The South Indian states of Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu produce vanilla along with many other products. Their major harvest festival is in January, a time when people traditionally worshipped the gods of weather, most significantly, the sun. Pongal means “overflow” in Tamil, celebrating abundance. May your January – and your harvest if you are farmers – be abundant!
Pongol: Festive Sweet Rice
2 cups milk
2 cups water
1 Rain’s Choice Vanilla Bean, cut into pieces
1 cup rice (Basmati if it’s available)
1/2 cup hulled mung beans (substitute yellow or red lentils if necessary)
1 cup sugar (jaggery if you can find it)
1 teaspoon Rain’s Choice pure Vanilla Extract (or more if not using a vanilla bean)
1/2 cup ghee (unsalted butter can be substituted)
1 cup fresh grated coconut (1/2 cup unsweetened dried coconut can be substituted)
15–20 cashews, chopped
2–3 tablespoons raisins
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
6 cardamom pods, ground
Toast mung beans or lentils over a low heat in a heavy-bottomed frying pan. Mix with rice and wash thoroughly.
Put milk, water, and vanilla bean pieces in a heavy-bottomed pan and bring to the boil. Add rice and mung beans and cook, stirring until it’s a soft mass and liquid is fully absorbed. Add sugar and cook over low heat until dissolved. Add 4 teaspoons ghee or butter and vanilla extract and stir until the mixture has a sticky consistency. Remove vanilla bean if one is used.
Heat remaining ghee or butter in a heavy frying pan and lightly toast coconut, cashews and raisins for 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle this mixture over pongal along with nutmeg and cardamom and serve warm.