January is the harvest time in Tamil Nadu. Pongal is the harvest festival and is the most important festival for Tamilians. It is celebrated on the first of the Tamil month Thai, which usually falls on January 14th or 15th. Pongal is the name of the dish made to celebrate the harvest and gets its name from the boiling over of the rice. Traditionally it is cooked in the front yard of the house on firewood, in a new mud pot. I modified the traditional recipe for those who do not have front yards, firewood, or mud pots.
Back in the day, a Christian wedding in Thirunelveli would last 3 days: the day before the ceremony, the day of the ceremony, and the day after the ceremony. Only vegetarian food was served on the first two days, with meat being reserved for the day after the ceremony. Guests sat on jamakkalams (Tamil Nadu cotton carpets) laid on the floor, and the vegetarian feast was served on a plantain leaf. Generally, the salt is always served first, and a tablespoon of this dhal is served after it. The other vegetables, pickles, appalams, etc., are served only after these two. When sambar is served for the rice, this dhal is again served in large quantities. The first tablespoon of dhal is served as a nod to its significance as an important source of protein in a vegetarian diet, and is therefore served immediately after salt even though its actual role in the meal comes later.
When my daughter’s doctor prescribed very bland food (for an Indian) as part of her treatment for a gastric condition, I looked around for a preparation that would be easy to digest and provide very good quality protein. I found that she was able to tolerate cauliflower, eggs, and cheese. I also love cauliflower and cheese and found recipes for the elaborate cauliflower au gratin, but I wanted something simpler. The Complete Australian Cookbook in my personal library gave me a recipe for cauliflower and cheese. I modified the recipe using some features from the au gratin and made the measurements of the ingredients easier. I also omitted the heating of the cheese with the white sauce because of the stringy texture it gives. Instead I sprinkled the cheese on top, and it not only gave a beautiful colour, but also a delicious aroma while baking.