Saturday, April 18, 2015

Recipe of the Month: Spinach Masala Pongal

Pongal is one of my all-time favourite comfort foods. It is the South-Indian cousin of the well-known Khichri/Khichdi which is popular throughout North India and Pakistan. This amazingly simple dish of pressure cooked lentils and rice with subtle spices and fried cashew nuts is not only flavourful but hearty and balanced too. Not counting the days when I'm sick, I can devour bowlfuls of this golden-yellow hued rice dish topped with homemade ghee on any given day. My mum knows all too well my hankering for this dish so she makes it a point to make it for me whenever I'm in Mysore. My husband on the other hand, isn't such a fan so the occasions where I made pongal at home in Singapore had started to become few and far between.

My mum passed me a neatly handwritten recipe for this Spinach Masala Pongal a long time ago. It was so long ago that I didn't even remember that it existed! I was rummaging through my cookbooks one day, and came across the recipe. I thought why not give it a go and tested it out that very night. Out of habit, I changed the recipe to suit my own preferences. The original recipe called for sliced eggplants and garam masala but I skipped both ingredients and decided to incorporate some coconut milk for added flavour. I wasn't expecting to get any kind of reaction from my husband for this dish so I was shocked when he came back for seconds and even asked me to make it again! Since then, this Spinach Masala Pongal has featured as a staple on our weekday dinner menu. I even pack it in our lunchboxes to take to work. He likes it with garlic pickle but I prefer it as it is. During the first trimester of my pregnancy when I had a lot of food aversions and was retching on a regular basis, this was the one rice dish that I could wolf down without any problems and so I made it a ridiculous number of times then. I made it for my in-laws last month in Singapore and then made it again for my parents and cousin at home in Mysore a few days ago and it got a big thumbs up 😊

The cover photo isn't great but don't judge the recipe by its cover (tee...hee). This is a really yummy one-pot meal so I hope you make it for your family and friends. Who knows, it might make a regular appearance on your lunch/dinner menu too!

Spinach Masala Pongal

Preparation time: 15-20 min
Cooking time: 20 min
Total time: ~45 min
Recipe Level: Easy
Serves: 3-4
Recipe source: Unknown

1 cup raw rice (regular variety)
1/4 cup green gram/moong dal
2 bunches Indian spinach/palak, finely chopped
3-5 green chillies (adjust according to spice level), finely minced
1/2 inch piece fresh ginger, finely minced or grated
2 medium red onions, finely chopped
2 small ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds/jeera
A handful of cashewnuts
8-10 curry leaves
3 tbsp ghee
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1 cup thin coconut milk, Optional but recommended
~ 4 cups water
Salt to taste

Note that the photos that you see below are from doubling the quantities in the recipe


1. Wash the spinach leaves thoroughly under running water

2. Prep all your ingredients as shown. Fry the cashewnuts in 1 tbsp of ghee and keep aside (pic not shown). 

3. Dry roast the moong dal on low flame till it turns a light brown color. Keep aside. 

4. Heat 2 tbsp ghee in a pressure cooker. Fry the cumin seeds until they splutter, add in the curry leaves and fry for 2 min and then add in the onions, green chillies and ginger. Fry until the onions turn translucent. 

5. Add in the tomatoes and fry until soft

6. Now add in the chopped spinach and fry for a few mins until the leaves wilt

7. Add the turmeric powder, salt to taste, coconut milk and water and bring to a boil

8. Add in the washed rice and dry roasted moong dal

9. Close the lid of the cooker and pressure cook for 1-2 whistles on low flame (I have doubled the quantity in the recipe and cooked the rice for 2 whistles). How many whistles would depend on the kind of pressure cooker you have and the quantity you are making. 

10. Once done, give the contents a good mix and add in the fried cashewnuts. Check the seasoning  and consistency of the pongal and adjust accordingly

11. Serve piping hot with a dollop of ghee

This spinach masala pongal tastes nice as it is but you could serve it alongside any raita of your choice and poppadoms for that added crunch

  • As I mentioned earlier, I doubled the quantity in the recipe. I wasn't able to add the required amount of liquid in the pressure cooker due to the large volume so I added as much as I possibly could and then added the rest of the water after I removed the lid of the pressure cooker and cooked it on a low flame for 2 mins
  • The consistency of the pongal should be creamy, mushy and porridge-like. You can add in more water and simmer it on a low flame if you think it is too dry
  • Keep in mind that the longer the pongal is left to sit out, it gets more and more dry. The same holds good if you keep leftovers in the fridge. You may need to further adjust the consistency with water
  • I you don't own a pressure cooker, you can make this dish in a deep bottomed pot. Follow the recipe as per the instructions and after you add the rice and dal, cook on medium heat with the lid of the pot partially closed until the rice and dal are cooked and the desired consistency is reached
  • If you don't have coconut milk on hand, you can use whole milk instead (but coconut milk gives it a really nice flavour so try to use it). If you have coconut cream, use half a cup and dilute that with water to make it 1 cup of thin coconut milk
  • You can prepare the tempering of cumin seeds and curry leaves separately and add it at the end when you add in the fried cashew nuts but I prefer to do it at the beginning as it is easier!
  • You can add 1 tsp of garam masala if you want to change the flavour but I personally like it without the garam masala


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