That tempting aroma of tadka coming from the neighbours’ house, even as you are nearing your entrance door, returning hungry, after a long day from work. In my case, I used to be coming back from school and like a dog I would sniff, where is that scent coming from? I used to wonder, secretly hoping that it was coming from my house. If I were my mother, my sole purpose to befriend our neighbour, Mrs. Desai would be so she would offer me some of those yummy! Dhoklas she made. Whenever, I would get that strong scent of hing ka tadka from her house, I would assume that she was making dhoklas, sometimes when I was right, I would get to eat those delicious, light spongy savoury cakes, on other occasions I would be disappointed as Mrs. Desai would just be frying some dal. Although some people say that Dhoklas don’t make you fat, I still find it more convenient to blame all those dhoklas I ate in my growing years, that are now beginning to show on my cheeks.
Mrs. Desai lived just up the stairs and whenever she made Dhoklas she would send a plate-full over to our house, because she knew how we all loved them. That makes me rethink what I had said earlier, may be my mother did befriend Mrs. Desai because she wanted to eat those delicious dhoklas. It was the best after school snack just before my sister and I went out to play. I have always been cross with my mom for not learning how to make dhokla from Mrs. Desai before we moved out to our new house away from Mrs. Desai. I don’t think I have been so sad to leave a neighbour before, just for those dhoklas. It is a good thing that good neighbours become good friends and you can still visit them if you wish to have their great Dhoklas. So, when I was back to my hometown for a month this time, the Desais invited us over for dinner and although Dhoklas are an evening snack, I insisted that Mrs. Desai make some when she invited us over.
If not my mother, I must learn how to make the Desais’ Dhokla. With the enthusiasm of a good student, hoping to become the teachers’ pet and earn some extra dhoklas, I arrived early to the Desai household to Master the Art of making Dhokla. The enthusiasm or the early arrival did not help, ‘You should have arrived two days ago if wanted to figure the entire process’, said Mrs. Desai. The Chana dal that is used to make Dhokla must be soaked overnight or atleast for four hours following which the batter is fermented for four to five hours. I could only watch them being steamed and then that mesmerising hing ka tadka after which I could dig my teeth into the soft, spongy cushion like, light as air, slightly tangy and a little sweet dhokla with green coriander and coconut chutney, and a little coconut and coriander leaves sprinkled on top of it.
When you eat six large pieces of dhoklas in one go, it is seldom easy to know the consequences right away, but I can only tell you, with a sensitive digestive system, six dhoklas is two many. But I had made up my mind, I will learn the Desai Dhokla Recipe this time. So here I go, this is my adventure diary with the Dhokla…
As per the recipe given to me by Mrs. Desai;
I need to soak 500g of Chana Dal(Bengal Gram Dal) overnight or at least for four to five hours.
Next, after the dal is soaked, it has be added into a blender along with
3 Green Chillies (you can add more if you enjoy spicy food)
½ inch piece of fresh ginger, chopped
Salt, to taste
Sugar, to taste
1 ½ cup yoghurt or 1 cup yoghurt during the summers (to prevent the dhokla from turning too sour due to excess fermentation during the hot Indian summer months)
Grind the soaked chana dal, then blend the green chillies, ginger, salt, sugar and yoghurt together.
Allow this mixture to ferment for 4 to 5 hours, until the mixture slightly increases in volume and begins to look light and fluffy.
Grease a deep quarter plate with sides, or any flat deep vessel / dish which would fit easily in your steaming pot.
Allow the water in your steaming pot to come to boil.
Note: Steaming Dhoklas is similar to steaming idlis, you can use a pressure cooker without a whistle, filled with about an inch of water, then the plate with the Dhokla is placed inside the pressure cooker over a another plate so that the water does not go into the dhokla mixture.
Pour the Dhokla mixture in the greased plate.
TIP: To make the Dhokla really soft, add ½ a teaspoon of no-flavour eno (GSK product for indigestion) in the greased plate about 4 inches in diameter filled with the Dhokla mixture and mix thoroughly for 2 minutes. Be cautious, uneven mixing or excess eno added to the dhokla mixture will spoil the taste of you Dhokla.
If eno is unavailable a pinch of Sodium Bicarbonate(Baking Soda) and a pinch of citric acid to the dhokla and mix thoroughly to make Dhokla soft.
The Dhokla is steamed for 5 to 7 minutes on high heat, then the heat is turned down.
Dhokla is steamed for another 15 to 20 minutes on low heat. Total steaming time is 20 to 25 minutes depending on the amount to mixture used.
To check if the Dhokla is done, insert a fork in the centre, if the fork comes out clean, the Dhokla is cooked.
Then, cut square pieces of the Dhokla in the plate, loosen it from the sides and demould it onto the serving plate.
Heat ghee in a small pan, once it is hot, add,
2 Green chillies, chopped
a pinch of hing
½ teaspoon of mustard seeds
½ teaspoon of white sesame seeds (white or black til)
Add this tadka onto the Dhokla
For Sweet Dhokla, take the pan off the flame, then with the tadka add in,
3 tablespoons of sugar
4 tablespoons of water,
Then Add this mixture to the dhokla, allow he sugar syrup to soak into the dhokla.
Garnish it with fresh coriander leaves and freshly grated coconut.
Serve with Green coriander and Coconut Chutney.
Tonight, I have soaked my chana dal. I hope my Dhoklas will turn out exactly like those of Mrs. Desai. I wonder if she has still kept a secret ingredient under wraps. Hope not, but only the flavour of my Dhoklas will tell, if they turn out exactly like those she makes, I have nothing to worry about, if not I will have to nag her until she tells me ‘the secrets of the desai kitchen’.