Thursday, September 16, 2010

Okie dhokla

I am going to go ahead and admit right off that this recipe is not 100% vegan. But, then again, neither am I...yet. I'm working up to it slowly. But while I can't say this item is vegan, I can say that this somewhat flying-saucerish food item still happens to be freaking delicious.

The semi unusual-looking item above is called Sooji dhokla. "Sooji" (SOO-jee) means semolina, which is the primary ingredient of this delicious savory cake. Dhokla (which I have only heard pronounced as if it rhymes with "okra") is a dish that hails from the Gujarat region of India. I was first introduced to it by a dear friend of mine from college. Her mother is a phenomenal cook, and we were often lucky to be treated to this wonderful spicy dish after my friend returned to school after a weekend at home. It does travel rather well, and it's really warm and satisfying.

Sooji dhokla is a steamed cake made primarily from semolina, yogurt, the black mustard seeds you see sprinkled liberally over the top in the picture, chilis, and a bit of cilantro. My friend's mom I think tends to measure by sight when she makes it, but I am not, alas, nearly as skilled as she is. So, to make this on my own, I needed a recipe. Luckily, I found one at a DELIGHTFUL website called You can find the recipe I used here. What I absolutely love about this website (beyond the AWESOME name that is) are all of the video tutorials for how to make just about every recipe on the website. The 2 phenomenal women who run the site show you, in detail, how to prepare the recipes. It's like learning from friends. In fact, these women are so likable that you may find yourself watching the videos for recipes you don't even plan to make. Believe me, I know from experience :-)

But, to see my posting of the recipe, and to hear a bit about the slight trials and tribulations of preparing it, please continue reading below. I will warn you, it does require a bit of special equipment, and a bit of patience. It's definitely not a quick weeknight meal option. But it is delicious, and will keep for a week in the fridge. I made mine and ate it every night for a week (Sooooo good!)

Thanks all, and happy cooking!

Sooji Dhokla

I highly recommend watching the video at the link above before doing this. It will really give you some good tips and a better understanding of how this works.

For the cake

2 cups sooji, or semolina (I bought this at an Indian grocery store, but a supermarket with a good international foods section might have it too)
2 Tbsp oil
1/4 tsp carom seeds (also called Ajwain); If you can't find these at your local market, and you do not have an Indian food store in the area, I'd recommend substituting whole cumin seeds
1 tsp grated ginger (I skipped this and added a few shakes of ground ginger)
1 finely chopped green chili (or to taste); If you don't have one, I'd recommend trying some driedred chili flakes
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
1 cup water
1 cup well mixed plain yogurt
1/4 tsp turmeric
2 tsp ENO brand fruit salt (this powder is also best purchased at the Indian grocery or online; You likely won't use it up that quickly, so you probably won't need to order it often; It is made, from what I understand, of a combo of sodium bicarbonate and citric acid powder; it is often used in India as an antacid, and to prevent bloating, but it is involved in a chemical reaction that has to take place for the dhokla to come together properly; I am not 100% sure if substitutions would work as well)
Cooking oil (spray type if desired)

**A stock pot with lid (preferably one that comes with a removable tray with tiny holes that can be used as a steamer)

**A cheesecloth and some sort of steamer tray with a rigid structure and small holes; bamboo steamers could work

For the brush-on infused oil

2 Tbsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds (I used black mustard seeds)
2 tsp sesame seeds (I skipped this too; Didn't have them, and besides, I don't think I ever saw my friend's mom use them...)
Slit, seeded green chilis to taste (optional)
Finely chopped cilantro (the ladies at recommended 10 sprigs; I'd recommend using 4-5 Tbsp of the fresh stuff; It's definitely better than the dried variety; Unfortunately though, I didn't have any fresh cilantro in the house when I made the version pictured above; The dried stuff will do, but it's not nearly as good; 2-3Tbsp of the dry stuff - or to taste- should work in a pinch).
Onion pickle, coriander chutney, or condiment of choice (optional but recommended strongly)

First, make the cake. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, stir the semolina, carom (or cumin) seeds, and the oil until smooth. You do not want to see any lumps left. In another bowl, mix the yogurt, chili if desired, the salt, the turmeric, and ginger. Next, pour the yogurt mixture into the semolina mixture and stir to incorporate. To this, add your water to make sort of a batter. Let this batter sit on your counter for 15-20 mins.

And now a note**: There is actually a certain contraption you can buy (definitely in India, and maybe online) that is made for the specific purpose of steaming dhokla. I, of course, do not possess such a contraption, though it will assuredly be on my list of required souvenirs if I ever visit India. I used a pasta pot (one of the ones with a built in steamer tray that fits inside) and cheesecloth. You might be able to get away with just the cheesecloth and a steamer basket (probably the bamboo kind), but the cheesecloth is definitely essential. I warn you, however, the cheesecloth will likely get horribly messed up when you make dhokla, so you may want to be conservative with how much you use.

Now, put an inch to an inch and a half of water in a stock pot, and bring it to a boil. Spray or brush your steamer basket (and maybe even your cheesecloth) with oil to prevent the semolina cake from sticking as it cooks. It will still taste as good if it sticks, but it won't be nearly as pretty, or solid.

Once the water is boiling, you must spring into action like a jungle cat. Things will move very quickly from here. Line your steamer basket carefully with a double layer of the prepared cheesecloth(making sure to cover both bottom and sides), and place the steamer (cover off) into the pot. You are making sort of a double boiler situation here, except that the top of the double boiler needs to have holes for the steam to get in. But, as with a double boiler, make sure your steamer is suspended at least a few inches above the boiling water. The bottom of the steamer must never be in direct contact with the water.

Now here's the tricky part. Mix the fruit salt into your prepared batter and stir fairly quickly and well. The batter will start to foam due to the chemical reaction of the fruit salt. Pour the batter carefully and quickly into your cheesecloth-lined steamer. This is why your steamer must have tiny holes, and not large ones. If your steamer has large holes, the batter will probably go right through.

Now, smooth the top of the batter gently with a spatula, cover the pot with its lid, and steam the dhokla at medium heat for 15 mins. Then turn off the heat, carefully remove the steamer from the pot, and let it cool, preferably on a wire rack to let air flow underneath.

While you wait, make the infused oil.

Heat your oil to medium heat in a sauté pan or nonstick skillet. Add the mustard seeds. They should start to pop open in a few minutes, so you may want to put a splatter screen over the pan as it cooks. At the very least, please be careful and do not watch the seeds too closely as you fry them. If you are using sesame seeds, add them next and cook for a few minutes. They will pop and jump a bit also. If you want to use green chilis here, do so at this point and let cook for 30 seconds to a minute, then switch off the stove.

Once the steamed dhokla is cool enough to handle, remove it from the steamer basket, unwrap slowly and carefully from the cheesecloth, and flip onto a plate to serve. Brush your infused oil (including the seeds) over the top. This is what gives the dhokla its spice. Chop and/or sprinkle your cilantro on top just before serving.

Now cut in slices and serve to your soon-to-be-devoted-fan club. Onion pickle or coriander (cilantro) chutney are excellent condiments to serve with dhokla. You can find these at the indian grocery, or at good health food stores or supermarkets. For extra credit, you could make your own.

Happy eating!

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