If Yogurt rice occupies the # 1 spot in a South Indian's list of food faves, then 'Venn Pongal' is usually with in the top five list of comfort foods. Almost every South Indian reading this post has some story about a weekend brunch comprising of a large dollop of steaming hot & thick porridge of rice & tasted moong dal, with a side of crisp Medu Vada with an almost unlimited supply of tangy piquant Coconut chutney to go with it. the added bonus was licking the plate clean!
I had been toying with the idea of bringing out a series of dishes using grits & Yellow corn meal for sometime, but the push to get going never came until Shaila Ballal Nigam posted her delish recipe for Cornmeal Dhokhla a week ago. I promise that I'll recreate that recipe & post it.... as soon as I finish up this batch of hominy grits that I have on hand!
Back to Venn Pongal, as I said, Its a mix of well (even slightly overcooked) rice & moong dal ( which is the quickest cooking of all the lentils in the typical South indian pantry). Precooking the lentils makes sure that the cornmeal can cook to perfection without under cooking the lentils. the toasted lentils give final dish a subtle nutty flavor and that complements the rich aroma of melted ghee (clarified butter) that is used to finish the polenta. The dish is spiced with Cumin & black peppercorn and ginger & curry leaves round off the flavor profile.
Cornmeal or Grits is a staple used widely in Africa & the Americas. for details, check out (yeah yeah, you know where!!) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornmeal. Polenta is a classic Italian dish made from yellow cornmeal.
Necessity being the mother of invention never applied more than using corn maize as a substitute for rice. My first recollection of this was in the 70's when South Indian housewives living in Kenya used maize meal as a rice substitute for making Idli/ Dosa batter, & they probably still do even today. Just soak the same amount of cornmeal as rice in water & add to the Urad dal batter.
For the Venn Polenta you need: (4 servings)
1/2 cup cornmeal grits (the white variety)
1/4 cup cooked Moong dal, slightly toasted
a pinch of turmeric
2 cups water
8-10 whole peppercorns
1/2 tsp cumin coarsely powdered
1/4 tsp Pepper coarsely powdered
6-8 curry leaves, torn
Salt to taste
1inch piece fresh ginger root, finely grated
5-6 cashew nuts, broken
3 tsp ghee.
Combine the dal, grits & the turmeric to the water & set to cook on the stove top. cook till the water is absorbed & the consistency is that of a tick yet ever so slightly runny porridge.
In a small skillet heat 1 tsp of ghee and add the whole peppercorns. stir for a minute before adding the other ingredients (except the remaining ghee)Stir well for a minute until the spices give off their characteristic aroma. Add to the polenta and mix well till thoroughly combined. Finish with the remaining ghee,
Stir well & pour out into a greased pan. Leave to cool & set.
When the polenta sets, cut into triangles & serve with a chutney or Sambhar of your choice. I've paired this with Eggplant 'Gothsu' which will be posted immediately after this recipe.
Pair with a steaming hot cup of Filter coffee for a perfect weekend brunch! Bon Appetit!