Savoury Steamed Cake — Dhokla

I’m always on the look out for something savoury and spicy to eat for breakfast and this fits the bill perfectly. It’s a Gujarati snack and Gujarati snacks are the best, in my opinion! They always seem to capture the best in crunchy, sweet, salty, hot and spicy and go exceptionally well with a nice cup of tea (or cold beer!) A lot of Gujarati snacks are deep fried, but this one is steamed and made of lentils – it’s pretty much a health food!

Gujarati’s are very proud of their Dhokla, like British people are proud of their Victoria sandwiches. Everyone who makes Dhokla will have their own ‘special’ twist to make it the best. I’ve tried lots of them and they all do differ – some are light and fluffy, some are dense and chewy, some are fiery hot, some are just savoury. All of them were delicious – it’s tangy and savoury all at the same time. You have to let go of the fact that it looks like the top layer of a Victoria Sandwich with a coconut topping and embrace the fact that when you bite into it, it’s savoury, spicy and nothing like a sweet cake! The more you make Dhokla, the more you can experiment.

Dhokla is best served freshly made, or possibly eaten the next day. Store any leftovers in an air tight container and if eating the next day, make sure that you blast it in the microwave for 20 seconds to warm it through and make it soft again before you serve it.

There are a couple of different ingredients which you may have to get, but none of them are expensive. You’ll probably need to go to your nearest Indian grocery store to find them though.

Different thing #1

Asafoetida (aka ‘hing’). This is a powdered resin from a plant that comes from Afghanistan. Some people think it has an unpleasant smell.  I totally disagree – it is pungent, but I think it smells similar to a truffle with a deep, savoury, garlicky smell. This is the flavour it imparts – just a small amount makes you think that a dish has garlic in it, even when it hasn’t. It’s used extensively in Jain cooking who avoid garlic and onions in their cooking because it arouses passion! It’s sold in little yellow pots and costs around a pound.

Different thing #2

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Eno (a medicine!) Those of a ‘certain age’ will remember being given this as children when you had an upset tummy. Although it seems very strange to be putting medicine in your cooking, don’t worry. The ingredients in Enos are just good old bicarbonate of soda and citric acid which gives it a lemony flavour, along with the scary sounding ‘anhydrous sodium carbonate’, which is a common food agent which just stops powdery things stop clumping together. The acid and bicarb are in the perfect quantities to give your dhokla a bit of a fruity tang along with a raising agent to make it fluffy. It’s also handy to keep in for upset tummies! The only place you seem to be able to buy this now, is in Indian grocery stores. I’ve tried various chemists and they only stock Andrews which isn’t the same as it has a proper ‘medicine’ ingredient in it that shouldn’t be used for cooking! If you really can’t find it, you can use plain old bicarbonate of soda and a squeeze of lemon juice, instead.

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Different thing #3

Moong dal (lentils). These are Mung beans which have had their green husks taken off and split into two. They’re tiny and don’t need to be cooked in this recipe before you use them.

The topping (this is known as the Tarka or Tadka) for the Dhokla is optional, but it’s just not the same without it. It only takes 1tblsp oil to spread over the whole cake and you can use whichever oil you want. Although to be authentic, it should be a fairly flavourless oil such as sunflower/vegetable/rapeseed/groundnut. Feel free just to scatter the topping without the oil, if you’re on a strict healthy diet, although remember that this feeds at least 5 people.

HOW TO MAKE DHOKLA

1 cup of moong dal

1-5 green chillies (depends how much heat you like!)

1tsp finely grated ginger

1 heaped tsp sugar

3tblsp plain yogurt

1tblsp oil

A good pinch of asafoetida (aka hing) (you can buy asafoetida on our Ebay shop here)

1/2tsp turmeric (optional)

1-2tsp salt (to taste)

1 large tsp Eno or bicarbonate of soda

For the topping: (if you don’t have any of these, leave them out or buy them here Sally & Stef Spices)

1tsp mustard seed

1tsp sesame seed

1/2 – 1 finely chopped green chilli

1tblsp coriander chopped

Pinch of asafoetida

1tblsp lemon juice

1tsp desiccated coconut

1-2 tblsp oil

Soak the moong dal in enough cold water to come 5cm above the dal. Soak for at least 3 hours, or overnight.

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Drain the dal and put them in a food processor along with the roughly chopped green chillies (I use 3 or 4 depending on how hot they are). Blend until the mixture is smooth. You can add a splash of water if needed to make the processing easier.

Put the mixture into a bowl and add the ginger, sugar, yogurt, 1tblsp oil, asafoetida, turmeric (if using) and salt. Taste for salt and heat. Add more of either if necessary. You can add a little more yogurt or a little sifted chickpea flour (if you have any) to adjust the batter if you need to. It should be thicker than pancake batter, but not as thick as cake mixture. Mix thoroughly. You can now cover with clingfilm and leave this somewhere cool overnight if you want to cook it fresh for breakfast or use it straight away. There’s no need to refrigerate as it will start to ferment slightly which improves the flavour.

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Leave the mixture to one side while you prepare to cook the Dhokla. Very lightly grease a Victoria Sandwich tin and find a saucepan that it will fit inside of. Practice this bit before you have hot water in the saucepan. If you have a steamer that the tin will fit inside of, even better – it doesn’t have to be a round tin. If using a saucepan, put something like a metal cookie cutter in the middle of the saucepan so that the sandwich tin won’t be sitting on the bottom of the pan. Fold some tin foil into a long strip so that you can put it under the sandwich tin and to use as handles hanging over the edge of the saucepan, to help you lift it in and out of boiling water without hurting yourself. You’ll need boiling water to cook the Dhokla, so practice how much water you need to put in, enough to cover the metal cookie cutter. Wrap the lid in a clean tea towel so that any condensation is absorbed and won’t fall onto the dhokla.

Put the amount of water that you practiced with (plus a splash more, you don’t want the pan to boil dry), into the saucepan and let it simmer while you get everything ready.

Stir the mixture once more and then add the Eno or bicarb. Stir thoroughly, but be quick. Pour the now bubbly mixture into the sandwich tin with the folded tin foil underneath. Using the foil, gently lower the tin onto the cookie cutter. Let the ends of the foil strip hang over the side of the saucepan and cover with the wrapped up lid (make sure the tea towel that the lid is wrapped in has the ends piled on top of the lid, well away from the heat source so it doesn’t catch fire!).

While the dhokla is cooking prepare the topping. Collect all of the ingredients together and have them ready.

Keep the pan simmering and covered (don’t peep) for 18-20 minutes until the dhokla is risen and spongy when you gently press it.

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Using a toothpick, prick the dhokla all over ready for the Tadka to sink in – this will keep it moist.

In a small saucepan, heat 1-2 tblsp oil and add the mustard seeds and when they start popping add the sesame seeds, asafoetida and chilli, followed by the rest of the ingredients. Stir well and pour over the dhokla making sure that everything is evenly spread out.

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Cut into 3cm slices across the pan and then turn the pan a quarter way round and do the same again making diamond shapes.

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Eat while it’s warm!

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