We are almost halfway through January and the first sticks of sugarcane are appearing at street corners. Homes are getting a good spring clean and the excitement of the New Year spills over to the harvest festival of Pongal.
Fortunately Pongal remains one of the Indian festivals that is still celebrated in the traditional manner, which means that the goodies associated with it, are simple and wholesome. Shakara Pongal or the Sweet Pongal for instance, is a combination of unpolished rice, jaggery or gud, milk, a wee bit of ghee, dried fruits, nuts and spices. What could be healthier? In fact you could adapt this recipe to make a really tasty, healthy porridge for the family every day. Substitute the rice with broken whole wheat (rava not Sooji), or oats for variety, and cut out the ghee (that’s for festivals only), and there you are. Protein from the milk, carbohydrates from the rice, wheat or oats, and vitamins and minerals from the dried fruits and nuts. It doesn’t get more wholesome than this. Though jaggery is a healthier version of white sugar, the ultimate goal needs to be avoiding sugar altogether. The dried fruit should provide enough sweetness, and if not, chop in a fresh banana or apple.
The savory Pongal is also a great everyday food. The combination of rice and dhal is a perfect balance of protein and carbohydrates. Throw in a healthy dose of chopped vegetables, and lots of spices, and there you go, a great lunch or dinner. The only things to bear in mind are to omit the ghee, and use lots of vegetables in the mix.
What would Pongal be without sugarcane? There’s probably no greater joy than tearing off those strips of purple skin with your teeth, and then chewing the white stalks; allowing the sweet nectar to fill your senses with delight. Chewing Sugarcane is a wonderful way to give your jaws and teeth a workout. The juice itself is a great source of vitamins and minerals. Only, make sure that you do it the hard way. Actually chew the cane and access the juice. Don’t just buy a glass of it. Finally, make sure to rinse your mouth thoroughly after the sugarcane indulgence, or your dentist won’t be too happy with you.
Every year, as we celebrate Pongal in all its simplicity, the message that gets driven home so clearly, is that, festivities don’t have to be associated with rich dining and calorie overloads. It is probably far more satisfying to celebrate a festival in the traditional, simple and healthy way.
Have a wonderful, happy and healthy Pongal.
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