Today is Pongal, also called as Sankranti, Lohri and Bihu in different parts of India, a significant festival in our culture, the end of the harvest for rice, grain, sugarcane and turmeric. This holiday is celebrated all across the nation with pujas "prayers" to the Sun God for the abundance of crops. The word Pongal literally means "boil, or overflow" and the dishes that are prepared are made in this manner, slow cooked and loaded with jaggery, or unrefined sugar. The essence of this dish is to cook the beans and other ingredients over a long period of time, about 2 hours in this case, this allows the flavors to come together in a sweet and delicious dessert.
This is a very simple recipe and filled with all the ingredients essential to this festival. The whole mung beans signify the abundance of crops, the jaggery and ghee a sweet temptation to the gods, and the toasted coconut adds a depth of subtle flavor. I adapted the recipe to add the toasted coconut the cashew nuts.
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1 cup whole mung beans
1 cup jaggery, or to taste
1/2 - 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
A pinch salt
2 tablespoons ghee
Water, as needed
1/2 cup desiccated coconut powder
1/2 cup cashew nut halves
Toast the desiccated coconut lightly on a pan on low heat till lightly brown. Remove and set aside.
Toast the cashew nuts on a pan on low heat till lightly browned and set aside.
Add the mung beans, jaggery, ground cardamom, 3/4 of the toasted coconut and water and bring to a boil. Simmer quite vigorously for about 1 1/2- 2 hours till the beans are cooked down and begin to disintegrate. If you want a creamy texture, remove 1/4th of the cooked beans and mash with a spatula or a blender, add back to the mix and stir in. Taste and adjust the sugar and cardamom. The payasam should have a very thick consistency, much like a thick custard.
You can serve this payasam either warm or at room temperature. Load into small bowls and top with a couple of pinches of toasted coconut and toasted cashew nuts.