WONDERFUL ‘DHOKLA’

Healthy Guju snack dhokla… yellow, ivory white or green if you make them using green moong dal. Dhokla, fafda and jalebi are Navratri specials and I know only one place where you may find all three during the Navratri week in Panaji, at Nitin Maganlal’s Mithai Mandir!

BY TARA NARAYAN

I MUST confess every time the October Navaratri comes around I touch base with my Gujarati roots at heart…no matter where all I’ve time passed my life away. As a schoolgirl in Penang in the 1960s mother dear used to make me fast along with a bunch of other Guju girls, grow wheat grass in a pot to pray over for nine days and nights, and we got invited to various homes for our meals. It was fun! Today in my autumnal years I’d rather dream of drinking fresh green wheatgrass juice spiked with lemon juice and yes, I’ve got dhokla on my mind.
Can anything be more Gujarati than dhokla (along with khakra, fafda, ghatia, gota, handvo, etc)? But the dhokla alone is in a class of its own and appeals to many palates across all differences. Actually, this lightweight chanadal (gram) steamed vegetarian savoury snack has become wildly popular even with non-Gujarati folk and in Goa one sees these flimsy packets of variously spongy yellow dhokla selling from `20-`40 (five or six square pieces)…lots of needless mustard seed-green chili-curry leaf-hing tempering in oil poured atop it for décor and burnt bitter flavour!
This so-called dhokla on sale are usually terrible and not the original khaman dhokla of Gujarati farsan fame. All khaman dhokla are made after soaking “chokha-dal” (rice-chanadal) overnight, ground the next morning and left to ferment with some curd in it, adding green chili-ginger (maybe garlic) at the time of steaming. It’s the fermenting and steam cooking which makes it an agreeably health conscious snack and I can relish it without the tempering, but I don’t mind a garnishing of freshly cut green coriander leaves and grated coconut — served with green chutney is even better.
Most Guju families will temper their dhokla. Hey, now there are so many takes on the traditional dhokla that one may have a dhokla-only party if one has a mind to! The late cookbook author Tarla Dalal made dhokla including other Gujarati savouries famous in her magazines…the traditional khaman dhokla is made from chanadal or chanadal-rice soaked and curd-fermented batter and not besan or gram flour which is used for today’s instant dhokla in the interests of short-cut commerce.
In Jain families you’ll find the wafer thin rava or semolina dhokla with a smattering of black pepper powder on them. Mrs Dalal had a recipe for soya khaman dhokla if I remember right…one may describe dhokla as “khaman dhokla” only if the batter has been curd-fermented. Some rava dhokla are easier to make because in this case the batter is not fermented long and before steaming Eno’s salt or baking soda is stirred in with a light feather touch before the batter is poured into lightly oiled container for steaming….rava dhokla may be made in a jiffy for breakfast or teatime.
What is called “Eastern dhokla” comes light with melt-in-the-mouth fluffiness and these are soaked in tempered sweet chili water, I don’t care for them, they stick in my throat. A Gujarati dhokla expert friend of mine says dhokla may be made with any combo of rice and dal be it chana, urad or green moong, soak, grind, ferment, add mild spicing including turmeric powder and steam. That’s it. The rest is whatever added adventuring you do by how you cut, garnish and serve your dhokla.
Dhokla lovers in fact keep a dry dhokla mix ready at home to soak and turn out dhokla…this rice and dal mix also goes into the making of that other Guju favourite of mine called handvo. But I’m not waxing lyrical about this gas stove-baked savoury, sesame-encrusted, golden brown handvo here! Savory cake if you like. My mother’s handvo was worth living for… friends used to turn up to relish it in our Penang home.
Traditional Gujarati cuisine has many healthy snacks as I suppose all traditional cuisines do. To stay with dhokla, lately it’s been on my mind a lot. Why don’t all our fusion-styled eateries in Panaji serve dhokla, the quality version I mean (not instant besan atta version)? In fact there would be many takers for real honest dhokla be they yellow or ivory white…hey, someone open a restaurant specialising in dhokla and various chutneys to go with it, green chutney, tamarind chutney or even green papaya relish. A few chaat places offer dhokla but these don’t make my mouth water at all. I look at them with dismal eyes and pity in my heart!
COME to think of it I would put the Gujarati dhokla on par with the steamed idli range of south India across Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh. Both are gloriously steamed affairs and come as unity in diversity combos…they use wholesome fermented batters and fermented foods are considered probiotic foods, generally speaking healthier foods to rejoice in. They offer natural carb-protein values, B and C vitamins, and fresh green garnishing like coriander leaves, mint, spring onions always means a lot of good things to stay fighting fit…the ways in which we should be drinking and eating is part and parcel of what we called preventive healthcare, okay.
And now a few recipes for the only great recipes are those you take the trouble to make at home! If you can be mistress of the traditional khaman dhokla and rava dhokla you may take it from there to explore other versions of the quintessential savoury spongy delight of Gujarati dhokla.

If you love dhokla it’s worth learning how to make it at home the traditional way…
Recipe No 1: Khaman Dhokla
TAKE a cup of chana dal; quarter cup rice; quarter cup curd; a tsp each of green chili and ginger paste; half sp haldi or turmeric powder; sea salt or rock salt to taste; a tbs of oil (optional); water as required; green garnishing of choice.
NOW wash, drain and soak chana dal and rice overnight. When well soaked put into mixie and add half cup curd before grinding it to a batter consistency, adding water as desired but keep batter to dropping consistency and not running consistency. Remove batter in bowl, cover and leave to ferment a couple of hours or batter has risen.
When batter is ready mix in green chili and ginger paste, haldi, salt, tbs oil. Stir and pour batter into an oiled pan, sprinkle atop red chili powder if you wish for effect but remember you already have chili-ginger paste in the batter. Cover and steam cook for 20 minutes and do not uncover in between. When time is up you may insert a knife blade to see if it comes out smooth.
Downturn the pan on a plate and tap out dhokla cake, upright it again. Now you may cut the savoury steaming yellow dhokla and serve with green/garlic chutney or just plain cold pressed sesame oil, enjoy. You may or may not do a phodni/tempering in a tablespoon of oil, adding two bits of a broken dry red chili, a tsp mustard seeds, a tsp sesame seeds, chopped green chili (optional), sprig curry leaves (optional), pinch hing last of all. Spread this sizzling tempering atop steam cooked dhokla, cut and serve as you wish. I like my dhokla just garnished with chopped green coriander leaves and/or freshly grated coconut.
You may also do dhokla using a combo of other dal and add chopped greens in batter. There are several variations to the traditional dhokla.
Note: My mother used to just sprinkle atop batter some red chili powder before steam cooking. It was a no fuss austere khaman dhokla but divinely so, the magic is in the hands. She also used to leave a tablespoon of some of the soaked chana dal aside to add back to the ground batter so that one got a sort of chana dal bite in the dhokla pieces! You may also make khaman dhokla using only chana dal, this is minus rice. The word khaman signifies fermented batter. There are unfermented dhokla batters made of besan (chana dal dry flour) in combination with other flours, but these are for today’s instant dhokla range which you may like or dislike!
Recipe No 2: Khatta Dhokla
(Recipe courtesy my friend Megha Damani of Appetite at Patto)
Ingredients: 3 cups rice, 1 cup udad dal, 2 cups buttermilk; salt to taste; handful of chana dal, haldi is optional.
Method: Wash, drain and dry rice on clean cloth. Grind rice and udad dal. Grind rice and dal to a rava-like texture in the mixie. Soak this dhokla batter in buttermilk for 4 to 5 hours. Then add salt, chana dal and haldi if desired. Pour into a baking dish and sprinkle black powder (for white dhokla) or red chili powder (for yellow dhokla) and steam cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, cool a bit and cut into pieces, serve with green coriander chutney.
NOTE: There are ivory white dhokla called “idla” or”idra” which Gujarati Jain families love to make for breakfast or tea-time. Here a measure of rice and urad dal is soaked, ground, fermented with curd…much like khaman dhokla in previous recipe and steam cooked after scattering some grainy black pepper atop the batter. Idla are much loved too, as much as khaman or khatta khaman dhokla. You get a khatta or sour flavour if your curd is sour, very flavourful too.

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