We celebrated Pongal with Amma and Appa at Maniachi this year. We reached a day in advance and immediatley got down to discussing about what will be cooked and how the pongal shall be prepared. They wanted to make pongal in the kitchen instead of in the open. I was looking forward to documenting the process for the blog. When they heard this they heartily agreed to do it the traditional way. We decided to wake up at 5am and finish pongal by 10am so as to avoid the harsh sun. That night Amma and I sat and chopped over 15 vegetables for the special vegetable curry that is served with pongal.
Next morning, I woke up at 5am and was the first to take bath. This astonished all as I had not even asked for warm water. Well, winter in interior Tamil Nadu is nothing compared to that in Delhi. Akka made two kolams -outside the main gate and the other right in front of the house.
We started by placing the two vessels over bricks and starting a wood fire. Appa broke a coconut over the vessels and then water was added to the vessels.
It took over 45 minutes for it boil over and then with chants of “Pongal-O Pongal” the rice was added to one and a combination of rice and dal was added to the one for sweet pongal .
After a while a cup of milk went into both and jaggery, cardamoms, nuts fried in ghee, and a pinch of camphor was added to the one meant for the sweet pongal.
Once the pongal was ready, a banana leaf laden with vegetables, fruits, coconut, and the rice pongal and sweet pongal was offered to Sun God.
While the pongal was getting ready, Amma put the vegetables we had chopped the night before along with some water into a pressure cooker. She added chopped sambhar onions, chilli powder, coriander powder and turmeric to it and turned it off after 3 whistles.
Then she added a paste of jeera, coconut, and sambhar onions to the vegetables and let it boil. This was followed by chopped tomatoes and tamarind water. After about 15 minutes or so it was taken off the flame and a tadka of mustard seeds and curry leaves was added. This reminded me of the paanch misholi (mixed vegetables) that Bengalis make. I guess each region has its own version of mixed vegetables. This tamil version was very tasty. I felt that the sweetness of the pumpkin and sweet potatoes added a fine balance to the dish. This went very well with the sweet pongal as well as the rice pongal.
Simultaneously, urad dal that had been soaked for about an hour was placed in the grinder along with a handful of rice (this adds to the crunchiness of a vada) and ground for over 45 minutes. I chopped a few sambhar onions, chillies, and ginger for the medu vada. I learnt the tricks of making a medu vada from Akka. The batter has to be very soft and your hands have to be wet. Add onions, chillies, ginger, peppercorns, chopped coriander, curry leaves and salt to the batter. Then take some batter and place it on the palm of your hand and flatten it. Dip your index finger into water and then proceed to make a well at the centre.
Now, this is important – you need to pick the vada by placing a finger in the well and then smoothly drop it into the hot oil. I tried making a few vadas. You can spot the ones I made on the left – the well is hardly visible!
The vadas were fried till the adorned a beautiful golden hue. It had all the features of an excellent vada – a delightfully crunchy exterior and a soft and spongy interior.
As per tradition, meat should be had the day after pongal. Akka made mutton biryani, chicken 65, and dalcha (mutton bones with toor dal) for lunch. Interestingly, she added a cup of coconut milk to the biryani. Each dish was super yummy!
The ingredients for the Dalcha were as follows:
1. 1 cup toor dal
2. 2 tbsp channa dal
3. 350gms Mutton bones
4. 1 tbsp ginger garlic paste
5. 1 tsp turmeric
6. ½ tsp chilli powder
7. 1 tbsp dhania powder
8. 400 ml water
9. 2 potatoes diced into small pieces
10. 4 small brinjals quartered
11. 1 onion
12. ½ raw mango
13. 2 tomatoes
14. 2 limes sized balls of tamarind
16. Fennel seeds
17. Curry leaves
18. 2 cardamoms
19. 1 inch cinnamon
1. Put ingredients 1-8 in a cooker and pressure cook for 5-6 whistles.
2. In a separate pan, bring ingredients 9 to 11 to a boil with little water. Add turmeric powder, 1 tbsp dhania powder, and 1 tsp of chilli powder to this.
3. After the potato softens, add tomatoes, chopped mango, and 1 cup of tamarind water. Let this cook for 10 minutes.
4. Add the dal-mutton to this and then temper with ingredients 15-19. The dalcha is to be had with the biryani.
Pongal is a big affair in the village. Cultural programmes and games are organized in the evenings. We participated in a few games and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. I noticed that the crowd was neatly divided into men and women. Amma mentioned that young boys and girls could not speak to each other in the village. The few times that I stood with Mahesh attracted a lot of attention. Amma immediately called me to the women’s side. Mahesh and I had to be content with texting each other.
I also saw the famous paanai vudaiakum potti (pot breaking competition).
Men are blindfolded and taken around the ground and then given two minutes to reach the pot and break it with the stick handed to them. It was fun to watch 15 men go all over the place in their quest to break the pot.
One guy advanced close to the women’s section with stick in hand and hit a woman. Thankfully, she did not receive any injuries. Just when the crowd began to tire, the 16th guy came along and finally broke the pot. It happened so fast that we could not capture it on camera. It was a wonderful sight. The crowd cheered happily and I find myself screaming in excitement.
We hope to be back here for Pongal next year. A family reunion during a festival is lots of fun.