoon water. Do not add much water. Once the jaggery is dissolved turn off the stove.
Filter it using a strainer and once again pour it in the same pan and heat it again. Bring it to a boil on a medium flame.
Keep stirring till the jaggery mixture thickens and sticks to the finger when you touch it. At that time, add the cooked rice mixture and stir it.
Keep stirring until the pongal gets thicker. Add 4 tablespoons of ghee in intervals. Finally add the cardamom powder and roasted cashews.
Turn off the flame and enjoy warm.
- The rice and dhal should be smashed very well. If it is not cooked well and mixed; when you add it to the jaggery, it will not blend with it properly and the rice grains will stick out. Also when you cook both the dhal and rice together, the dal might not get fully cooked. This might be okay while making ven pongal but for this, the dhal and rice grains will not be seen separately.
- The amount of jaggery can be adjusted. Start from 1.25 cups and adjust as per your sweet preference. The sweetness also varies with each brand the variety. Try to use Pagu vellam or karuppu vellam. It gives a beautiful colour.
- The cooked rice and dhal should be warm. If it becomes cold it will not blend properly with the jaggery. So either add warm water or warm milk to it.
- The consistency for jaggery syrup is also important. No string consistency is required, but it should be sticky and thick when you touch with your hands. Only then it will bind properly with the cooked rice. This gives a richer taste.