Anticipating the arrival of guests way before time and instructing our household help to work up things faster than usual, mom would hurriedly pull out the boxes hidden from the back shelves of the kitchen cabinets.Neatly wrapped inside crumpled brown paper with the intricate gold work on the porcelain quarter plates and tea cups waiting to sparkle at the first flash of daylight light, just like today,she never allowed the help of the house to even touch them. The usual dish detergent would dull the shine away,she murmured and used diluted quantities of vinegar and water, dipping the end of thin muslin in the solution and carefully wiping away the rim of each piece. A rinse with hot water and a wipe with clean kitchen towel and they were left on a metal rack where the children of the house couldn’t reach,to dry out while she tended to other preparations.
It was rare that someone came for tea at our house,mostly the guests were invited for weekend lunches or saturday dinners. As a kid, I rejoiced at the sound of tea time, how unusual it sounded and indeed contained in itself the possibility of exciting and different food items other than the usual rice,bread lentils and curries. I would hear mom complaining often that menu planning and executing is tedious for tea time gatherings, even though I always felt that she came up with a fantastic line up of what had to be served to guests – from crisp home fried pakoras (fritters) and flaky samosas to fancy bite size sandwiches, fresh melt in the mouth paneer tikkas, pastries from our favorite bakery plus an array of store-bought items. All to go along with masala chai, always brewed her way with sweet-smelling green cardamom, ginger and cloves.
I clearly remember that close to an hour before the guests arrived, I accompanied our help to the nearby halwai (sweet makers in India) shop to get kumquat sized gulab jamun and softer than sponge dhokla.Stepping on the stairway that led to the shop,by the time we reached the counter, I could spot the large, wide thaali (platter) with neatly cut squares stacked one on top of the other, sprinkled generously with green cilantro, lemon slices and green chilies. I still remember the awesome taste of those dhokla, as if I have tasted it an hour ago. Mellow, lemony and sweet. I could barely resist myself from taking a bite at the shop itself and a string of ice-cold syrup ran down my palm to elbow.Then came the chillies,the hot seeds here and there, popping inside the mouth. Yum! The dhoklas were compelling delicious with little holes in them where few of the black mustard seeds got trapped to sum for a bitter-sweet,salty, sour notes on the taste buds. .
My mom did not start making dhoklas at home until she got this recipe from one of her colleague at work.And then we did not go back to the store-bought ones that often. Sometimes she uses just the chickpea flour and many times both chickpea flour and semolina to come up with delicate steamed goodness.Dhokla belongs to Guajarati (west indian) cuisine and is essentially a fluffy, steamed savory cake which can be eaten as a snack or for breakfast (if you are me). Traditionally, it is made with ground bengal gram lentils which are fermented overnight to develop a light sourness and steamed in flat, wide platters the next morning. But there are so many variations popular all over India, of dhoklas made with moong legumes, with rice and with semolina (sooji). One of the most popular method is to use chickpea flour mixed with yogurt and flavorings like ginger and green chillies. Usually, my mom makes use of Eno fruit salt (an antacid) as the rising agent. But for those of you who do not have access to it, I came up with this recipe inspired by this one from New York Times which uses baking powder and baking soda for the rise.
Not only is this snack and popular street food healthy but gluten-free too. Few of the tips in making and storing dhokla include things like storing it soaked in sweet salty water for not more than 1-2 days after which the taste starts changing because of the fresh elements in the tempering. If you can get coarse chickpea flour (the one which is used for making sweet balls or ladoos), the texture comes out a lot better. But I have used regular bob’s mill chickpea flour in my recipe and it works fine.
- 1 cup +1/3 cup besan (chickpea flour)
- 3/4 cup thick plain whole milk yogurt (not greek, not fat-free, slightly sour)
- 3 tablespoon canola oil
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1/4 teaspoon hing powder (asafoetida)
- 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup room temperature water (or as required to make a lacy, ribbon like flowing batter consistency)
- 2 Thai green chillies
- 1 ” ginger shoot
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Sweet Water for soaking & storing the dhokla
- Play with the quantities of sugar, lime juice and salt to how sweet, salty or tart you want.
- 3/4 cup water
- 1 small lime, juiced (adjust to taste)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt (adjust to taste)
- 2-3 tablespoon granulated sugar (adjust to taste)
- For Tempering
- 1.5 tablespoon oil
- 1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
- 1/2 tablespoon white sesame seeds
- 1 green chili, chopped
- 4-5 curry leaves (skip if you do not have)
- Chopped fresh cilantro
- Avoid using very old baking powder or soda for this recipe.
- Even though I used a high dish for steaming it, I realized that it would have been much faster and proper if I used a shallow but wide dish for steaming it (the traditional route). If you have a wide dish which can fit your steamer and hold your batter, go for it.
- I found that the taste & texture changed on 3rd day in the refrigerator.