A few days ago, I posted a picture of the Besan Dhokla I had made. Dhokla is a steamed cake which can be made from a variety of flours including chickpea or gram flour (besan), semolina (rawa), or a combination of lentil and rice flours and it usually involves several hours or overnight fermentation. It is a Gujarati snack food and very tasty when it is made with the right proportions of the main ingredients and seasoning…okay, I guess that applies to all food! The main components of dhokla are flour, yogurt, and water and it is important to get the ratio of these ingredients right to ensure that it is a light and spongy cake rather than a dense one. The bubbles in the cake are best created by an effervescent fruit salt like Eno. The first time I made dhokla was when I went to visit my cousin Beenu in Leeds. She showed me how she made it in India with semolina and I was pleased with how quick and fairly easy it was to prepare. I began experimenting almost as soon as I got back home to London. I love dhokla made from semolina and it is the one I have had most often in India. My favourite dhokla, however, is the one we get in Kenya from a variety of local Gujarati food shops like Chetna, Bhagwanjee and Mombasa Sweetmart. Their dhokla is a lovely blend of sweet and sour and made from besan or gram/chick pea flour. I love dhokla with my 4pm cup of chai and last week I enjoyed it almost every day of the week! I’m going to share my version of Besan Dhokla (also known as Khaman Dhokla) with you. This recipe requires some fermentation time (at least 6 hours or overnight). If you want to make an instant version, I recommend using semolina or rawa instead of besan, skipping the fermentation part, and following the rest of the recipe as it is.
Server 6-7 as a snack (or one person like me for a few days)
You will need a steamer or a pressure cooker and a round or square 8-9” cake tin or shallow dish that will fit inside. If you don’t have a steamer or pressure cooker, you can make a steamer by taking a large pot with a tight fitting lid (one in which the cake tin will fit), filling it about ¼ of the way with boiling water, putting something heavy and taller than the water level inside (that won’t float up) for the cake tin to rest on, ensuring that the boiling water doesn’t touch the bottom of the cake tin. I don’t have a steamer so I used a heavy mortar to rest my cake tin on in a pressure cooker.
1 cup + 2 tablespoons or (about 150g) of besan (gram/chickpea flour)
1 cup (250g) of yogurt
¾ – 1 cup (180-250ml) water
2 small green chillies, finely chopped
1½ teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1½ tablespoons of light brown sugar (I like mine on the sweet side, start with less and adjust later if you wish)
Juice of a lemon
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
4 curry leaves, finely chopped (optional)
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2½ teaspoons Eno fruit salt (or any other effervescent fruit salt)
For the Tadka or tempering (to be spread over after the cake has been steamed)
2 tablespoons sunflower/olive oil
1½ teaspoons black mustard seeds
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander
1½ tablespoons desiccated coconut
Combine the besan, yogurt, chillies, ginger, sugar, lemon juice, sea salt, turmeric and curry leaves. Gradually whisk in the water until it is of a fairly thick pouring consistency, like a pancake batter. Whisk for 1-2 minutes so that it is well combined. Leave this batter to ferment in a warm place for at least 6 hours or overnight.
When you are ready to make the dhokla, prepare the steamer and lightly grease the cake tin or dish. Taste the batter and adjust the sweet/salt/sour balance to your liking. If you are using the pressure cooker or makeshift steamer, put the cake tin or dish inside the cooker or pot (on top of the weighty object) as soon as the water starts boiling, to prevent your hands getting burnt by the steam that comes with rapid boiling. Quickly but gently stir the Eno into the dhokla batter. You will see the batter bubble up. Pour this gently into the cake tin, sprinkle the cayenne pepper on top and, if you are using a pressure cooker, seal it but do not use the weight, and if using a makeshift steamer, seal the pot with a well-fitting lid. We want to make sure the steam that cooks this dhokla stays in the pot as much as possible (some will escape, do not worry, it has to), and that it lasts for the 25 minutes that it will take to cook the dhokla. If using a real steamer, you can pour the batter into the tin after the Eno has been mixed in and then place it in the steamer. Let it steam for 20-25 minutes. It might take less time in a real steamer – I’ve never used one so I don’t know. When the dhokla is ready, it should be pulling away from the edges and should spring back when you touch the surface. Do be careful to keep your face a safe distance from the pressure cooker or pot when opening the lid because the steam will gush out. When it’s done, let it rest for 5 minutes before you take it out.
While the dhokla is steaming prepare the tadka or tempering. Heat the oil on a medium heat and add the black mustard seeds. Let them crackle for a few seconds, moving them around a little. Take them off the heat, stir in the chopped coriander and desiccated coconut. Spread this mixture on top of the dhokla when it is ready and out of the steamer. Slice the dhokla into squares or diamond shapes and enjoy with a nice cup of chai! They’re lovely on their own or with a little tomato sauce or coriander chutney!
When I originally posted the photo of this recipe I provided some nutrition information. 1 portion of the dhokla as a snack (about 2 2” squares) contains about 146 calories, 7g of fat, 17g of carbs and 5g of protein. To answer a question that was posed to me, I used a nutrition website with a nifty little database to calculate this information, as I have for all the recipes in my book. All the information will be provided in the book. I reckon this dhokla is a fairly healthy option for a teatime snack. Not as healthy as a piece of fruit, you may say, but there are some afternoons when an apple just won’t cut it! My book is primarily a cookbook and not a preachy, prescriptive book on nutrition and healthy eating. It is a healthier way of enjoying Indian food. I have provided the nutrition information if you want it! If you don’t, you can ignore it and just cook, eat and share the tasty recipes – flavours have always been and remain my top priority!