They say you can spend an entire lifetime sampling India's vast and diverse cuisine and you still would not have sampled it all. Every state has its own distinctive cuisine, with further subtle nuances within the different regions of each state.
For me, diversity begins at home. My father hails from Gujarat on the west coast and my mother from Odisha on the east coast. Much like the people of the two states, their cuisine could not be more different. Odia food is simple and without too much spices, letting the beautiful produce from the generous land speak for itself. Gujarati food, on the other hand, is more robust in terms of spices and flavour. Since, the land is not as bountiful as that in Odisha, the cuisine has a more lentil-based flavour profile. Each cuisine so unique and yet, so delightful. No wonder then that my sister and I grew up with such adventurous palates!!
We are in the middle of the nine day, Navratri festival, where India worships and celebrates the divine power of its feminine deities. The Gujaratis wait all year for Navratri, where they unleash themselves and their dancing talent on the world. Every night is a night for family, friends and some insanely crazy traditional dancing of 'garba-dandiya'. The enthusiasm and the energy is simply put, heady and infectious.
So, in the spirit of the season, I bring you this savoury lentils cake, straight from the Gujju heartland. The recipe is from Tarla Dalal, a Gujarati herself, who's taken a traditional recipe and adapted it for the modern kitchen.
The recipe might seem a bit lengthy but that is only because you have to soak and ferment the rice and lentils overnight. Once that is done, it hardly takes any time to put it together.
The end result will impress even the purists. The cake sets beautifully with this crispy top, thanks to the tempering that we pour on the batter just before baking. That crispy topping that is flavoured with seeds is addictive. This is a very wholesome cake with enough spice and complexity to tantalise and excite the palate. If you are balking at the thought of the vegetable, rest assured, it is there for volume and texture, you don't really taste it.
Paired with some mint-coriander chutney, it is a meal by itself. Wash it down with some lassi, it doesn't get better!!
I believe Navratri is a timely reminder to society to treat its women with the same respect and devotion we accord our Goddesses. With that sentiment in mind, I wish you all a very Happy Navratri and Dasera.
Handvo - Savoury Spiced Mixed Lentils Cake
Minimally adapted from this recipe by Tarla Dala. Serves 3-4 generously
- 1 cup rice
- 1/2 cup toovar dal (arhar)
- 1/8 cup urad dal
- 1/8 cup green moong dal (split green gram)
- 1/8 cup chana dal (split Bengal gram)
- 1/2 cup sour curds
- 1 1/4 cup bottle gourd (lauki) grated
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon soda bi-carb
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
- 1/4 teaspoon haldi (turmeric powder)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons green chilli-ginger paste
- salt, to taste
For the temperingDirections:
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon sesame seeds (til)
- 1 teaspoon carom seeds (ajwain)
- 1/4 teaspoon asafoetida (hing)
- 2 tablespoons oil
- Wash and soak the rice and dals together for 4-5 hours. Drain and keep aside.
- Grind to a paste, add the curds and allow to ferment overnight.
- Next day: Pre-heat the oven to 200 deg C.
- Add the grated bottle gourd (lauki), 2 tablespoons oil, lemon juice, soda bi-carb, sugar, chilli powder, turmeric powder, green chilli-ginger paste and salt and mix well.
- Pour this batter into a greased shallow tin.
- For the tempering, heat the oil and add the mustard seeds and fry until they crackle. Add the sesame seeds, carom seeds and asafoetida and continue to fry. When the sesame seeds are golden in colour, pour this over the batter.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes till the crust is golden brown.
- Allow to cool at room temperature. Cut into squares and serve with some mint-coriander chutney.