Sweet Pongal

Sweet Pongal

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Sweet pongal is a traditional south Indian dessert made with rice and jaggery. While there are many variations of this dish, my family loves a recipe that includes coconut and milk. I am pleased to share our family recipe made for “Thai Pongal”, a harvest festival celebrated in mid-January in South India.

What is Pongal

The word Pongal in Tamil means to overflow. Farming communities thank the Sun god for the bountiful harvest and pray for a surplus crop in the next season by offering Sweet Pongal. Sakkarai (sugar in Tamil) Pongal is made with rice, the main agricultural crop of the region. It is sweetened with jaggery, a byproduct of sugarcane, the harvest crop of the season along with milk from cattle, an integral part of farms. The dish gets its name from the chorus cheer ‘Pongalo Pongal, Pongalo Pongal..’ while the milk in the pot boils over when making this recipe.

What you will need to make Sweet Pongal

Ingredients

Note: 1 cup = 240 ml

  1. ½ cup clarified butter (ghee)
  2. 8-10 whole cashews, split in half
  3. 2 Tbsp. golden raisins 
  4. ¼ cup split green gram (moong dal)
  5. 2 Tbsp. split chickpeas (chana dal) – optional for added crunch
  6. 1 cup raw rice (ponni or sona masoori or basmati)
  7. 2 cups whole milk
  8. 2 ½ cups jaggery, crushed or powdered
  9. ½ cup brown sugar
  10. 1-2 Tbsp. molasses – optional for attaining the perfect color
  11. ½ cup coconut, grated or shredded
  12. ¼ tsp. cardamom powder
  13. 1 pinch nutmeg – optional
  14. ½ smidgen edible camphor (pacha karpooram) – optional
  15. 3 cups + 2 Tbsp. water
Ingredients for Sweet Pongal

A note on key ingredients

Rice, one of the staple agricultural products of south India is an essential ingredient for preparing sweet pongal. You can use Ponni, Sona Masoori or Basmati rice to prepare this dish. 
Jaggery gives this dish both rich color and taste. You can use any variety that’s easily available. In the absence of jaggery in your pantry, you can substitute equal amounts of brown sugar or white sugar. If using white sugar, do not forget to add molasses to get the color right

Equipment

  1. Instant Pot / pressure cooker / heavy-bottom pan
  2. Flat ladle
  3. Small plate
  4. Sauce pan
  5. Serving bowl

How to prepare Sweet Pongal – An Overview

Sweet pongal is a simple one pot recipe. Roast nuts and grains, cook the grains in milk, sweeten with jaggery or sugar, garnish and serve

Tips before you begin

📝 Sweet pongal has to be made with ghee. Do not substitute ghee with any other fat (butter, oil, etc.) or you will lose the essence of the dish’s flavor

📝Keep all ingredients handy, such as grated fresh coconut and jaggery crushed ahead of time (if using a jaggery block) or else the recipe will take much longer than needed

How to make Sweet Pongal – Instructions with step-by-step images

Roast

Step 1 Set the Instant Pot on saute mode. If using a pressure cooker or any other pot, set it on medium heat. Add 1 Tbsp. ghee, 8-10 cashews split in halves and roast them with a flat ladle until the cashews turn light brown

Roasting cashews

Step 2 – Add 2 Tbsp. golden raisins and roast until they inflate like tiny balloons. Remove the roasted cashews & raisins and set it aside on a small plate

Step 3 – In the same pot add ¼ cup moong dal (and optionally, 2 Tbsp. chana dal) and roast for a couple of minutes until the color changes to a light hue of red and the aroma of the roasted dal fills the room

Step 4 – Add 1 cup rice and roast until the rice and dal turn light brown. If you’re using an open pot, soak the rice and dal mixture in water for 30 mins. Drain the water before continuing on

Cook

Step 5 – Add 2 cups of milk, stir it well and allow it to boil. On the day of Pongal, all the members in the family gather around the pot and shout out (in chorus) “Pongalo Pongal, Pongalo Pongal, Pongalo Pongal” (which literally means the milk is boiling). It represents heart-felt gratitude for the harvest of the season and for families to make a wish that their life should also overflow with prosperity the way the milk boils over. If you’re preparing this dish on a day other than Pongal, you may skip the boiling part

Step 6 – When the milk starts to boil over (not relevant if you’ve skipped this in Step 5), pour 3 cups of water and stir well

Step 7 – Close the Instant Pot with the lid and pressure cook on ‘manual-high’ mode for 3 minutes. If using a pressure cooker, close the lid and cook for 3 whistles. If using any other pot, cook until the rice and dal are cooked until mushy. In an open pot, you will need an extra cup of water

Step 8 – Allow the Instant Pot / pressure cooker to release pressure naturally

Step 9 – Set a small sauce pan on medium heat, and add 2 Tbsp. water, 2 ½ cups crushed jaggery, and ½ cup brown sugar. Let it melt and with a flat ladle, ensure that there are no lumps. Set it aside. This step needs to be done just before opening the Instant Pot / pressure cooker or else the melted jaggery will thicken again

Step 10 – When the Instant Pot / pressure cooker has released pressure naturally, open and slightly mash the cooked rice and lentils with the flat ladle

Rice and moong dal cooked in milk

Sweeten

Step 11 – Pour the melted jaggery over this mashed rice-lentil mixture using a strainer. This will clean any dust or stones that are typically found in jaggery blocks

Step 12 – Add shredded coconut and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes or until the pongal reaches a porridge-like consistency

Adding fresh shredded coconuts

Garnish

Step 13 – Add the cashews and raisins we roasted earlier, ¼ tsp. cardamom powder, the remaining ghee, a pinch of nutmeg powder (optional), and ½ a smidgen of crushed edible camphor (optional)

Step 14 – Turn of the heat, mix the whole thing together and move the sweet pongal to a serving bowl 

Step 15 – Enjoy this sublime sweet pongal aka chakkara pongal with your family and friends 😋

Sweet Pongal served in a serving bowl

Stuck with Sweet Pongal

The first time I made this was for my first pongal festival after my wedding. I got the recipe from my mom over the phone that time and while I prepared it, I did not add water while melting the jaggery. At that time, I did not know I had made a mistake because I had never seen my mom making this dish (who cares how something’s made when you can eat Michelin-star quality food made by mom). I excitedly finished cooking the pongal, served it in a beautiful bowl (that I had received as a wedding gift) and put a spoonful into my mouth. I could not speak a word for the next few minutes. You might be forgiven for thinking I was overwhelmed by my superlative culinary skills. The reality was that the jaggery had hardened, my mouth was sticky and I found it very difficult to chew. I then realized that day what happens when I attempt to cook dishes that I love to eat but with no knowledge of ingredients and what happens behind the scene. Even to this date, whenever I use jaggery, I remember that day 😅. It did take me a few years to get to the right recipe for sweet pongal that my family loves today.


Related Recipes

  • Puran Poli
  • Vella Aval

Recipe Card – Sweet Pongal

Recipe by Sublime RecipesCourse: DessertCuisine: IndianDifficulty: Medium
Servings

10

cups
Prep Time

15

minutes
Cook Time

1

hour 

15

minutes
Ready In

1

hour 

30

minutes

Note: 1 Cup = 240 ml

What You Will Need

  • Ingredients
  • ½  cup ghee (clarified butter)

  • 8-10 whole cashews, split in half

  • 2 Tbsp. golden raisins

  • ¼ cup split green gram (moong dal)

  • 2 Tbsp. split chickpeas (chana dal) – optional for added crunch

  • 1 cup raw rice (ponni or sona masoori or basmati)

  • 2 cups whole milk

  • 2 ½ cups jaggery, crushed or powdered

  • ½ cup brown sugar

  • 1-2 Tbsp. molasses – optional for attaining the perfect color

  • ½ cup coconut, grated or shredded

  • ¼ tsp. cardamom powder

  • 1 pinch nutmeg – optional

  • ½ smidgen edible camphor (pacha karpooram) – optional

  • 3 cups + 2 Tbsp. water

  • Kitchen Tools
  • Instant Pot / pressure cooker / heavy-bottom pan

  • Flat ladle

  • Small plate

  • Sauce pan

  • Serving bowl

Preparation

  • Set the Instant Pot on saute mode. If using a pressure cooker or any other pot, set it on medium heat. Add 1 Tbsp. ghee, 8-10 cashews split in halves and roast them with a flat ladle until the cashews turn light brown
  • Add 2 Tbsp. golden raisins and roast until they inflate like tiny balloons. Remove the roasted cashews & raisins and set it aside on a small plate
  • In the same pot add ¼ cup moong dal (and optionally, 2 Tbsp. chana dal) and roast for a couple of minutes until the color changes to a light hue of red and the aroma of the roasted dal fills the room
  • Add 1 cup rice and roast until the rice and dal turn light brown. If you’re using an open pot, soak the rice and dal mixture in water for 30 mins. Drain the water before continuing on
  • Add 2 cups of milk, stir it well and allow it to boil. If you’re preparing this dish on a day other than Pongal, skip the boiling part
  • When the milk starts to boil over (not relevant if you’ve skipped this in Step 5), pour 3 cups of water and stir well
  • Close the Instant Pot with the lid and pressure cook on ‘manual- high’ mode for 3 minutes. If using a pressure cooker, close the lid and cook for 3 whistles. If using any other pot, cook until the rice and dal are cooked until mushy. In an open pot, you will need an extra cup of water
  • Allow the Instant Pot / pressure cooker to release pressure naturally
  • Set a small sauce pan on medium heat, and add 2 Tbsp. water, 2 ½ cups crushed jaggery, and ½ cup brown sugar. Let it melt and with a flat ladle, ensure that there are no lumps. Set it aside. This step needs to be done just before opening the Instant Pot / pressure cooker or else the melted jaggery will thicken again
  • When the Instant Pot / pressure cooker has released pressure naturally, open and slightly mash the cooked rice and lentils with the flat ladle
  • Pour the melted jaggery over this mashed rice-lentil mixture using a strainer. This will clean any dust or stones that are typically found in jaggery blocks
  • Add shredded coconut and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes or until the pongal reaches a porridge-like consistency
  • Add the cashews and raisins we roasted earlier, ¼ tsp. cardamom powder, the remaining ghee, a pinch of nutmeg powder (optional), and ½ a smidgen of crushed edible camphor (optional)
  • Turn of the heat, mix the whole thing together and move the sweet pongal to a serving bowl
  • Enjoy this sublime sweet pongal aka chakkara pongal with your family and friends 😋

Substitutes & Notes

  • Substitute jaggery with the same amount of brown sugar or white sugar. If using white sugar, do not forget to add molasses to get the right color
  • Do not substitute ghee with any other fat (butter, oil, etc.) or you will lose the essence of the dish’s flavor
  • If using fresh coconut, grate it before you start; also don’t forget to crush the jaggery ahead of time, if using a jaggery block

Nutrition Facts


FAQs

❔ Can I make Sakkarai Pongal without milk

Yes. Except on this festival day, sweet pongal is mostly made without milk. Replace milk with equal amount of water and you are good to go

❔ Is Chakkara Pongal same as Akkaraivadisal

Sweet Pongal cooked entirely with milk is called Akkaravadisal. So it is technically just a variation to this recipe

Thank you for stopping by. If you’ve tried this recipe, I would love to hear from you. Please add your comments below and / or rate this recipe. Your feedback will help me improve and share better recipes with you.

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5 Comments

  1. I’love to try this the usual practice is to cook un roasted dal-rice and to make a syrup with jaggery. why didn’t you make a syrup ?

    • Roasting dal and rice gives out a good aroma – is optional, but we prefer it that way. Similarly, when pongal is cooked in liquid jaggery the taste incorporates better in the rice and dal as compared to mixing it later with a syrup. Do give this a go and let me know how it turns out

  2. This is one my favorite recipes by Aparna! Thanks for sharing… the taste made my day!!

  3. Bhavna Venkat

    Thank you for this wonderful recipe! Followed it to the T. Steps were easy to understand and the end result was yummy!

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