Farmers invest their time, money, and everlasting efforts in their farmlands to grow healthy high-yielding crops and they eagerly look forward to the harvesting season. Obviously, they regard every harvest as a sign of prosperity as they reap the benefits only at the time of harvesting. So farmers here celebrate the harvest festival, Pongal, for 4 days with fun & fervour. They thank the Mother Nature (pancha boothangal/ five elements) that helped them blessed with abundance by preparing Pongal in an open space outside their house and offer it to Sun God. Also they bathe their cows, bulls & other domestic animals including elephants and treat them with sugarcane, banana, sweet pongal, etc.
Pongal, a harvest festival, is celebrated here to thank the Sun God. Sun is regarded as the creator and sustainer of life on earth, and worshipping the Sun is an age-old practice still followed in India. We could find several hymns praising the Sun god in our scriptures and also several temples enshrining the Sun god (Surya) as the primary deity across India. Suryanaar temple is one of the Sun temples in south India (Kumbakonam, Tamilnadu) where wheat pongal is offered to the supreme deity, Sun God. So we can also prepare wheat pongal instead of rice pongal and offer to Sun God on this Pongal festival.
During dynasty rule in China, the royals consumed black rice for tremendous health benefits particularly for greater longevity. Hence the ancient Chinese literature mentioned it as the Emperor’s Rice or the Fortune Rice. In those days black rice was forbidden to the general public. It was even considered an offence to consume black rice or grow their crops without royal permission. So black rice was widely known as the Forbidden Rice. At the dawn of communism in China people were granted to grow Forbidden Rice crops. Soon Emperor’s Rice reached the hands of ordinary people, and in due course black rice cultivation was spread to different parts of world. Black rice was brought to South India by the affluent business community in Chettinad. They still take pride in including an exotic kavuni arisi sweet (black rice pudding) in their lavish wedding banquets even today.
Anjarisi pongal, a rice dish made using 5 varieties of rice, is a traditional pongal served in sumptuous Chettinad wedding feasts. They usually prepare anjarisi pongal or anjarisi payasam using black kavuni arisi, varagu arisi (kodo millet), rava (sooji), javvarisi (sago) and raw rice. But I tried using indigenous rice varieties well known for their nutritive values especially for low-GI property like white kavuni arisi, varagu arisi, moongil arisi (bamboo rice), mappillai samba arisi (red rice), and kaikuthal arisi (hand-pounded rice) for making delicious and nutritious pongal.
Whenever I heard the word payasam, I was visualizing jaggery payasam (made using rice & lentil) aka anna payasam during my childhood days. It was a delicious staple dessert prepared in our family whether to treat our guests, or ourselves on our birthdays/ festivals, or simply to offer to deities at home on Fridays. However we gradually switched to other payasam made of rice adai, vermicelli (semiya), tapioca pearls (javvarisi), jackfruits, etc. Nevertheless we still follow the tradition of feeding the traditional anna payasam to babies in front of the deities at home or in a temple when solid foods are introduced to them for the first time.
Pongal is the harvest festival celebrated in Tamilnadu by worshiping Sun & earth to express our gratitude for the entire year’s harvests. On this day we still follow the traditional method of cooking rice in brass, stainless steel or earthen pots. We decorate the Pongal Paanai (pot) with kolam drawn using rice flour & turmeric powder and tie the ginger or turmeric sprouts around its neck. Pongal means boiling over, it signifies prosperity & abundance, and hence it is considered auspicious to have boiled over while cooking pongal. We use Pongal paanai rather than electric cooker or pressure cooker as spilling over happens only when cooking pongal in pot.
Kadamba sambar is a traditional flavorful South Indian curry prepared with assorted (kadambam) vegetables & tubers usually served with rice. It is popularly known as idi sambar (meaning pounded sambar) in Tirunelveli & Kanyakumari regions, as the spice powder was earlier prepared by pounding in a large stone mortar (ural) using a 3-feet long metal-tipped wooden pestle (ulakkai).
It is a bizarre phenomenon that some of the vegetarians here, particularly elders, avoid taking the foods spiced with fennel seeds. They do not like to use them in their recipes as they feel these spices are meant to go with meat based recipes only. Nevertheless we all like its sweet flavor and I like to add it into spicy vegetable kurma & paruppu vadai (lentil patties) for the strong flavor. I like to relish hot masala vadai & creamy coconut chutney along with a cup of cardamom tea on a rainy day.
Sweet pongal, popularly known as sakkarai pongal, is one of the most common neivedyam (food offering to deities) prepared not only in temple kitchens but also at our homes. We find sakkarai pongal as one of the most delightful prasadams served almost in all the Hindu temples in South India. So I set this prasadam as the benchmark for my sakkarai pongal, then I tried various methods to perfect the recipe for the same and finally succeeded to my heart’s content.
Medhu vadai or ulundha vadai is a gluten-free savoury doughnut prepared using black lentils (urad dal). Any feast or festival in South India is incomplete without serving soft vadai with crispy golden skin. Nevertheless medhu vadai is a commonly prepared evening snack in our family particularly during monsoon.
A wedding feast or a festive feast in our family is incomplete without aviyal. Aviyal is a medley of native vegetables & tubers cooked in coconut gravy. Traditional Indian recipes like kummiyanam, adai, avial, panchamirtham, etc. use assorted grains, pulses, vegetables, or fruits. But nowadays we could find the nutritionists recommending us to include a medley of vegetables, pulses, grains, or fruits in our diet regularly as it prevents vitamin & mineral deficiency. Hence it is a good practice to prepare such foods often and serve them particularly to growing children and old people.
Millets are tiny food grains (hence the name), so we can cook them quickly & easily. Though millets are tiny they are nutrients dense food grains. Hence they are increasingly popular among Indians nowadays particularly for the low glycaemic index. There are different millets like kodo millet, barnyard millets, little millets, pearl millets, etc. available in the market. You can refer to the table below for the nutrition data of commonly used food grains & millets. It is useful to compare their nutrients and choose the right one that meets our dietary requirements. Now I have prepared millet payasam using foxtail millets (thinai arisi) suitable for making payasam.
Millet pongal is a healthy hearty dish that can be served for breakfast. Since millets have low GI, millet pongal is slowly digested & absorbed and hence the slower rise of blood sugar levels. Millet pongal may be simply served with spicy coconut chutney unlike pongal made of rice, so we can prepare this breakfast in a jiffy. Besides we can also serve this pongal with sambar, or vegetable gothsu.