Global Cafe-Harvest Celebration

Thank you to our international students and staff who contributed recipes and stories about their culture's and country of origin's harvest festivals!

Try a new recipe this winter!

Collage of three international dishes: a rice and cashew dish, pancake and green lentil-based dish

Pongal Sweet Dish
Submitted by Vishnuprabu Durairaj Pandian, School of Medicine.

Pongal (பொங்கல்), also referred to as Thai Pongal (தைப்பொங்கல்), is a Tamil harvest festival of South India, particularly in the Tamil community. It is observed at the start of the month Tai according to Tamil solar calendar and this is typically about January 14. It is dedicated to the sun god. According to tradition, the festival marks the end of winter solstice and the start of the sun's six-month-long journey northwards. The festival is named after the ceremonial "Pongal", which means "to boil, overflow" and refers to the traditional dish prepared from the new harvest of rice boiled in milk with jaggery (raw sugar).

To mark the festival, the pongal sweet dish is prepared, first offered to the Sun god and to the Cattles (Steers and Cows) which are the backbone of agriculture and then shared by family and friends. Festive celebrations include decorating cows and their horns. It is traditionally an occasion for decorating the front yard of house with rice-powder based kolam artworks, chewing the raw sugar canes and enjoy the sugar juice from it, offering prayers in the home and temples; getting together with family and friends; exchanging sweet pongal; and renewing social bonds of solidarity.

Vishnuprabu shared that in Tamil language Thirukkural is one of the oldest literature dated 300 BCE. It was written by Thiruvalluvar and consists of 1330 couplets, each written with just seven words, but each couplet has immense meaning for our life. One of his couplets (#1031) is about farming: "The world tails the plough despite other pursuit Even if one toils, farming remains foremost." In our Tamil ethnic culture, farming is considered as the most prestigious profession, since only a farmer can kill the worst disease of the world: hunger.

"This Pongal festival celebrates farmers and that is the foremost reason I chose this. Also, the recipe is very simple and more delicious. Pongal the festival and the dish is always special to all Tamilans in the entire world," Vishnuprabu  said. "Pongalo Pongal!"

Rice and cashew dish in a bowl

Pongal Sweet Dish

1/2 cup raw rice
1/4 cup moong dal/pasi paruppu (split & skinned green gram or yellow lentils)
1 cup grated jaggery (raw sugar) 
2 tbsp. cashew nuts
2-3 tbsp. raisins
4 pods or 1/4 tsp. powdered cardamom
1/4 cup ghee/clarified butter
1/2 tsp. ghee (for jaggery syrup)


  1. Dry roast rice and dal separately until hot to touch. It is not necessary to fry until it changes color.
  2. Pressure cook rice and dal together with 2 1/2 cups of water. Mash it well and keep it aside. (This water quantity is for aged rice. For new rice, add only 2 cups of water.)
  3. If using cardamom pods, peel and powder cardamom. Keep it aside.
  4. Heat 1/4 cup of water in a pan and add jaggery to it. When it dissolves, filter it to remove impurities.
  5. Boil jaggery water with a tsp. of ghee on medium heat. Take a cup of water, add a tsp. of jaggery syrup to it. If it does not dissolve, then it is the right stage to add mashed rice and dal. (Do not boil the jaggery water until it reaches sticky or stringy consistency).
  6. Add mashed rice, dal mixture and cook for a few minutes until everything gets blended and sprinkle cardamom powder at this stage.
  7. Fry cashew nuts in a tsp. of ghee. Remove from pan and add to the rice dal mixture.
    Add the rest of the ghee and fry raisins until they puff up and add it to the rice dal mixture along with ghee.
  8. Cook for a few minutes on low heat until everything gets blended well. Serve hot
    Enjoy delicious Sakkarai pongal!

Sarson ka Saag
Submitted by Sandeepan Bhatia, School of Medicine

Lohri, one of the most popular festivals of north India, is primarily celebrated in Punjab (North India). The festival marks the end of the winter solstice and harvesting of the rabi crops. The festival is celebrated every year on January 13. On Lohri, the farmers pray and show gratitude for their crops before the harvesting begins and pray to Lord Agni (Fire) to bless their land with abundance. They chant folk songs while moving around the fire.

Green colored Sarson ka Saag dish in bowl with spoon

Sarson ka Saag

A winter delicacy made in North India with fresh mustard leaves and other greens and other leafy vegetables. Making sarson ka saag is super easy, it’s only the prep work that takes time.



I usually use a 2:1 ratio of mustard greens to other greens.

1000g or 2 lbs. mustard green leaves

500g or 1lb. other greens (spinach, rapini leaves, broccoli, small radish with leaves). Radish is optional but brings good flavor.

2 onions

2-3 tomatoes

15-20 cloves garlic

2-2.5 inch ginger root

green chilies, to taste

1-2 pinches asafetida/hing powder


red chili powder, to taste


For Tadka/Tempering

2-3 tbsp. Desi Ghee/butter/mustard oil (to taste)

2-3 dried whole red chili, to taste 

1 onion, finely chopped

5-7 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tomato, finely chopped

2 cups cooked sag/puree


  1. Chop off the long stems / lower ends of the leaves and discard, clean all the greens thoroughly with water drain to drain off all the soil and debris if any (recommended cleaning 4-5 times in bowl full of water)
  2. Chop everything in small pieces, and put them in pressure cooker.
  3. Add salt, green chilies, red chili powder and asafetida (1-2 pinch) as per your taste.
  4. Add some water, Cover and pressure cook for 6-7 minutes or more till the greens become soft. You can also cook in a pan. Cover and let the greens cook till they become soft.
  5. When you open the lid, you will see the greens, onions, tomatoes etc. all have cooked well. Let the green mixture warm or cool and come at the room temperature
  6. Once cool enough to handle, grind them in a blander (hand hold blender can be used). Blend till smooth. I usually make a smooth puree. Some like a coarse texture, so you decide how you want your saag. Its good idea to blended in batches. Add maize flour (makai ka Atta) 0.5-1 cup blend it well with puree.
  7. Now pour the greens puree in a pan. I used the pressure cooker as while simmering the saag, it bubbles and splutters. So be careful and use a deep pan. Simmer it for a good 25-30 minutes or till it becomes thick in consistency. Stir occasionally so that the saag does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Check the seasoning and add more salt if required. once cooled, the saag can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge. Sarson ka saag tastes even better the next day, at least that’s what I prefer

Tadka/Tempering (the most important and crucial steps)

  1. Temper the saag with onions, garlic cloves, tomato, red chili. Traditionally, Desi Ghee/butter is used but I like tadka with mustard oil. You can temper with some ginger, green chilies and tomatoes along with the onions. The amount of oil/ghee and onions to be added depends on the portions of saag you will be serving. For 2-3 servings, 1-2 tbsp. oil with 1 medium sized onion.
  2. Pour oil/ghee/butter to taste and heat it up (if using mustard oil let it heat up till you can smell it). Break down 1-2 red dried chili with fingers and add, followed by chopped onion and garlic. When light brown, add chopped tomato and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Finally, add cooked sarson ka saag/puree and simmer for 1-2 minutes.
  3. Serve the hot sarson ka saag saag straight away (I prefer topped with butter) with makki di roti. Nothing beats this combination! But you can also serve sarson ka saag with parathas and steamed rice.


Home Style Okonomiyaki (Japanese Savory Pancake)
Submitted by Mio Kamijo, Office of International Services

Once every seven years, my hometown of Suwa in Nagano, Japan has a very unique harvest festival: the Onbashira Festival. During this festival, thousands of local people participate in Yamadashi and Satobiki, events that involve moving 16 massive fir tree trunks from the surrounding mountains to the Shrines of Suwa. As a form of spiritual renewal of the holy site, 16 fir trees have to be harvested in order to replace the old pillars at the shrine complex. The next festival is scheduled for 2022.

Usually, autumn is the season for harvest festivals everywhere in Japan. Wherever the festival is held, you will always find many types of street foods, similar to food trucks in the U.S. Okonomiyaki (Japanese savory pancake) is a typical street food in Japan. It tastes good, is easy to make and is filling.

Mio shared that she chose the Onbashira Festival because: "It is not only a unique festival, but I also enjoy this festival because I can meet a lot of friends and relatives. When you are away from your hometown, it is hard to get together with others, but this festival makes me reunite with them."

You can find more information about the Onbashira Festival here.

A pancake with icing stripes on a plate.

Home Style Okonomiyaki (Japanese Savory Pancake)

Ingredients (serves 3)

1 cup flour (4 oz)

¾ cup water (6.5 oz)

1.5 tsp. fish stock (if possible)

sunflower oil

10.5 oz shredded green cabbage

2 green onions or 1/2 shredded yellow onion

2 eggs

120g sliced meat (chicken, pork, beef, bacon or Tofu)

Otafuku Vegetable Source (available at H-Mart)

Kewipie Japanese Mayonnaise (available at H-Mart)

Red pickled ginger (available at H-Mart)

Dried Bonito flakes


Instructions (make one pancake at a time)

  1. Mix flour and water in large bowl. If you have fish stock, mix it together with the water first.
  2. Cook sliced meat with 1 tsp. sunflower oil in frying pan.
  3. Add shredded cabbage, onion, egg and cooked meat in flour dough and mix all together.
  4. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in large frying pan on medium.
  5. Spread one scoop of pancake batter in a pre-heated frying pan for approximately 3 minutes or until the bottom turns brown.
  6. Turn it over and cook for another 4 minutes.
  7. Turn it over again and cook for additional 2-3 minutes covering with lid.
  8. Transfer the pancake to a plate and drizzle vegetable source over the pancake, then mayonnaise in the same way and top with a sprinkle of dried bonito flakes and red pickled ginger.