Ven Pongal is a satisfying tiffin dish that is eaten for breakfast in South India. The rice and lentils are generously seasoned with curry leaves, cumin seeds and black pepper. My family loves this hearty, gluten free, vegetarian meal for lunch and dinner.
Traditionally made using multiple pots, I love this quick one pot recipe using the Instant Pot Pressure Cooker. The low pressure rice setting on the Instant Pot is perfect to cook soft rice and lentils with a lighter texture. Served hot with coconut Chutney and Sambar, this ghee-laced dish makes a delightful lazy weekend brunch.
What is Pongal?
Pongal is a popular South Indian Rice and Lentil dish. Pongal is usually made in 2 versions, savory and sweet. The Savory Pongal is known as Ven Pongal, Khara Pongal or Ghee Pongal. The sweet pongal is known as Sakkarai Pongal and you can find an incredibly delicious recipe for it in The Essential Indian Instant Pot Cookbook.
Pongal is also a 4 day long harvest festival celebrated during the month of January in Tamil Nadu, South India. On Pongal day fresh milk is heated and allowed to boil over the pot, a tradition that translates to the word “Pongal”. Different rice dishes are cooked using this boiled milk and shared with family and friends.
While Pongal is celebrated in South India, in Western Maharashtra where I grew up, we celebrate Makar Sankranti with foods like Bhogichi Bhaji (mixed vegetables curry), Tilachi Chikki (sesame crisps) and Gul Poli (sweet sesame parathas).
Story behind my Easy Instant Pot Ven Pongal Recipe:
In the winter of 2018, while I was working on developing recipes for my cookbook, my friends mother in law was visiting the US. I was lucky that she gave me hours of her time, over several days, teaching me many of my favorite South Indian recipes. She patiently worked with me as I perfected each recipe using the Instant Pot.
This authentic Ven Pongal Recipe is one of her recipes that we developed together. She not only shared many interesting stories behind South Indian cooking but also gave me all the tips and tricks to make the most delicious Pongal.
I am grateful for her time and expertise, it was a memorable experience learning South Indian recipes from a pro. I have four of her recipes published in my The Essential Indian Instant Pot Cookbook.
Here are some of the key ingredients, we add make this dish most flavorful, authentic and nutritious:
- Homemade Ghee – Check out this Homemade Instant Pot Ghee Recipe
- Fresh Curry Leaves – A must have fresh herb in South Indian cooking available in Indian and Asian grocery stores
- Cumin Seeds – Adds warm flavors and earthy tones
- Ginger – Fresh ginger adds fiery, pungent flavors
- Black Pepper – Add intense aroma, depth and heat
- Hing or Asafetida – Essential spice in South Indian cooking, after adding to ghee mellows into a musky aroma with smooth umami flavors
Are you interesting in learning more about Indian Spices? Check out all the spices I like to keep in my pantry in this Essential Indian Spice Guide.
Ven Pongal Variations:
- Vegan Ven Pongal – substitute neutral vegetable oil or coconut oil for the ghee
- Quinoa Ven Pongal – rinse the quinoa 2 to 3 times. Reduce water to 3 cups and follow rest of the recipe
- Brown Rice Ven Pongal – Add 3.5 cups of water, increase the pressure cooking time to 20 minutes and cook at high pressure
Here is how to make Ven Pongal in the Instant Pot Pressure Cooker:
Step 1: Sautés cashews and make tadka
Step 1: Select the high Saute setting on the Instant Pot and heat 1 tablespoon of the ghee. Add the cashews and sauté until they start to turn golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the cashews to a small bowl. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons ghee, the ginger, cumin seeds, peppercorns, ground pepper, and curry leaves directly to the hot ghee at the bottom of edges of the pot and sauté until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Transfer the tadka to the bowl with the cashews and set aside (photos 1 – 4).
Step 2: Pressure cook rice and lentils
Add the moong daal to the now-empty Instant Pot and saute until toasted, about 1 minute. Next, add rice, salt, and hing; pour in the water; and stir to combine. Secure the lid and set the pressure release too Sealing. Press the cancel button to reset the cooking program, then select the Rice setting and set the cooking time for 12 minutes at low pressure (photos 5 – 8).
Step 3: Stir in cashews and tadka
Allow 10 minutes of natural pressure release, then move the pressure release valve to Venting to release any remaining steam. Press the cancel button to turn off the Instant Pot. Open the Pot and stir in the reserved cashews and tadka (photos 9 – 10).
Enjoy hot with coconut chutney!
Note: Ven Pongal is best enjoyed immediately. As it cools down the lentils will continue to absorb the moisture making the dish more thick or dry. To reheat simply add some water to bring it back to the stew like consistency.
Here is the Coconut Chutney recipe to serve with Pongal:
- In a blender or food processor blend coconut, roasted chana daal, cumin seeds, green chiles, ginger and cilantro with 1/4 cup of water. Make a smooth paste, add more water as needed. Make a smooth paste.
- Heat oil, add black mustard seeds and allow them to pop. Add pinch of hing/asafetida.
- Pour this hot oil over the blended chutney and mix well before serving.
Did you enjoy the South Indian flavors in this Veg Pongal? Check out some of my favorite Vegetarian South Indian dishes
- Bisi Bele Bhath – spicy, flavor packed rice and lentils cooked with vegetables
- Veg Kurma – mixed vegetables cooked in a creamy coconut cashew based sauce
- Curd Rice – savory yogurt and rice
Curious about all the lentils and beans used in Indian cooking? Check out my Guide to Essential Indian Lentils and Beans.
Do you love the idea of one pot meals for weeknights? Here are some gluten free rice and lentil dishes, known as Khichdi or Kitchari that are on repeat at my home:
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Ven Pongal with coconut chutney
- 1 cup short grain rice amber more or kala jeera
- 4 tablespoons ghee
- 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped raw cashews
- 2 teaspoons ginger grated
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 20 curry leaves chopped
- 1/2 cup moong daal
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon asafetida hing
- 4.5 cups water
- Measure the rice into a wire-mesh strainer, then rinse under running water for 10 seconds, swishing it around. Drain and set aside.
- Select the high Saute setting on the Instant Pot and heat 1 tablespoon of the ghee. Add the cashews and saute until they start to turn golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the cashews to a small bowl.
- Add the remaining 3 tablespoons ghee, the ginger, cumin seeds, peppercorns, ground pepper, and curry leaves directly to the hot ghee at the bottom of edges of the pot and sauté until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Transfer the tadka to the bowl with the cashews and set aside.
- Add the moong daal to the now-empty Instant Pot and saute until toasted, about 1 minute. Add rice, salt, and hing; pour in the water; and stir to combine.
- Secure the lid and set the pressure release too Sealing. Press the cancel button to reset the cooking program, then select the Rice setting and set the cooking time for 12 minutes at low pressure.
- Let the pressure release naturally for 10 minutes, then move the pressure release to Venting to release any remaining steam. Press the cancel button to turn off the Instant Pot. Open the Pot and stir in the reserved cashews and tadka. Enjoy hot!
- In a blender or food processor blend coconut, roasted chana daal, cumin seeds, green chiles, ginger and cilantro with 1/4 cup of water. Make a smooth paste, add more water as needed
- Heat oil, add 1mustard seeds and allow them to pop. Add hing/asafetida
- Pour this hot oil over the blended chutney and mix well before serving