“I’ve brought snacks!” My mother exclaimed as she walked into our kitchen late one October evening. She unloaded her bag onto our kitchen table. Many little plates appeared, and she looked happy. Among the little white plates was a bright yellow cake, tiny and fluffy. Moistened with Syrup and topped with chili and small black seeds.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“That’s Dhokla, and it’s my favorite,” my mom replied with a smile.
My mother had been invited to a Diwali celebration hosted by some of her closest friends at work. Diwali is a Hindu festival, sometimes referred to as the festival of light, celebrated all over India in October, with feasts, fireworks, exchanging of gifts, sweets and the lighting of Diya candles. Diwali symbolizes the triumph of light over darkness.
Many of my mother’s coworkers are of Indian descent, and most come from Gujarat, a mostly arid, partially coastal state in Western India. Mom was excited to share the experience with her family through the snacks she brought home.
Khaman Dhokla. It was love at first bite.
Sweet yet savory. Spicy and pungent with intense flavors. Yet still delicate and balanced. Each flavor blends harmoniously with the next; no one flavor overpowers another. I could have died. Even better, I could have eaten a full 9-inch cake if someone had only given me one.
I’ve never been to Gujarat, but if it’s anything like its Dhokla, I would never leave.
Dhokla, as it turns out, is the most famous snack in Gujarat. Gujaratis are also renowned for their Thali, which means plate, a gorgeous assortment of dishes traditionally served on a round metal platter. There is no set number of dishes on a Thali; I have seen as many as 13 components at one time. Each element allows the guests to create their own unique experience by complementing and contrasting the flavors of the meal. The Thali is a masterpiece of taste.
You will frequently find Dhokla on a Gujarati Thali.
Photo By Premshree Pillai
In Raja, Rasoi Aur Anya Kahaniyan, Dr. Pushpesh Pant, a food historian and author, tells us that “Dhoklas are prepared in as many ways and as many colors as there are districts in Gujarat, the most famous one being the yellow Khaman Dhokla.”
Khaman Dhokla is made from ground Gram(chickpea) flour. It is high in protein and fiber and is naturally gluten-free. Gram flour, or Besan, has been cultivated in India for thousands of years and is used in many Gujarati street foods and snacks.
Traditionally, Dhokla was made by soaking rice and lentils in water and then grinding them into a paste. Some yogurt was added, and the mixture was allowed to ferment for as much as 24 hours. During this time, the malolactic fermentation process would convert tart malic acid into softer lactic acid. When steamed, the Dhokla would be light, airy and offer many health benefits as well.
Now, many Gujaratis make their Khaman Dhokla the instant way by utilizing Eno, which is fruit salt and citric acid. The addition of Eno to the batter at the last second causes a reaction: the mixture almost doubles in volume and becomes frothy.
Eno can be purchased through Amazon or at your local Indochinese grocer. Although I am fortunate to have an excellent Indian grocery nearby and have access to Eno, I am sure many of you do not. Therefore, I adapted this recipe to use readily available ingredients at home.
Additionally, many Indian dishes are finished with a tempering. Tempering is usually made by toasting herbs and spices in a little oil and then pouring the oil over the dish right before serving. The tempering for this cake also includes another tricky to find ingredient, Curry (Neem) Leaf. If you are a hardcore curry leaf lover, you can purchase the plant on Etsy as I did. It is a tropical plant, so if you live in colder parts of the world, you will need to keep it indoors. Little compares to the heavenly scent of curry leaves perfuming the kitchen air. They are exotic, intoxicating and entirely worth it. However, they are optional, so you can omit them from the recipe if you can’t find them.
This Dhokla is made by adding baking powder and baking soda to a batter containing lemon juice, rather than with Eno. Like your elementary school science experiments, baking soda and lemon juice create an acid-base reaction. By adding them right before steaming, the mixture froths up, increases in size and the finished product is a yummy yellow sponge cake worthy of the name Dhokla. The result will not be as airy as Khaman Dhokla made with Eno, but it will be delicious.
Khaman Dhokla is delicious, fast, cheap, low-fat, high-fiber, and vegan. HA!
The whole recipe cost $1.66 or $0.20 a serving
Mom and I like to eat ours with a quick cilantro chutney made from leftover chili, cilantro, lime juice, and salt.
Enjoy it as a snack, side dish, or fantastic breakfast.
Khaman Dhokla (Instant)
This instant version of the famous Gujarati farsan (snack) can be served for breakfast, as a side dish or as a snack.
- 2 Cups Gram Flour Besan
- 3 Tbsp Semolina Flour Sooji
- 2 Tbsp Lemon Juice about 1 lemon
- 3 Tbsp Sugar
- 1 tsp Fresh Ginger grated or 1/8 tsp dry
- 1/2 each Green Chili finely chopped
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp Turmeric
- 1 pinch Asafoetida (Hing) *Optional*
- 1.5 Cups Water
- 1 Tbsp Baking Powder added last minute
- 1/2 tsp Baking Soda added last minute
- 2 Tbsp Oil I use Grape-seed
- 1 tsp Black Mustard Seeds
- 10 each Fresh Curry Leaves *Optional*
- 1.5 each Green Chili sliced
- 1/3 cup Water
- 1 Tbsp Sugar
- 1/4 Cup Cilantro rough chopped
To Make the Batter
Prepare a steamer by placing a 9-inch cake rack -you can also use a steamer insert- in a large pot with a well fitting lid. Fill with about 2 inches of water, the water should not touch your steamer.
Cover and place on the stove over medium heat, allow to steam for at least four minutes while you prepare the batter. Prepare a 9-inch cake pan by brushing the bottom and sides with a little oil.
In a large bowl add gram flour, semolina, lemon juice, sugar, ginger, chili, salt, turmeric, and asafoetida(if using). Add the water and whip to combine adding more water if necessary. The consistency should be pourable, similar to pancake batter.
Add baking powder and baking soda and mix to combine. A chemical reaction will occur causing the mixture to thicken and become frothy. Pour into the prepared cake pan immediately. Place cake pan inside of the steamer and cover tightly with lid. Steam for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, remove cake pan from steamer and cut into square pieces. Top with Tempering and chopped Cilantro.
To Make the Tempering
In a pan heat oil over medium-high heat, until it is moderately hot, the oil will start to shimmer. To the oil add mustard seeds and cover with a lid. The mustard seeds will burst after about 30 seconds. Briefly from heat.
Add curry leaves and green chilis. Swirl in hot oil for about 30 seconds.
Add water and sugar, bring to a boil and immediately remove from heat.
Vigorously whipping the batter prior to adding Baking Powder/Baking Soda incorporates air resulting in the best texture of the final product.
Khaman Dhokla can be served warm or at room temperature.