The idea that there are some foods you can always go back to, a meal that while not necessarily being uber healthy, still nourishes mind, body and spirit, a food that is at once comforting and replenishing....was quite alien to me when I first came to the US. I mean, all foods are replenishing, aren't they? One is supposed to enjoy all that's offered on your plate. If not enjoy, then at least respect and consume. That's what we were taught growing up in our middle class tambram homes.
Yes, there were dishes that we looked forward to, dishes that wouldn't be on offer everyday. Dishes that Amma would make when she was running out of options owing to a sudden deficit in the pantry or a sudden pesky illness or uninvited guests. So then, what would Amma make? Thakaali Vengayam, Uruali kizhangu roast, or some good ol' Upma!
So, yes, one could argue that while not called as such, we did indeed have comfort foods.
Having grown up and older now, and having experimented with many a recipe that Google spat up, I realize that there are some dishes that I make that even I can call comforting.
Pongal is one of those comfort foods. Ask any respecting tambram, and she would vehemently agree. Why is it comforting you ask? How can it not be, with oodles of freshly made ghee, cashews, fresh whole pepper, finely roasted cumin seeds, fresh curry leaves, rice and lentils?
And when accompanied by the tamarind infused Gotsu...bliss!
The recipe below is adapted of course, and not quite the traditional Ven Pongal recipe. Some might even call it Khichdi. But I tried this many a time, and its mighty close to the Pongal me mom makes, so Pongal it is!
Half cup rice, fourth of a cup moong dal, fourth of a cup masoor dal. Total of one cup.
Wash and let to sit.
Meanwhile heat ghee/butter, season with jeera, ginger, whole or powdered pepper, turmeric, asafoetida.
Add 3.5 cups water and let boil. Add the rice, dal, saute for a bit.
Stir in salt, cover and allow to simmer for 10-12 mts.
Can also add sauteed cashewnuts to the mixture, either with the rice and dal or after the Pongal is cooked.
Season mustard, asafoetida, channa dal, toor dal, turmeric, fenugreek seeds, then add 3 green chillies, one red chilly,some ginger, add one onion, saute, add 2 tomatoes (I added one fresh and 2-3 tbsps of canned tomato),saute, add tamarind water as is necessary, let it simmer and thicken.
Tamarind water: About 2 cups water, with one tea spoon tamarind paste.
Aug 27. The dal seems a little kadak.Flavorful though.
Oct 15. Made it with 2 cups- 1 cup rice and 1 cup of mixed daal. Also added maybe 6.5 cups of water. Turned out to be perfect Pongal consistency. Allowed to cook for probably 20 mts. Made it in the cooker.
Had also allowed the rice and daal to rest for atleast 3-4 hours.
Note: I looked high and low for this recipe's inspiration. Have not found the link yet. The gotsu is adapted from Gemini Mahadevan's "Samaikalaame"