Sweet Pongal (Huggi)

Jan/14/2021 / by Malathy Chandrasekhar
Sweet Pongal (Huggi)

Jaggery-Based Dishes

I have an honest confession that may annoy several of my friends with severe sweet teeth (is this a plural of ‘sweet tooth’?). I’ve never liked most desserts and have rarely craved for anything sweet. I have been told that would change as I grew older and my hair turned grayer, but that has not happened yet. Oh, the graying has certainly happened….but the craving hasn’t. I recall, for a milestone birthday, my husband threw me a surprise party. In addition to a heavenly Chantilly cake from Whole Foods, my cousin/friend baked me a spicy carrot cake with veggies! I’d probably be her only customer if she bakes it again.

That said, there are exceptions to every rule. When it comes to desserts made out of jaggery (sugar molasses), I sing a different tune. I looked forward to festivals when my mom would make jaggery based dishes like Bele Obattu (puran poli or sweet crepes made from lentils and jaggery). Gulpaavatae (jaggery-sweetened coconut cream of wheat balls smothered with nuts and raisins) was another favorite. Yet another was Hesarubele Payasa (lentils cooked in coconut milk and jaggery). Yeriappa (a deep-fried pancake with rice flour and ripe bananas) was welcome too as was Haalbai (jaggery and coconut yumminess) and this recipe, Huggi (rice/dal cooked with jaggery).

Traditions Behind Huggi

Huggi was a staple at our home for Sankranthi, which is celebrated throughout India between Jan 13 and January 15. If my memory serves me right, this is the only festival in the Hindu calendar that does not follow the Lunar Calendar. It marks the first day of sun’s transit into the Makara (Capricorn), heralding the end of the winter solstice and the start of longer days.

As many as there are languages in India, this festival too is called by different names. In South India, I remember courtyards with cow-dung balls (Gobbemmalu) decorated with marigold flowers, placed amidst stunning hand-drawn designs (Rangoli). It may seem like a yuck factor while reading this, but trust me, there was nothing disgusting about them then. Their purpose was to invite prosperity and bliss into one’s home. These dung balls were decorated with turmeric powder, red vermilion powder and several types of grains. On the day prior to Sankrathi, little girls were dressed in their traditional best and older women poured berries, flowers, and currency coins over their heads to bless them. These traditions are still alive in many homes.

Fond Childhood Memories

For Sankranthi, my mom, in the traditional Karnataka style, would make ‘Eellu-Bella‘. This was a mixture of white sesame seeds (Eellu), roasted split chana dal, small pieces of dry coconut, and finely cut jaggery pieces (Bella). For the ritual of ‘Ellu Birodu‘, my sister and I dressed in Jari Langas (silk skirts) and visited our neighbors’ homes to distribute the Ellu-Bella, Sakkare Acchu (sugar candy moulds) with pieces of raw sugarcane. There is a saying in Kannada “ellu bella thindu olle maathadi” that translates to ‘eat the mixture of sesame seeds and jaggery and speak only good.’

Delicious Sweet Pongal Huggi

Anyway, back to Sweet Pongal (Huggi). It is pronounced Who-ggi. I love that we can regulate the amount of jaggery. This is important if you are mindful of your sugar intake. Raisins, coconut milk, and fresh grated coconut add their own sweetness to this dessert, so you really do not need to go gaga and pour in a whole lot of jaggery into it. The rice and dal play very well on the palate. The crunch of cashews, and the wonderful fragrance of saffron strands add to the wow factor. It is very easy to make, and this time, I used the Instant Pot to make the dish. It saved me so much time and needless dish washing.

Why is this Healthy?

The one big thing this dish has going for it is the major rush of endorphins that are released when you are eating a dish – even if it is a dessert – that has no preservatives or additives. The good fats in ghee and coconut provide numerous health benefits. Plus, jaggery is far less processed than white sugar, so definitely less guilt!

Sweet Pongal (Huggi) Recipe

This is an easy-to-make decadent dessert traditionally made during festive season in South India featuring rice, lentils, coconut milk and jaggery.

Course: Dessert, Snack

Cuisine: Indian; Karnataka

Special Diet: Gluten Free, Nut Free, Vegan, Vegetarian

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 45 minutes

Servings: 6 People

Calories: 213kcal


Instant Pot (IP)


1/4 Cup Yellow Mung – Yellow split lentils
1/4 Cup Rice – Basmati or any other
5-6 Black Pepper – Whole peppercorns
1.5 Cups Coconut Milk – Full fat. You can also use Dairy milk or water
1 Tablespoon Ghee – Clarified butter; additional ghee to serve; Use Coconut Oil for Vegans
1/4 Teaspoon Turmeric Powder
2 Tablespoon Grated Coconut – Fresh (Save half for garnishing)
2 Tablespoon Jaggery – More, if you prefer it sweeter
1/2 Teaspoon Cardamom – Freshly powdered
6-10 Strands Saffron
1 Tablespoon Cashew Nuts – Halved or quartered; skip for nut allergies
1 Tablespoon Raisins


Turn Instant Pot on Sauté mode. Dry roast split yellow mung dal (without oil) until it turns light brown and loses its raw smell – 5 minutes approximately. Do not let it turn brown.
Add washed and drained rice to the IP.

Add turmeric, grated fresh coconut, peppercorns, 1 tsp. ghee, jaggery and saffron.
Add coconut milk. Pressure-cook in Instant Pot for 8 minutes under High-Pressure (if your IP has the Rice option, then turn on that option. It cooks under low pressure for 12 minutes) or cook on an open flame stirring occasionally until rice and lentils are fully cooked.

Meanwhile, heat ghee in a small pan. Roast cashew nut and raisins until nuts are lightly browned and the raisins puff up.

Powder cardamom seeds using a small coffee grinder, or use a mortar and pestle.
Allow the IP to release pressure on its own. Open the lid and mix well. The consistency should be softly mush but not runny. If it is too dry, add a little more dairy or coconut milk. Taste and add jaggery if you prefer it to be sweeter.
Add roasted cashew nuts, raisins, 1 tablespoon freshly grated coconut.
Mix well and serve hot with additional ghee.


*Use organic ingredients wherever possible

Recipes featured on Healthy Indian, your resource for nutritious recipes and lifestyle topics like Ayurveda, Yoga, and Gardening for a balanced mind, body and spirit.


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