Google introduced me recently to the 'Ponkala' or 'Pongala' festival when I was trying to compile a list of Indian festivals celebrated during this month. It turns out that it has nothing to do with the 'Pongal' festival of Tamil nadu though it sounds similar. The Pongala festival happens to be an important religious celebration at the Bhagavathy temple in Attukal, Trivandrum in the south Indian state of Kerala. It is celebrated for 10 days during the months of February - March to pray the presiding deity of the temple, Attukal Devi. The temple is renowned for this annual celebration where a large section of women participate to pray goddess Attukul Devi, who they believe would fulfill all their wishes. In fact, 3.5 million women participated in 2009 in the celebration, thereby setting a Guinness Book of World Record for being the single largest gathering of women for a religious activity.
Millions of women gather around the temple and prepare 'Pongala' in the open in new earthen pots to please the Goddess. Pongala (literally means to boil over) is a ritualistic offering of the sweet rice pudding prepared in the temple premises to the Goddess. This payasam doesn't use milk or moong dal as the standard sweet pongal versions do. Wiki mentions that the pongala payasam is prepared with a special payasam rice called as puzhungalari, jaggery, coconuts, raisins, nuts and other ingredients. We prepare the standard version pongal at home using those ingredients and I got curious about 'the other ingredients' there until I came across this interesting pongla payasam version. It had bananas and bay leaves in it and I therefore decided to give it a try. I am already a fan of sweet pongal but I must say that I am sold out to this version of sweet pongal. It is hard to notice the banana flavor individually in the recipe but it lends an extra layer of sweetness to the dish. If you are looking for a new version of sweet pongal, try it out. You would be glad that you did.
It is made in earthen pots on open fire at the festival though at home, a gas stove and pressure cooker would make it a quick and fuss free preparation. In lieu of a pressure cooker, it can be cooked in a sturdy or a nonstick pot, with frequent stirring. I have given the pressure cooker method below but if using a pot to cook, the amount of water need to be adjusted accordingly. It would be more than a cup. The payasam should be on a thicker side according to the original recipe. And the color of the payasam depends upon the jaggery that have been used.
Ingredients: (Yield 3 - 4 servings)
1/2 cup payasam rice / regular rice (I used extra large grain.)
1/2 cup powdered jaggery
1/2 cup shredded fresh coconut
1 tbsp. raisins
1 tbsp. cashew nuts
1 sweet variety small banana, cut into pieces
2 cardamom, crushed
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp. ghee or as per taste
* Rinse the rice in two exchanges of water and drain the water. Pressure cook the rice adding a cup of water.
* Transfer the cooked rice to a nonstick pot. Add jaggery, coconut, ghee, and cardamom to the pot. Cook the mixture on low flame until the jaggery melts, stirring frequently.
* Tear the bay leaves into pieces and add to the mixture. Next add the banana pieces, raisins and cashews and stir well. Turn off the stove.
* It can be covered with a banana leaf, if you have access to it.
This goes to Blogging marathon #74, under the theme 'Festival recipes'. Check out the page to read what other marathoners are cooking.