After the relatively tough challenge we had for Indian Cooking Challenge previous month, I wanted to select something simpler. Though this month’s challenge Dhokar Dalna, a Bengali Specialty can’t be called a simple dish, it leans relatively closer to something you can make in your kitchen than the previous one. Also, I wanted to give a break to the monotonous sweet and savory traditional dishes that we have been attempting.
As always with each challenge, I was wondering whom I should get to select. I happened to chat with PJ and she was saying she wasn’t doing the ICC for various reasons, however, wanted to do this month. So bang, I left it to her choice. She sent a couple of things to choose from. And I thought this Dhokar Dalna sounded very interesting.
PJ had sent a couple of links and then I ended up checking out myself. I naturally landed in Sandeepa‘s space and read more about this dish. She says Dhokar Dalna, is one of the pillars of Niramish (Vegetarian) Bengali Cuisine. The lightly spiced lentil cakes or dhoka are fried and then simmered in a gravy made with tomatoes and ginger, spiced with cumin and coriander.
This is a traditional dish that’s purely satvik, meaning without onion or garlic. An interesting note to read was the fact that this dish was created by the Bengali widows who were not allowed to eat onion or garlic. And they came up with something that will still be very tasty and delightful. After eating I had to agree with Sandy that one wouldn’t miss the onion or garlic. I wouldn’t have figured out if I hadn’t cooked it myself.
After making the dhokas, I realized that this is exactly like the Masala Vadas or rather Vada Curry. The similarity was amazing. We add the fried chana dal vadas in the gravy and it ends up being such an amazing dish. And no doubt on similar comparisons, Dhokar Dalna was equally delicious, if not more, because of the finer taste. And the missing onions, make you appreciate the lentil cake more.
The only drawback might be the lengthy process involved. I feel over time when you know exactly what goes or how this is done, it may not take so much time, but the first time surely is very lengthy. Though the end result makes sure the efforts put in is all worth it. This is best enjoyed with plain white rice, however, I liked it a lot with pooris as well.
I checked the other versions of this dish, though I followed Sandeepa’s recipe. The only change I did was not adding ginger to the gravy as I felt I had added more in the lentil cake/ dhokas. Also though none of my cakes cracked or broke, I only served about 5 -6 and kept the rest as such. Being used to vadas, we liked munching on it as such. The potatoes surely added more flavor to the dish and I think hubby dear loved it more because of the fried potatoes. I had added as small ones, I see the other recipes having huge chunks.
However, this was one delicious dish you can make and enjoy!
Making of the Dhoka or the Lentil Cakes
1 cup Chana Dal / Bengal Gram, makes about 25 small cakes
3 to 4 nos Green Chilies
1/4 tsp Salt
1 inch Ginger
1/2 tsp Cumin Seeds
A Pinch Asafoetida Hing
A Pinch Sugar
1 tsp Ginger grated
Cooking Oil for deep frying
For the Gravy
1 cup Potato
1 tbsp Cooking Oil
2 small Bay leaf
3/4 tsp Cumin Seeds
2 medium Tomato puree.
1/2 cup Curds/ Yogurt
1 tsp Coriander Powder Roasted
1/2 tsp Cumin Powder Roasted
1 tsp Red Chili Powder
A Pinch Turmeric powder
1/4 tsp Garam Masala
1 tsp Ghee
Salt to taste
To make the Lentil Cakes
Wash and soak Chana Dal/Bengal Gram in water overnight.
Change water couple of times and drain the water.
Take the dal along with green chilies, salt, ginger and grind to a fine paste. Add little water as required for grinding.
In a nonstick pan, heat oil, temper with Cumin seeds, Hing, sugar and ginger paste. Fry for a couple of seconds.
Now add the ground dal paste to the pan and cook until the mix comes off the sides clean. The dal should be cooked so that is moist and soft but not runny or hard.
Once it is cooked, transfer to a greased plate.
Apply oil on your hands and immediately pat the paste into a cake, make sure the sides are tucked in. Make a 1 & 1/2 inch width cake. The paste gets dried up fast, so you got to be quick in patting it down. Once it cools down, cut into 2 inch squares or diamonds.
Heat a kadai with oil and deep fry the lentil cakes till golden brown on both sides. Gently slide them into oil and don’t flip over for the first few minutes. Fry in batches and drain them on a kitchen towel.
For making the Gravy
Peel and chop the potatoes into small pieces. Deep dry in the same kadai that you used for frying the lentil cakes.
Sprinkle a bit of salt after draining from oil. Keep it aside.
Heat Oil in a Kadhai or any other thick bottomed pan.
Temper the Oil with Bay leaf, Cumin Seeds and a pinch of Hing.
Add tomato puree and saute till tomato is well cooked and there is no raw smell.
In a cup, mix the curds with Coriander Powder, Cumin Powder, Red Chili Powder and turmeric to make a fine paste.
Add the curd paste to the Kadhai and fry the masala at low heat.
Add the fried potatoes and about 1 & 1/2 cups of water. Add salt to taste and cover and cook till potatoes are done.
Adjust for any seasoning, add a pinch of sugar. Next, add Garam Masala and Ghee and gently mix.
Now gently slide in the pieces of dhoka or the fried lentil cakes. Simmer for a couple of minutes to let the dhoka soak up the gravy.
Serve with Steamed Rice
For the Lentil Cakes:
Using a nonstick pan will work best for sautéing the dal paste.
Frying the dal paste is quite tricky. Quickly keep stirring to avoid the dal getting stuck to the sides. It only takes about 5 mins or so for the dal to get cooked. If you are not sure, keep the flame in low and cook.
The recipe calls for the tomato to be added as chopped, I made a puree. I felt this works out much faster in terms of getting.
If your dhokas are cracked, do not add them to the gravy, rather place them on the serving dish and pour the gravy on them.
For preventing the dhokas to crack, you will have to cook the dal paste quickly and pat it down with greased hands.