Saturday, 4 October 2014

Khaman Dhokla - Steamed Savoury Cake

These days, every morning, the area outside the porch of my mother's home is carpeted by these delicate white flowers with orange stems. These fragile flowers belong to the Parijat (Harsingar) trees planted just outside the gate. They bloom as the sun sets, perfume the night air with their fragrance and then as dawn arrives, they fall to the ground. It is magical sight to wake up to. Carefully collected from the ground, they are offered to the Gods. They flower from September to November, just in time for India's festive season, from Ganesh Chaturthi to Navratri to Diwali.

And talking about Navratri, if there is one festival that Gujaratis wait for all year round, it has to be Navratri. As someone who traces half her roots back to Gujarat, I have been privy to the sheer madness that overtakes the community for the nine nights of Navratri. The rest of the country celebrates Navratri too, but the Gujaratis take it to new, and if I might admit, embarrassing heights. You may bemoan the crass commercialism that has crept in and overtaken the festival but you can't take away the excitement and euphoria that fills the air as they dance the night away.
So, I couldn't let Navratri go by and not pay homage to my Gujarati roots. If there is one dish the country associates with Gujarat, it is the dhokla. While the Gujarati and his dhokla has been the topic of many a joke, it is a dish very close to the Gujarati palate and rightly so! 
It is a steamed cake made from gram flour, flavoured with green chillies and ginger and topped with a tempering of mustard and sesame seeds. Like every other Gujarati dish, the heat in the dish is countered with a little bit of sugar. Extremely simple to make and made in under thirty minutes, this is a delightful tea-time snack.
You can taste the spice with a hint of a sugar and it does not overpower the palate. It is steamed and resultant lightness in texture is always a good thing. The tempering on top provides its own flavours and texture that complete the flavours of this dish. Paired with coriander chutney, you discover its charm for yourself!!
Navratri is the celebration of good over evil but, more importantly, it is nine days when we celebrate the power of our Goddesses. I said it last year and I'll say it again, it is one of India's cruel ironies that in a country that worships her Goddesses so fervently, women have to face their biggest challenges on a daily basis.
I invoke the words of the Mahatma who said, "To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is man's injustice to woman. If by strength is meant brute strength, then, indeed, woman is less brute than man. If by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man's superior. Has she not greater intuition, is she not more self-sacrificing, has she not greater powers of endurance, has she not greater courage? Without her, man could not be. If nonviolence is the law of our being, the future is with woman."
With those words, I wish you and yours a very happy Dussera. May we overcome all the evil that befalls our lives and emerge stronger and more prosperous!!

Khaman Dhokla

Serves 4-6 Recipe source: Tarla Dalal


For the batter
  • 1 cup besan/gram flour
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon fine semolina (rawa)
  • 3 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon green chilli-ginger paste
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon Eno fruit salt
  • salt, to taste
For the tempering
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds (I skipped this as I didn't have any)
  • 2 green chillies, chopped
  • a pinch of asafoetida
  • Mix together all the ingredients for the batter except the fruit salt using enough water to make a thick batter.
  • Put the water in the steamer on to get it hot.
  • When the steamer is hot, add the fruit salt to the batter, sprinkle 2 teaspoons of water over the fruit salt and mix well.
  • The batter will fizz up and rise. Pour it into a greased thali. (The bigger your thali, the thinner your dhoklas will be). Steam for ten minutes.
  • For the tempering, heat the oil in a small pan, add the mustard seeds, sesame seeds, green chiliies and asafoetida. When the mustard seeds sizzle and crackle, take off the heat, add 1 tablespoon of water and pour this over the steamed dhoklas.
  • Cut into pieces, garnish with chopped coriander and serve with some coriander chutney.

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