When I first saw the notice for The Foodbuzz 24 x 24 I was intrigued. Who wouldn't be? 24 people hosting 24 events all over the world on the same day. I immediately decided to enter. Then I thought wait a minute, if I enter and I'm picked, I really have to do this thing. I have do it and then post about it the next day. That's work. My life is about deadlines, script deadlines. Could I handle one more? Okay I thought. I'll send in an idea. I've always wanted to do an Indian Pongal feast with all the trimmings. I drew up a menu, imagined my perfect evening and sent it off.
A few hours later I started to get nervous. What had I gotten myself into? It's one thing to cook for oneself. It's a totally an other thing to cook for a deadline. I took a deep breath. Oh well, there's a lot of people entering. They won't pick me anyway. Well, they did. All of a sudden I was staring down the barrel of a full-on Indian Pongal Feast.Who doesn't love Thanksgiving? Turkey with all the trimmings, stuffing and the bounty of the seasons, vegetables, mince pie, pumpkin pie, the groaning board and the groaning pants buttons when all is done. Well, even though Americans celebrate Thanksgiving on one day in November, it's actually always Thanksgiving somewhere. So just when you thought all your holiday eating was done, allow me to show you a totally different Thanksgiving experience. Pongal. In the Tamil language, the word ponggal means to "boil over" and milk boiling over in a pot is the symbol of a new year's prosperity as shown in the video below as women race to see whos' clay pot boils over first.
Thanks is given to the sun god and to the various farm animals that have contributed to a successful and plentiful year for a successful harvest. Of course as in any Thanksgiving or Harvest festival, one of the main attractions is the food and everyone is included, even the local elephants who have a feast of sugar cane.
After seeing how elaborately they decorate for this holiday in Tamil Nadu, I figured that I'd better get my ass in gear decor-wise. This is not a couple of pumpkins in a basket and a folding cardboard turkey kind of feast. These guys are serious about how things look. Of course who better to be my in-house out-of-house decorator than Mr. X who has recently returned from his annual visit with friends in Trivandrum.
We have a very large dining room table made out of 100 year old, reclaimed barn wood. It's a little hard finding a proper table cloth for it let alone something fitting for a pongal revel. Of course he had the answer. 30 years ago he'd bought a hand printed bedspread, a Kalamkari print. It was gorgeous.
I immediately said "No! What if I spill something on it?"
He said "How do you know what happened on this bedspread? Okay I thought, now there's no way I'm using this thing. After reassuring me that the bedspread was pristine and table worthy, and after I promised to make sure there wouldn't be turmeric drippings all over it at the end of the feast, I accepted.
He also offered me a 200 year old Chinese made jar that he'd found in Kerala as my centerpiece. It was gorgeous. How could I say no, even after he told me it might be haunted.
To hear some of the sounds of my 24 x24 Pongal Feast listen to a bit of Tamil Music Talattu Pada
The only other thing left to figure out was the menu. Since this is a harvest feast celebrating the bounty of the land, the menu is vegetarian and as I discovered, also gluten-free, another plus.
I did a lot of research as to what dishes are traditionally served for Pongal feasts and of course that's like asking what Americans serve for Thanksgiving. It depends. It depends on family favorites, what crops are grown, what seems good at the time, and of course like here, what Amma (Mamma) used to make.
Where turkey is the mainstay of American-style Thanksgivings, the heart of the Pongal feast is rice. My Pongal feast was no exception. I love the individual clay brams I was able to find at Bram Cookware they made my holiday thali complete.
Spicy Tamarind Sambar
Apple Tomato chutney
and for dessert
Vermicelli Payasam with raisins and cashews.
My biggest challenge, and the one dish I was dreading making, was the traditional Indian Vadai or little dal donuts. I'm not used to deep frying, but surprise of surprises, thanks to advice I got from various Indian internet friends, they turned out beautifully.
I made a list that I stuck to the fridge with a magnet to make sure I was on course. It gave me a feeling of accomplishment and it worked! For once I was able to greet my guests in a non-sweaty, relaxed manner, in a clean and sparkling blingy khameeze. Ready for fun.
Covey Run Gewurztraminer Columbia Valley 2008 and an assortment of Indian beers
Since sweet pongal rice pudding is often served with this meal, and since I was already doing a big rice dish as an entree, I looked for alternatives. I found it in a vermicelli pudding with roasted cashews and plump raisins, served with a hot milk chai it was simply divine.
Afterward I collapsed, contemplating the clean up of an army of clay pots which could not be run through the dishwasher.
I'll be posting the recipes for all of these wonderful vegetarian dishes in the days to come, as soon as I get done washing dishes.
I want to thank Foodbuzz for giving me the opportunity to share this meal with my friends and family and with all of you.