Gujarat is a beautiful swath of land not unlike an alligator’s head that sweeps into the Arabian Sea and kisses Pakistan’s southeast border. This is the state where India’s most illustrious son, Mahatma Gandhi, was born. A land that was once the playground of Krishna, the charismatic child-god and friend of cows whose antics cram the pages of India’s holy and mythological books. The state that is home to the Jain community, a religious group who have — for centuries and long before the term “ethical vegan” was coined–believed in shunning cruelty to every living creature, including insects.
This is also land of incredible beauty, with beaches that stretch forever, ancient temples that glitter under clear, moonlit skies, and an abundant wildlife that includes solemnly majestic tigers, lightning-fast leopards, and bone-lazy sloth bears. The Rann of Kutch, the exquisitely mysterious gulf that lies between the two alligator jaws, is a bird-watcher’s paradise with raptors, bustards, cranes and hundreds more bird species.
As a teen, I had a chance to travel around Gujarat, thanks to my cousin Deepa who fell in love with and married a Gujarati. Raju Bhai’s family was from Surat, but at the time of their wedding he was living in Mithapur, a small, neat city created by the Tatas, one of India’s biggest industrial families. Mithapur literally translates to “Salt City,” and that’s what it was– it was where Tata Salt was manufactured and packed and shipped off to grocery stores around the country.
I often traveled to Deepa’s home with her mother, my dad’s sister, who lived in Bombay. More often than not, we’d take off for side trips. To Surat, a buzzing city that looked like Bombay on a smaller scale. To Dwarka, the place where Krishna is said to have lived, and which was a major attraction for my deeply religious aunt. To Okha, a port city at the very tip of the state, right where the gulf swims out to the sea.
There’s one more thing that make Gujarat special: its food. Gujarati cuisine is rich in vegetarian dishes and chickpea-based snacks, each unique, many extremely healthy. One of these healthy and uber-special snacks is dhokla, a pillow-soft, savory delicacy made with rice and lentils and then steamed. On top goes a tadka of spicy brown mustard seeds sputtered in oil, and lemony-bright coriander leaves. Imagine.
I wanted a really special, very authentic dhokla recipe to share with you rather than many quick versions around the web made with chickpea flour. I turned to my friend, Roshani, whose family moved here from Gujarat when Roshani was just a little girl. Her mom, who lives in Houston, immediately sent me two recipes for dhokla– one for the more ubiquitous yellow version, made with chana dal or bengal gram dal, and the other a white version made with udad dal or black gram dal.
I made the white version and, to make it healthier, I replaced half the rice in the recipe with brown rice. The dhokla was delicious, and neither Desi nor I could have enough of it.
Keep in mind that this recipe makes a ton of dhokla, so halve it if you are just making it for one or two people. I steamed the dhokla in a round baking dish that fitted into my pressure cooker base, but if you have an idli mold you can use that too, although you will of course end up with idli-shaped dhokla rather than little square pieces.
I cup brown rice
1 cup white rice
3/4 cup udad dal
1/4 cup chana dal
4-5 green chillies, minced
1 12-oz package of silken soft tofu
1/4 cup lemon juice
Eno Fruit Salt (you can find this at any Indian grocery store– it’s primarily meant to fight indigestion)
Salt to taste
Oil to sputter the mustard seeds
2-3 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 cup finely chopped coriander leaves
1/4 cup shredded coconut
A little cayenne pepper to sprinkle on the dosa (optional)
Soak the rice and the dals together for about 8 hours or overnight.
Drain, then blend with some water to make a rather smooth paste. You will need a fairly powerful blender for this, like a Vitamix or one of those hardy Indian blenders. I just put it into my dosa grinder which does a great job.
Add the tofu and lemon juice and salt and blend a little more until everything’s nicely mixed.
Set aside for 2-6 hours to ferment. I would recommend two hours if you don’t want your dhokla sour– Desi and I prefer it that way.
Grease a baking dish or any dish with sides at least 2-3 inches high. Heat about 1 inch water in a pan that the dish will fit into and let it come to a boil.
Pour the batter about 1 inch deep in the greased dish. Now add 1/2 tsp of Eno Fruit Salt and stir gently, in a single direction, until just mixed. You will start to see the dough bubble and fluff up right before your eyes.
Carefully place the pan inside the boiling water, reduce to a simmer, and sprinkle some cayenne on top. Cover the pan with a snug lid, and let the dhokla steam at least 10-15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Remove, allow it to cool a little, and then cut into squares.
Heat the oil and sputter the mustard seeds. Pour over the dhokla pieces. Sprinkle the coriander and coconut on top.
Serve warm with some coconut chutney or just on its own.