While living with multiple health issues, to balance everything is always a challenge. Recently I craved something sweet but it also needed to be gluten-free and low on the glycemic index. Sweet pongal was one sweet I really enjoyed when I worked in Chennai. I remember grabbing it from friends who got it to work and belting the whole tub, refusing to share it. I think I went mad after such stuff because back in my home I wasn’t exposed to these wide variety of traditional dishes.
There was minimal variety and I felt like we always ate the same stuff over and over again. Cooking something healthy was definitely not on my parents’ agenda. They never had the awareness nor did they bother to educate themselves until my dad started having all sorts of health issues at the age of 50 plus. By then it was too late. We had given up tradition for heavily processed food. I grew up on the worst kind of junk and processed foods available and eventually by the age of 32 years I lost my health as well.
If there is one thing I learnt in the midst of all of this, it is to follow our ancestors. Eat organic, unadulterated and process-free produce. They ate themselves to health and longevity, while now the world is eating themselves to sickness and death.
One of the things I’ve heard my ancestors consumed were millets in the form of ‘kanji’ (porridge). I’m taking about when my grandmother was a litte girl. Even in my mother’s time that traditional practice was done away with. Now the benefits of consuming these tiny seeds are being considered once again.
Also, I’ve never heard of sugar being used regularly in my grandparents home. It was ‘karpetti’ (palm sugar) for coffee and daily use or ‘vellam’ (unrefined cane sugar) for sweets like pongal. Snacks using sugar were made probably when there were festivals. But that was about it. That very sugar became a big part of my daily life from the time I was born till I touched my late 30s and started to deal with health issues. Thanks to that wretched ingredient I lost 30% of my teeth to caries and dental decay. After marriage I drastically cut down on our sugar usage just because we didn’t like things that were extremely sweet, like overly sweetened tea or coffee.
Fast forward to now, my household is 95% sugar-free. No, we don’t use low calories sweeteners either. Nothing is more worse for your body than something man invented. I try to stick to traditional sugars like palm sugar, cane sugar or ‘pana kalkand’ (for which I don’t the English name).
Sweet pongal is traditionally made with rice which is high on the glycemic index. I recently saw many posts where I read that both sweet and savoury pongal can be made using millets as an alternate to rice and hence decided to give it a try. I really thank God for women who try to cook healthier dishes. I truly believe it is up to us to teach the right things to the next generation so that they don’t end up making the same mistakes our previous generation did. Recently, we even started making our traditional upma using millets. We have also started adding millets to our dosa batter. I am so glad it doesn’t disturb my gut in any way.
I’m sharing the recipe I tried at home and you can modify this to suit your taste buds especially the amount of jaggery you use. This recipe does call for the use of copious amounts of ghee. There is a reason our ancestors used ghee. The fat helps reduce the rate at which the sugar levels spike in the blood. Of course our ancestors used high quality ghee made at home (cows were raised at home and fed clean food back then), not the crap that comes from the food industry, adulterated with loads of vanaspathi (hydrogenated vegetable oil). Even famous brands like GRB are utter crap. All this has been learnt the hard way. I have finally mastered making ghee from butter at home. It’s the first time I’ve eaten real ghee after the one I’ve had at my grandma’s home as a young child. So here’s the recipe. Hope you find joy in discovering hidden treasures from the past.
BARNYARD MILLET SWEET PONGAL
- Barnyard Millet (or any millet of your choice) – 1 azhakku (small cup)
- Moong Dal – 1/2 cup
- Jaggery – 200 gms
- Saffron (optional) – few strands
- Cardamom powder – 1 tsp
- Ghee – 7 tbsp
- Raisins – as desired
- Nuts (blanched almonds, pine nuts/ cashews) – as desired
1. Wash the moong dal thoroughly. Wash the millets in a really fine sieve.
2. Add 3 tbsps of ghee to a heavy-bottomed pressure cooker and roast the moong dal. As it starts to turn mild brown, add the millets. Roast well and add 7 azhakku or cups of water, the saffron strands and cardamom powder, mix well and seal the pressure cooker.
3. As the steam starts to release through the vent, place the whistle on the lid. Keep the flame on medium-low and wait for 6 whistles. Switch off the flame and let the pressure release on its own.
4. In the meanwhile, heat the jaggery in 1/2 cup of water until it completely dissolves.
5. Once the pressure has released, open the pressure cooker, strain the jaggery syrup into it using a stainless steel sieve to collect any impurities. Stir well and check the level of sweetness.
6. Heat the remaining ghee in a small skillet, roast the raisins, as they start to bloat, add the nuts and roast until they turn mild brown and crisp.
7. Add these roasted raisins and nuts into the sweet pongal and stir well. You can add more ghee if you like. Ghee enhances the flavour of this dish.
We enjoyed this sweet pongal a lot and could hardly make out any difference between the traditional one made with rice and this one. You can use any millet of your choice. I have a whole variety of millets stocked up so I keep alternating. I’ve already spoken about the Tamil measurement of an azhakku in one of my previous blogs. I’m so used to that measurement since my childhood days, I can’t seem to let go of it now and move onto English measurements. I’ve used blanched almonds and pine nuts as I’m trying to keep the entire dish as low FODMAP as possible. You can go ahead and use the usual, cashew nuts which are delicious. Definitely do give this recipe a try if you’re keen on healthier versions of traditional dishes. Happy cooking!