oats chakkara pongal

It’s even better with a dash of milk or cream

Pongal is both the name of a harvest festival in South India, as well as a rice porridge served to celebrate the festival. There are two kinds of pongal (the food): ven pongal (or butter pongal) is savory, spiced with curry leaves, cumin, and whole peppercorns; and chakkara pongal (jaggery pongal), which is sweet, spiced with cardamom, and studded with raisins and cashews.  Yellow split mung beans are added, which dissolve into the rice, adding richness and protein.

So of course now we have to answer: what is jaggery, anyways?  Jaggery is pure, unrefined, deep dark brown sugar.  The opposite of white sugar.  It tastes almost like fruit, it’s so rich.  Like any concentrated sweetener, we don’t want to eat tons of it.  But it’s better than most.

Anyways, we’ve streamlined the traditional chakkara pongal recipe, replaced the rice with steel-cut oats, increased the fruit and nuts, and cut back drastically on the sugar, transforming this traditional festive dessert into an everyday wholesome breakfast, packed with fiber, protein, and healthy fats.  This recipe can easily be halved or doubled.

And of course, if you want to add lots more sugar and butter dessert-style, by all means, do it up…

1 C steel-cut oats ½ C cashews or other nuts
¼ C split mung dal ½ C raisins or other dried fruit
2 c milk or milk substitute ½ C jaggery or coconut sugar
1 ½ C water ½ C ghee or coconut oil
pinch good salt ½ to 1 tsp cardamom

Optional: 2 grated carrots, to add some more vegetable nutrition, and that carrot cake vibe.

Optional (but highly recommended): pinch or two of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, saffron, ginger, and/or fennel. My personal favorite is the saffron.

In a medium-sized, heavy bottom pot, toast the oats and split moong over medium heat for a few minutes until you get a nice roasty aroma. Add water, milk, and salt, and bring to a boil. Simmer on low, covered, until soft, around 30-40 minutes. Check after 30 minutes: you may want to add more water or milk.

Meanwhile, melt ghee or oil in small pan. (If you’re using grated carrots, add them now – and use a bigger pan. Cook until soft, around 5 minutes. If the pan seems dry, you may want to add more oil). Add nuts, dried fruit, and saffron, and stir for 2-3 minutes until dried fruit is plumped, and nuts are beginning to turn golden. Add spices and cook 30 seconds. Add jaggery, and 1 Tbsp water, and continue stirring until water evaporates and oil-sugar begins to thicken.

Stir seasoning into porridge and serve. You may add additional jaggery or honey, thin-sliced ripe pear, and of course a dollop of milk or cream.