Sweet Pongal (Sakkarai Pongal)

(jump to recipe)

Sakkarai Pongal is a rice and lentil pudding sweetened with jaggery, spiced with ground cardamom and tempered with cashews and raisins, a Tamil delicacy made for its eponymous festival, Pongal! This is the sweet variation of Ven Pongal, which is savory (tempered with cashews and black peppercorns), and usually made all year round.

It’s a warm, sweet and comforting pudding, and can be made as simple or as decadent as you prefer, simply by adding more ghee (clarified butter) and dry fruits and nuts. A friend of mine made this for Makar Sankrant/Pongal over a decade ago, and it still remains one of my favorite Indian desserts of all time!

The rice and lentils are pressure-cooked in whole milk until absolutely creamy and then hit with jaggery like a ton of bricks, along with ground cardamom. Then comes the ghee, with cashews and raisins sautéed in it. That’s pretty much the recipe, we are just streamlining it by using the Instant Pot so as to not watch over it for hours. Plus, making this in Instant Pot helps in being able to do the recipe in stages (aka across bebe’s multiple naps)! Let us begin.

From the top: short grain white rice, whole milk, ghee, cashews, jaggery, ground cardamom, moong lentils, raisins

We start by dry roasting the lentils for a few minutes, and then washing them together with the white rice until the water runs clear. Then, cook the rice and lentils with a few smashed cardamom pods, whole milk and water on High pressure for 15 minutes in the Instant Pot. Let the pressure release naturally.

When you are ready to get back to it, open the Instant Pot lid, and locate the cardamom pods. Discard them and stir well. If the mixture seems too thick, add hot water, 1/4 cup at a time, to get the desired consistency. Switch to Sauté mode on Medium heat, and add the finely chopped/grated jaggery and ground cardamom, stirring to combine. Cook for 5-7 minutes until jaggery is fully incorporated.

On the side, combine the ghee, cashews and raisins in a small pan and sauté until the cashews take on some color and raisins are plump. Save a few cashews for garnishing and add the rest of the ghee mixture to the Instant Pot and warm through.

The Pongal is ready!

For our Makar Sankrant/Pongal meal, we had the Pongal along with various seasonal goodies – typical winter fare in India, such as Bharli Vangi (baby eggplant stuffed with peanuts and coconut), Moong Usal (sprouted green moong stew with peanuts), Ponk or Hurda (tender Sorghum) along with dry Til (sesame seed) chutney, Appalam (a poppadum from South India), Poli (whole wheat flatbread) and plain white rice!

Our Sankranti Lunch

Instant Pot Sweet Pongal (Sakkarai Pongal)

Adapted from Cooking with Pree

Makes 6-8 servings

1 cup short grain white rice (not basmati rice)
1/4 yellow Moong dal (lentils)
2 cups whole milk
3 cups of water
5-6 smashed cardamom pods
1 1/4 cup grated or finely chopped jaggery
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 tablespoons ghee
1/4 cup cashews
3 tablespoons raisins

In a small sauté pan, dry roast the yellow moong dal on medium heat until fragrant. Save pan for using later.

Add roasted lentils and rice to the Instant Pot and wash thoroughly until the water runs clear. Add milk, water and smashed cardamom pods, and Pressure Cook on High for 15 minutes. Allow natural release.

Open Instant Pot and toss the smashed pods. If the mixture seems too thick, add hot water (1/4 cup at a time) to make the mixture softer and creamier. Switch to Sauté mode on Medium heat, and add the jaggery and ground cardamom. Continue cooking for additional 5-7 minutes.

In the sauté pan (from earlier), place the ghee, cashews and raisins, and sauté on medium-low heat until cashews take on a slight color and raisins are plump, about 5 minutes. Reserve 5-6 cashews for garnish, and add the remaining ghee, cashews and raisins to the Instant Pot, mix well.

Serve Pongal warm garnished with reserved cashews.

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