Sunday, February 19, 2012

Dhokla for Dinner, or Anytime



While dried mixes for dhokla, a spongy Gujarati chickpea flour (besan) cake, can be found in every Indian supermarket, this homemade version is superior in flavor and texture and not terribly difficult or time-consuming to prepare. Dhokla is most often eaten as a snack, drizzled with both tamarind and mint chutneys, but Cafe Drake prefers wedges or squares served as a side dish to thick stews or saucy beans. Above, dhokla plays well with a chickpea curry and pan-fried, shredded cabbage. This savory "cake" also intrigues when presented as a first-course, a well-dressed mound of micro-greens resting alongside. Our recipe below makes a large cake so it's perfect for a dinner party. Refrigerated leftovers, wrapped well, keep for 5 days; for best results, allow the dhokla to come to room temperature before eating.

Bgin by mixing 4 1/2 cups of chickpea flour with 1 1/2 cups plain yogurt (low-fat is fine, non-fat not so good) and set aside for 2 hours. Now add 1 t. of dried ginger powder and 1 t. of cayenne pepper. Stir in about 2 t. sugar, 1 t. lime juice, 2 t. baking soda, salt to taste (count on at least 1-2 t.) and 1/2 t. turmeric. Mix well and begin to slowly add warm water until you have achieved a batter just barely of pouring consistency. To do this effectively stir the mixture constantly while adding the water, bits at a time so as not to get it too runny.

Here's the tricky part: you'll need to pull out the largest, most enormous saucepan/soup pot you own. Find a round cake pan that can fit inside and lightly oil it. Pour the batter into the pan (you may have to do this in 2 batches - or cut the recipe in half). Put a rack, or even a bowl filled with water, into the bottom of the sauce pan and carefully place the filled cake pan on top. Add water to the saucepan to about 1 inch or less below the bottom of the cake pan. Are you staying with me here? If not, just re-read carefully as it's actually easier than described! Just make sure the water level has not reached, or is touching, the bottom of the cake pan.

Cover the sauce pan with a lid and steam over medium heat for about 15 minutes or until the dhokla has firmed up. A good trick is to touch the top of the dhokla - if your finger comes away clean you should be good. Allow the dhokla to cool for at least 15 minutes then carefully cut into squares, wedges, diamond shapes, etc. Do not remove pieces from the pan just yet. Set aside while making the tempering oil:

Heat 2 t. vegetable or olive oil over a medium-high flame. When very hot toss in 1 t. black mustard seeds. Have a lid handy as they pop and fly everywhere! Once the seeds have stopped popping throw in 1 t. sesame seeds, 10 curry leaves (if you have them - and you should keep some always in your freezer) and 2-3 minced green chilies. Cook for about 15 seconds then pour the seasoned oil over the dhokla, still in the pan. Let cool and serve warm or at room temperature. May be garnished with chopped cilantro or slivered scallions.

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