Childhood memories are incomplete without food. “Do you remember how much you loved this?” is an oft-asked question in conversations with family and friends. What follows is unstoppable banter on the times gone by and the goodness cherished.
One such dish that brings a smile to my face is dal dhokli, a traditional lentil stew with strips of diamond-shaped dough simmering in it. It’s a comfort food in Gujarati households, and a perfect melange of sweet and tangy flavours. This one-pot dish can be had on its own, or with rice or papad as accompaniment.
As children, when we would walk into the house after our evening play, we would try to guess what’s cooking in the kitchen. The waft of simmering dal dhokli and the aroma of homemade ghee would pervade the house. The sound of roasted papad, being crushed and mixed with chilli powder and a dribble of oil, would add to the sensory mix.
With dal dhokli, I’ve burnt my tongue plenty of times, as my eyes would ignore the rising steam and not wanting to wait for it to cool down, I would scald my tongue but satisfy my palate.
During those pigtail days, we hardly knew the rich history behind this dish, which dates back to Prithviraj Chauhan’s reign. Apparently, it was made by a very wise palace cook who wanted to serve a delicious, wholesome meal to the queen when no vegetables were available during a siege. So he put together herbs, spices, leftover rotis, and dal to make a healthy, scrumptious meal. Who knew then that this dish would become popular enough to spawn several variants?
While dal dhokli has a strong foothold in Gujarati and Rajasthani households, in Maharashtra, it is served as varan phal or chakolya. In Marathi, ‘varan’ refers to the dal and ‘phal’ to the wheat dumplings or the dhokli. The difference in the recipes lies in the spices. Varan phal is known to use goda masala, a spice mix of coriander seeds, sesame seeds, cumin, cinnamon, cloves, chillies and dry coconut, among others. Traditional Gujarati dal dhokli has jaggery, lemon juice, cinnamon and clove for its tongue-tickling flavour.
Every household though has its own variation. While in mine, we’ve always added peanuts for extra crunch, many are known to add cashews. Kokum and coconut are the other ingredients that some experiment with.
In terms of spices as well, while many households prefer using whole spices, some like mine opt for ground masala. I learnt much later in life that our secret ingredient was homemade chai masala, as it had freshly ground cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and dry ginger.
What we also did was half-cook the wheat flour rotis beforehand. This was usually done so that the evening rush hour did not throw a spanner in the works of a delicious dinner. All we had to do later then was temper the dal and cut the rotis into diamond shapes before letting them soak in the goodness.
Another time-saving technique used in our household was to boil dal in plenty in the morning itself. So, while some was used for lunch, the rest was saved for dal dhokli in the evening. Many a leftover bowl of dal was used up this way.
The dough has its variations too. Some make it with whole wheat flour mixed with turmeric, chilli powder and dhania-jeera powder, while others add besan or chickpea flour to it as well. Vegetables have also found their place in some recipes with potatoes being stuffed in the dhoklis.
Irrespective of how you choose to make it, here are a few tips to keep in mind. Let the dal be watery. Once you add the dhoklis in, the water will be soaked up. Plus, the consistency needs to be akin to a soup or a stew. Add the dhoklis only in the latter part. If these get overcooked, you will have a sticky porridge, instead of the light and flavourful dal dhokli.
Add vegetables and spices based on your palate. For all you know, you may create your own new version of it. Ghee is optional. However, it comes strongly recommended as it gives a whole new flavour to the dish.
1 cup whole wheat flour
¼ tsp turmeric
½ tsp chilli powder
1 tsp dhania-jeera powder
1 tbsp oil
Water to bind
For the dal
½ cup toor dal
1½ cup water
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp chilli powder
½ tsp dhania-jeera powder
1 tsp ghee
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
Some curry leaves
Handful of peanuts
Pinch of hing/ asafoetida
Small piece of jaggery
½ tsp garam masala or chai masala
Salt to taste
Coriander to garnish
1. Mix all the ingredients for the dhokli and bind the dough together. Let it rest for half an hour.
2. Roll out the dough like rotis and roast them on a griddle, without oil. Cut into diamond-shaped segments.
3. Next, boil or pressure cook the dal.
4. Heat ghee in a deep pan, and put in mustard seeds, cumin seeds and hing. Next, toss in the peanuts and curry leaves.
5. Add this to the dal along with water and let it simmer.
6. Add in the turmeric, dhania-jeera powder, chilli powder and garam masala/ chai masala. The garam masala can be replaced with whole spices like cardamom, cinnamon sticks and cloves.
7. Once the dal mixture starts boiling, add the lemon juice, jaggery and salt.
8. Add in the dhokli and let simmer till the pieces become a little soft.
9. Garnish with coriander and serve hot.
The writer is a freelance digital marketing strategist, who loves words, data and everything