A Pongal festival menu crafted with traditional recipes like ven pongal, lemon rice, and more for your holiday celebration.
Pongal is a four day harvest festival that is synonymous to Thanksgiving for the Tamil people. To learn about the customs and dates of pongal this year, check out this blog post which goes over the traditions.
Growing up in the United States, my family didn't follow all of the customs surrounding the festival, but we definitely ate the food associated with the holiday. Here is a list of recipes often eaten during pongal so you can get inspiration for your menu this year.
Ven pongal, also known as khara pongal, is a decadent lentil and rice porridge that is customary to eat on the second day of the festival. Rice and lentils are cooked until they lose their shape and are mixed with a copious amount of ghee that is infused with cumin seeds, black peppercorn, ginger, and curry leaves. It is a must-try recipe that comes together quickly, especially if you have an instant pot.
Sambar is an Indian lentil stew that can be accompanied with a myriad of vegetables. With the end of winter, I love getting the last harvest of squash or pumpkin in my sambar. The sweet flesh of the pumpkin or butternut squash soaks up the spices from the sambar and kisses the stew with its sweetness. This is the perfect dish to accompany creamy ven pongal!
This recipe for lemon rice comes together in minutes and is a bright, acidic dish that is such a crowd pleaser.
Sundal is the perfect side dish or appetizer for festivities. It is a stir-fried chickpea dish that is toasted with coconut, mustard seeds, and curry leaves. The sundal is sprinkled with lemon juice for acidity and has roasted dal for extra crunch. It's an appetizer that will keep your hungry guests at bay if the main meal is running late.
Thayir Sadam is a refreshing dish that helps break up the heavier dishes in the lineup. It is a tangy yogurt-based dish that is tempered with aromatics like curry leaves and mustard seeds to layer it with flavor. It's simple but so satisfying.
Sakkarai pongal is one of the most traditional desserts to make during the pongal holidays. It is a sweet lentil and rice porridge that gets its decadence from an unrefined sugar called jaggery that gives it molasses notes. This dish is often offered to the gods on the second day of pongal for blessings before consumed.
If you are looking for a dessert other than sakkarai pongal for the holiday, turn to pineapple kesari, which is a sweet semolina dessert. It is less sweet than the sakkari pongal counterpart and offers a nice tartness and butter-yness that is divine.
Arisi Payasam (Indian Rice Pudding)
Arisi Payasam is an Indian rice pudding infused with cardamom that is so creamy and delicious. It is topped with raisins for pops of acid and roasted nuts for crunch. Traditionally, rice pudding takes a while to boil and thicken, but my recipe uses condensed and evaporated milk to get that same bold flavor with half the time.
The holidays are filled with long days of eating. When the time for dessert hits, I love serving a warm drink to accompany the sweets. Chai is the perfect warm drink to cozy up to during festivities. It is a warm drink that evokes fall and is perfect even for the folks that don't have a sweet tooth.
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