The Delectable Dhokla You Should Be Serving for Parties
There are few dishes that please everyone but a Dhokla might be that secret weapon recipe. It’s vegetarian, gluten-free and nut free but also hearty enough and tasty enough to win over any meat eater. You can serve it piping hot as a side dish or as an easy room temperature party appetizer. You can add almost any topping from your pantry to make it even more delightful.
So what’s the deal with this magical dish? Niki Segnit came by to sing its virtues. The author of the beloved and celebrated Flavor Thesaurus has a new book coming this fall, Lateral Cooking, and it expands on her approach to cooking across cultures, science and history. And her view is that if you can cook cornbread, you can cook dhokla. It’s one piece of a book that encourages cooking as less of a regional plan and more of a global sharing of ideas.
So watch the video below to learn about the book and learn how to make this delicious dish. And if you want the full recipe check it out below.
Dhokla: Khaman Dhokla
A snack so pretty it could sit happily in a pâtisserie. Under its red, white and green decoration, khaman dhokla resembles a Victoria sandwich, but is made with chickpea flour and tastes distinctly savoury. It is steamed, like a syrup sponge, resulting in a dreamily moist texture. There are other types of batter for dhokla – the traditional kind is made with a fermented mix of pulses and rice – but this sort is the simplest to make and extremely good to eat. As with cornbread, here we use a liquid-to-flour ratio of 1:2,
plus a little salt, sugar, fat and leavener.
For a 20cm round tin = 8 inch round cake pan
1 1⁄2 cups (150g) chickpea flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
3⁄4 cup (180ml) water
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp Eno (Baking Soda)
1–2 tsp each of mustard seeds and cumin seeds 2–3 tbsp vegetable oil
Sliced fresh chilli, desiccated coconut and coriander leaves, to garnish – optional
1. Configure your steamer. You’ll need a lidded pan that will accommodate your dhokla tin, and something to elevate the tin above the water level. Add some water to the pan and bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer.
I do this in the bottom part of my pressure cooker, using the veg steaming basket, inverted, as a stand for the dhokla tin.
2. Mix the chickpea flour, salt and sugar with the water and vegetable oil to make a smooth batter.
3. Once the water in the pan is simmering, add the Eno to the batter and stir it in thoroughly. Pour the batter into a greased 20cm round tin.
4. Lower the tin onto the stand above the water and steam, covered, for 15–25 minutes. Check it’s cooked with a skewer – which should come out clean – then remove from the steamer.
5. Fry the mustard seeds and cumin seeds in 2–3 tbsp vegetable oil until they
pop. You will need a splatter guard over the pan to stop the seeds flying everywhere.
6. Pour the seeds and oil over the warm dhokla, then sprinkle with other
garnishes, if using.
7. Cut into squares to serve. It is traditional to accompany this with a chutney
made by pounding together coriander leaves, mint leaves, green chilli, ginger, lemon juice and salt.
Chickpea flour is also called besan or gram flour.
Some cooks prefer yogurt or a mix of yogurt and water.
A similar concoction to Eno can be made by thoroughly combining equal amounts of bicarbonate of soda and citric acid. If you dislike the sharp taste of citric acid,
use 2 tsp baking powder in place of the Eno.
Make the flavoured oil with other spices (whole or ground), curry leaves, chilli flakes or a mixture. If you’re using ground spices, take care that the pan isn’t too dry, and don’t fry them for too long, as they’re apt to burn.
Dhokla Flavours & Variations
Time was a gentleman might take a stroll through Soho and find himself propositioned by a prostitute. Or offered an origami envelope of cocaine. Or have his pocket picked by a mascara-smudged transvestite with holes in her stockings. These days you might as well be in an airport retail development for all the edge in the air. Until midnight strikes, that is, and the duty managers of the pintxos bars and East Asian BBQ concepts and informal dim-sum lounges punch in the
codes on their security systems. No one knows where the carts come from; they must rise from backstreet manholes or emerge from the stage doors of dark theatres. Then the frying begins. Londoners with otherwise impeccable gastronomic credentials, men and women about town who know their natives from their Pacifics and their yudofu from their agedashi tofu, are suddenly overcome by unspeakable urges.
Oh, the remorse the next morning! Had it not been for the irresistible aroma of browning onion they might never have bitten into that unspeakable frankfurter, the ingredients of which bear little thinking about, crammed into a pappy bun of carcinogenic whiteness and squirted with a zigzag of unbranded ketchup. Fried onions deserve better. They get it in India, where they’re used freely in vegetarian dishes, and as part of the tarka in dal (page 252). I tried some on top
of a dhokla, pissaladière-style, and, even better, cooked into the batter. Dice or thinly slice 1 medium-size onion. Fry until nicely brown and
stir into a dhokla batter made as per the starting point, but using
only 1⁄2 cup (120ml) water and leaving out the oil – the onions will
yield moisture of their own, and the oil used to fry them will contribute flavour. Instead of cumin, add a few pinches of nigella seeds to the mustard seeds and spread over the top of the cooked dhokla, along with a scattering of coriander leaves.
Our starting point, using chickpea flour, is a lot quicker than the traditional recipe for dhokla, where the batter is made with dried split chickpeas, soaked, blended until smooth and left to ferment overnight. Similar batters are used for idli and dosas, pancakes made with a combination of pulses and rice, but for these you’ll need a blender capable of turning the soaked pulses into a smooth batter. For the plain chana (no-rice) version, rinse then soak 1 cup (200g) chana dal for about 6 hours or overnight. Drain and grind all but 4 tbsp of the soaked dal with 1 chopped green chilli, 1 tbsp grated ginger and up to 1 cup (240ml) water until you have a thick-ish batter. Add the reserved dal and stir in 2 tbsp yogurt, 1 tsp lemon juice, 1⁄2 tsp ground turmeric and 1⁄2 tsp salt. Set aside to ferment for another 6 hours or overnight. Before cooking, stir in 1 tsp Eno or 1⁄2 tsp bicarbonate of soda. Steam the batter in a 20cm round tin for 15–20 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Fry spices in oil to pour over the top, then garnish.
Finding that I only had 100g chickpea flour left, rather than schlep
to the Indian supermarket, I topped up my supply of chickpea flour with 50g desiccated coconut, replaced the water with coconut milk, and used 2 tsp baking powder instead of Eno. It worked a treat. The savoury flavour of chickpea still dominated, but was complemented
by the sweetness of coconut. Next time I added the same ground spices Mark Hix uses in his chickpea and coconut curry to the batter – clove, cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, fennel, garam masala and turmeric – and for the garnish, I piled on more coconut and sliced green chilli.
GARLIC, ROSEMARY & BLACK PEPPER
Given the Italian fondness for chickpeas, it isn’t much of a leap to apply Italian principles to a dhokla – in this instance, the flavours used to make farinata, the chickpea flatbread from Liguria. The sharp taste of Eno would be incongruous, so use the 2 tsp baking powder suggested under Leeway instead. Towards the end of the steaming time, cook
a few crushed garlic cloves in a little olive oil, then remove them and gently heat some finely chopped needles of rosemary in the garlic- infused oil. Pour over the warm chickpea ‘dhokla’, give it a good grind of coarse black pepper, then cut it into squares.
RED PEPPER & CHORIZO
This re-working of the dhokla idea makes for perfect picnic food. Make up the batter as per the method, but use 2 tsp baking powder rather than Eno. As you’re stirring all the ingredients together, add 4 tbsp finely diced roasted red pepper and 100g sliced charcuterie chorizo that you’ve cut into tiny pieces with kitchen scissors (besides the question of whether it will heat through properly, cooking chorizo would be too coarse). Pour the batter into an oiled, deep 20cm foil dish and steam for 15 minutes. Remove, wrap in more foil and carry in one hand, with a half-bottle of chilly fino sherry in the other. Set a friend the task of bringing glasses (because it has to be glass for sherry) and the best green olives they can find. Meet under a fig tree if remotely possible.
If you’re used to the more assertively flavoured chickpea flour, dhokla made with rava, or semolina, can lack the fine, creamy texture lent by besan, and be comparatively bland, like a khaman dhokla after a couple of cycles in the washing machine. The blandness can work in your favour, however, if you’re working with subtly flavoured ingredients that might be disrupted by the beaniness of chickpea.
Extra variations for show any