Bengali lentil cakes in a mildly spiced sauce

Bengali lentil cakes in a mildly spiced sauce

By
From
I Love India
Serves
4
Photographer
Martin Poole

This is a really elegant and delicious Bengali vegetarian dish called dhokar dalna. I tried it on my first trip to Calcutta, where I was taken to Kewpies for a proper Bengali meal. It was such a revelation and this dish stuck out as a lovely vegetarian main for friends. It consists of diamonds of blended chana dal – which looks like set polenta – fried and added to a lightly flavoured sauce which is more soup than curry and with very restrained spicing. It looks like a long recipe, and there are several steps, but none of them take very long and this can be on the table in less than 30 minutes. You would normally see some fried potatoes added to the dish, but I have left them out so the lentil cakes are the star. I normally serve this when friends are coming round, but you can eat it more simply with some rice and crispy fried vegetables on the side.

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient

For the lentil cakes (dhokar)

Quantity Ingredient
250g chana dal, soaked overnight, or for a few hours
1 teaspoon salt
12g finely grated root ginger, (peeled weight)
1/2-1 indian green finger chilli, stalk removed
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
vegetable oil

For the sauce

Quantity Ingredient
small pinch asafoetida
1 large indian bay leaf
2/3 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 cloves
2.5cm cinnamon stick
1 small onion, blended with a little water to help
12g finely grated root ginger, (peeled weight)
1 rounded teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/8 teaspoon chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon see method for ingredients, (fresh if possible)
2 rounded tablespoons plain yogurt
4 green chillies, whole, stalks removed
freshly ground black pepper
3/4-1 teaspoon sugar, or to taste
chopped coriander, to serve

Method

  1. Drain the lentils and blend to a coarse paste using only 2 tbsp water along with the salt, ginger, chilli and turmeric. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a karahi or non-stick saucepan, add the paste and cook, stirring and scraping the base constantly until it leaves the sides of the pan and forms into a ball, 3–5 minutes. It shouldn’t be too dry or crumbly; if it is add a little water. Scrape into a wide bowl or even a plate, patting it into a 3.5cm thick circle. Leave to cool and wash the pan.
  2. Heat 7.5–10cm vegetable oil in the same pan. Slice the dal “cake” at 5–7.5cm intervals into diamond shapes. It shouldn’t be crumbly; if it is, pat a little into place. Add to the hot oil (in batches if necessary) and fry over a medium heat until crispy and golden all over. You will need to give the pot the occasional stir, so the diamonds don’t stick on the base, and so that they get an even colouring. Take out with a slotted spoon, allowing the excess oil to drip back in the pan. Place on kitchen paper to drain. Repeat to cook the remaining cakes, if needed. Drain out the oil, leaving only 3 tbsp in the pan.
  3. Make the sauce. Heat this 3 tbsp of oil and add the asafoetida, bay leaf, cumin seeds, cloves and cinnamon stick. Cook until these have puffed up and the cumin has coloured. Add the blended onion and some salt. Cook, stirring often, until the onion has browned to a golden colour and tastes cooked rather than raw. Add the ginger and stir-fry for another 20–30 seconds. Add all the ground spices with a good splash of water and cook for 2–3 minutes. Take off the heat and add the yogurt, then return to the heat and constantly stir vigorously until the yogurt comes to the boil and reduces a little. Add 500ml water and the green chillies and return to the boil. Simmer for 5–6 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding some black pepper and the sugar as well.
  4. When you are ready to serve, place the dhokar in the sauce and simmer for 5–6 minutes to allow them to absorb some of the sauce. There should still be a fair amount in the pan, if not add some boiling water, adjusting the seasoning accordingly. Sprinkle with coriander.
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