Paal Pongal – An essential of Pongal Festival

On April 21, 2017

The middle of January heralds in the famed Pongal festival of Tamil Nadu that is celebrated over a period of four days, with each day having its own set of unique activities. The foods prepared on these days are special and cooked using the newly harvested rice, the staple food of Tamil Nadu, a state nestled along the eastern coast of southern India.

This colorful harvest festival heralds in times of prosperity and marriages are traditionally conducted during this period, as the farmers would have enough cash from crop sales to take care of wedding expenses. It’s also a time when the farmers take a break from their work for some hard-earned fun and relaxation. People throng the temples in colorful new clothes with various forms of offerings.

The main item cooked during this time is the tender new rice. Both sweet and savory dishes are prepared using this rice and shared with families and friends. One such dish is the Paal Pongal, which simply refers to a dish made with milk and rice. Though there are two forms of Paal Pongal, with a sweet form (Sakkarai Pongal) made with the addition of sugar, cardamom powder and coconut shavings, let us take a closer look at the salty form of the dish instead.

This is a very simple dish that is consumed along with vegetarian gravies like ‘Sambar’ and other local dishes. During Pongal festival, cooking rice in its plain form is avoided and different variations are preferred. This dish is also referred to Vellai Pongal and is traditionally cooked in an earthenware pot. Even in the cities, hawkers suddenly materialize during the festival season, selling these special rounded earthenware pots; and there is something to be said about food cooked in these pots as they impart an unbeatable ‘earthy’ flavor to the dish!

Preparation Time: 5minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes
Serves: 3-4


Raw rice – 1 cup
Milk – 2 cups
Water – 2 cups
Grated coconut – 2 tbsp
Ghee – 1 tbsp
Cashews – 6-7
Salt – as per taste


Wash the rice and place it in the pressure cooker along with the water and one cup of milk; reserve one cup of milk for later. Pressure cook the rice for about 3 whistles on a medium flame before switching off. Allow the pressure to be released naturally before opening the pot and mashing it up a little. Now add in the remaining milk, grated coconut and salt before returning back to the fire. Continue cooking with gentle stirring till the liquid has been absorbed. Pour into a serving dish.

In a small pan, heat the ghee and fry the cashew. Garnish the Paal Pongal with it and serve while it’s still warm with any vegetarian curry of your choice!