Long ago in 1969, on the Balaji Road in the old city of Surat (Gujarat) stood a grandiose structure of stone—the Balaji Girls’ High School. Radhika and Bhavna, aged eight and six, like every other kid, loved to eat from the vendors selling delectable snacks outside the school. The narrow, muddy lane not only boasted spacious homes with intricately designed pillars and fancy verandahs with swings, but also three vendors at the school gate—one selling boiled black chana, one peppermint sweets and one, a very unique and local dish, Rassawalla Khaman Dhokla. The sisters’ penchant towards it was such that the minute the school bell would ring for lunch break, they would dash towards the gate, as even a few seconds delay would result in waiting in a queue to buy the much in demand ‘khaman’.
Dhoklas are quite a popular snack among Gujaratis. And khaman is a specialty of the Surthis. This was a version of it served back then. What we see and eat as khaman dhokla today is an ultra-light, syrup-soaked, sometimes sandwiched with layers of chutney, ketchup and paneer, version of what really is supposed to be a denser, non-syrupy, dry and richer in channa dal-tasting dhokla. You can still find these in a traditional authentic Gujarati kitchen or villages where the real style of preparation is still intact. Served originally in little dried leaf cups, the khaman dhokla was pan-fried and topped with chopped tomatoes, onions and sev. Then a generous helping of tangy dal-like gravy was poured over it and served immediately.
For those of you who are not familiar with Gujarati cuisine, dhoklas are a traditional snack, now popular and consumed by people all over the world. They are made from a fermented batter of rice and urad dal, whereas khaman dhokla is made only from ground channa dal.
For the khaman
● 400 gm of channa dal
● ½ tsp haldi (turmetic)
● 6-7 spicy green chillies, chopped finely
● 1 tbsp ginger paste
● Pinch of sugar
● Pinch of hing (asafoetida)
● 2 tbsp peanut oil
● 1 tbsp of Eno (or 1 tsp of soda bi carb)
● Salt to taste
● 2 tsp rai (mustard seeds)
● 1 tbsp shredded fresh coconut
● 1 tbsp chopped coriander
Soak channa dal for 4-5 hours. Coarsely grind the soaked dal, and keep it covered for another 4-5 hours to ferment. Now take the ground dal in a mixing bowl, add all the other ingredients and give it a good whizz. Eno will make the mixture bubble up and get some air in it. Prepare the steamer and grease the tin with some oil. Pour the dhokla batter and steam for about 20-25 minutes. Insert a knife in the middle and if it comes out clean then it’s done. Once ready, cut it diagonally into diamond shapes. In another small kadai, take 2 tbsp of oil, and when smoking hot, add mustard seeds. As they start to splutter, pour it over the khaman. Sprinkle with shredded coconut and coriander. This can be had as it is, but for the rassawalla khaman, follow the recipe below.
For the ‘rassa’ (gravy)
● 100 gm urad dal
● 100 gm channa dal
● 100 gm tuwar dal
● 6-7 tomatoes, chopped
● 2-3 pods cardamom
● 2-3 cloves
● 4-5 black pepper
● 2-3 green chillies (ground)
● 3-4 pieces of dried tamarind soaked
● Salt to taste
● 2 chopped tomatoes
● 1 chopped onion
● 1 cup fine yellow sev
● 2 tbsp chopped coriander
● 2 tbsp shredded fresh coconut
Soak the dals for two hours and boil. In another pot, boil some water and cook tomatoes in it. Meanwhile, dry grind the cardamoms, cloves and black pepper seeds to a fine powder. Now mash the dals and add to tomato/water. Add green chilli paste, spices and salt. Let it boil for some time and then add tamarind pulp. The consistency of the dal should be on the thicker side.
To serve, pan fry the khaman dhokla in some oil. Put them in a deep-dish plate. Pour the dal over the khaman, and top it up with chopped tomatoes, onions, coriander, shredded coconut and sev.
The writer is the author of Aapplemint, a food, travel and photography blog