ICC: Dhokar Dalna (Spiced Lentil Cakes in Gravy, Bengali-Style)


Yay! I’m so glad I had a chance to participate in the Indian Cooking Challenge this month, and the recipe chosen was more than perfect: because it is a sattvic recipe, there’s no onion or garlic that I have to substitute for. Lentils can be high in oligosaccharides (the O of FODMAPs), but after a year of being pretty strict with my diet, an occasional meal that includes high-FODMAP ingredients can be tolerated with few issues.

Spiced Lentil Cakes, ready for their close-up!

Spiced Lentil Cakes, ready for their close-up!

And, aside from needing to use a little more salt than I did, it was incredibly tasty!

Dhokar Dalna
Adapted from Sandeepa



For the Lentil Cakes:

1 1/2  cups Dal (lentils)
6 small Green Chilis
salt to taste

Cooking Oil

3/4 tsp Cumin seeds
a pinch Asafoetida
1/2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp Ginger paste



For the Gravy:

1 potato, sliced in eighths

2 small Bay leaves
3/4 tsp of Cumin Seeds
pinch of Asafoetida/Hing

1 tomato, diced
1 tsp grated ginger



1 tsp plain Yogurt mixed with:
1/2 tsp of Coriander Powder
1/2 tsp of Cumin Powder
1/2 tsp of Red Chili Powder
pinch ground Turmeric

1 1/2 cups water

sugar to taste
1/4 tsp Garam Masala
1/2 tsp Ghee


It feels a little like playing "cooking show," but an organized mise en place really does make dinner that much easier!

It feels a little like playing “cooking show,” but an organized mise en place really does make dinner that much easier!

There’s a lot of moving parts to this, as you can see, but if you measure everything out at the beginning it actually is quite a smooth process.

You do need to start the night before, though, by soaking the lentils in water. I thought about just starting them to soak in the morning before going to work, but opted for the long soak instead. Once you’re ready to make supper, drain the lentils and then place them into the bowl of a food processor or food mill along with the chilis and a bit of salt. If necessary, add a bit of water to keep the mixture moving around freely–I didn’t need to.

Now that I know my food processor does this good a job on soaked lentils, I'm going to try the next soaked-rice-and-grind recipe that comes up with a little more confidence.

Now that I know my food processor does this good a job on soaked lentils, I’m going to try the next soaked-rice-and-grind recipe that comes up with a little more confidence.

In a large frying pan,  heat some oil (maybe a couple of tablespoons–the recipe wasn’t really specific) and add the first measures of cumin seeds, asafoetida, sugar, and ginger paste and saute until the cumin seeds are nice and fragrant. Add the lentil paste and stir until “moist and soft but not runny or hard.” I suppose this depends on how wet your lentil paste was to begin with; since I didn’t have to add any water I didn’t have to cook mine too long. This step was reminiscent of making pate a choux with the constant, vigorous stirring.

Tempering the oil with the first batch of seasonings...

Tempering the oil with the first batch of seasonings…

...before adding in the pureed lentils and chili mixture.

…before adding in the pureed lentils and chili mixture.

Oil a plate (I used olive oil spray) and spread the cooked lentil paste on it, patting it with oiled hands until it’s fairly level. Cut the paste into squares or diamonds–I went with diamonds. There was no guidance on how big to make them so I just did what looked right. I guess they’re not more than 3-3 1/2 inches at their longest part. They were about 1/2 an inch thick, too, which turned out to be just right to keep them from breaking later.

The flatter plate the better--a small pizza pan might work well, too.

The flatter plate the better–a small pizza pan might work well, too.

Add some more oil to the pan and pan-fry the lentil cakes until golden brown. I used a small spatula to ease them off the plate and into the oil. They turned golden very quickly and took about 3 batches to finish up.

They fry quickly so don't get greasy at all.

They fry quickly so don’t get greasy at all.

Empty all but a couple of tablespoons of oil from the pan and fry the potato slices until lightly golden, turning to get all the edges. Remove them from the oil and set them aside. Into the hot oil add the bay leaves, second measure of cumin seeds, and asafoetida and let the seeds get a bit fragrant again before adding the diced tomato and ginger.

Frying the potato wedges...

Frying the potato wedges…

...and tempering the second batch of oil to start the gravy.

…and tempering the second batch of oil to start the gravy.

Now, the directions said to saute until there is “no raw smell” left of the tomato. This sounded odd at first, but it makes sense if you think about the difference between, say, the smell of a fresh tomato and that of tomato paste. You’re going for the paste smell. Once you get there you’re going to add the paste of yogurt, coriander, cumin, chili powder, and turmeric and turn the heat down to low/medium-low and cook the masala until fragrant–a good nose is very useful in this style of cooking!

I was amazed at how quickly the tomatoes broke down into a paste...

I was amazed at how quickly the tomatoes broke down into a paste…

...then it was time to add the yogurt mixture. To prevent it from breaking, keep the heat low.

…then it was time to add the yogurt mixture. To prevent it from breaking, keep the heat low.

Return the potatoes to the pan along with the water and salt to taste, cover and simmer until the potatoes are cooked through. This is where I started thinking that, as far as gravy goes, this one was going to be weak. This is also about the only break you get with this meal prep, so I used it to start some baby carrots in the steamer as a side dish and check that the rice (started before I began this recipe) is nearly finished.

That tiny bit of ghee really did the trick!

That tiny bit of ghee really did the trick!

Check that the seasonings are good for  you and the sugar, garam masala and ghee. Now, it may not seem like that little bit of clarified butter is going to do much to this watery tomato juice but I was amazed at the change it gave to the flavor and mouth-feel of the sauce. Add the lentil cakes into the pan and let them soak up the gravy (I flipped mine over after a couple of minutes to let both sides get gravied before spooning them over rice and pairing with the minted carrots.

Those lentil cakes are thirsty!

Those lentil cakes are thirsty!

The lentil cakes were very dense and filling: 3 diamonds were plenty for a meal with the rice and carrots and made for a good lunch the next day, reheated. I ended up with 5 servings, total, and about the only quibble I had with it was that I needed more gravy. So, if I get the urge to try this again, I’ll be doubling the gravy ingredients so there is plenty to go around.


With basmati rice and minted carrots, the spiced lentil cakes made a very hearty meatless meal.

With basmati rice and minted carrots, the spiced lentil cakes made a very hearty meatless meal.

ICC | Besan Ki Masala Roti


It’s mid-month and you might recall that that’s when I get to try out another authentic Indian dish and see how much I can avoid mucking it up with my American ways. In other words: it’s time for another Indian Cooking Challenge!

This month’s recipe was very easy to incorporate into our weekly dinners, as it’s an Indian bread (roti), and we love our breads. This particular roti is “stuffed” with a masala (mixtures of spices) and cooked on a griddled. As an unleavened bread, it’s somewhere between a cracker and a biscuit, but very tasty nonetheless. It paired nicely with the Thai-style cauliflower curry and basmati rice I made for supper one night this week.

Besan ki Masala Roti with Cauliflower Curry and rice

Besan Ki Masala Roti

from Marwari Vegetarian Cooking, makes 8


Masala:1 1/2 tsp ground Cumin
1/2 tsp ground Coriander
1/4 tsp ground Turmeric
1 Green Chili, diced
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Amchur (dried mango powder)
1/2 tsp Chilli Powder
1 1/s Tbsp Olive Oil
Bread:1 cup Besan (gram flour)
1/2 cup Whole Wheat Flour
1/2 tsp Salt
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
4-6 Tbsp Water

Ingredients for the Masala

Combine the masala ingredients in a small bowl and mix until a paste forms. Set aside.

Masala Paste

In a larger bowl, combine the flours and salt and mix until uniform.

Ingredients for Roti dough

Stir in the olive oil until the mixture is crumbly, kind of like pie crust.

Crumbly dough

Add in the water a tablespoon at a time until the dough forms a tight ball. It took my 5 Tbsp and then my dough was a bit sticky, but a little more flour fixed that.

Dough for roti

Divide your dough into 8 equal parts and form each into a ball.

Balls of roti dough

Roll each ball into a circle, about 4 inches or so in diameter, then divide the masala filling between each, spreading it around a bit.

the stuffed roti

Fold each circle in half over the filling, and in half again to make a triangle with one rounded edge. Roll these stacked packets into triangular roti–about 1/4 inch thick or less if you can manage it without sticking or tearing.

re-rolled triangular roti

Heat a griddle and drizzle a little olive oil on it, “pan frying” the roti until each side is golden brown. Serve warm.

I had the devil of a time rolling out the stuffed roti–the filling wanted to make the dough squish around and tear, to the point that were I to make these again, I’d definitely just mix the spices into the dry ingredients from the get-go, and skipped the filling step. It definitely would cut down on the chances of over-handling the dough (always a landmine when dealing with breads), which I also think I did this time.

Besan ki Masala Roti

Still, they were tasty–pretty much anything made with besan is awesome in my book.

Oh, and the original recipe used ghee (clarified butter). I opted to use olive oil for health reasons and convenience, but to be more authentic, ghee would be your best bet.

ICC | Poush Parbon er Pati Shapta | Bengali Coconut Crepes


After many months absence, I finally had a chance to participate in this month’s Indian Cooking Challenge once again!

Now, if you think back a couple of weeks you may remember those scrumptious Banana Crepes I posted about. The reason I was making crepes on a summer Sunday morning was this month’s ICC recipe and I seized the opportunity to not be stuck eating them all myself by making them when we were expecting guests. The banana filling came about because Todd’s not fond of coconut, but the original version was delicious, too.

Pretty Coconut Crepes all in a row!

Poush Parbon er Pati Shapta

courtesy of Sandeepa of Bong Mom’s Cookbook

3 cups grated Coconut
1 cup Sugar
12 oz unsweetened Khoa

Crepe Batter
3 cups All-Purpose Flour
1/2 cup Semolina Flour
1/4 cup Rice Flour
4 cups Milk (or more, as needed)
additional butter for the pan

Sweetened Condensed Milk

The only “foreign” ingredient for this recipe was the khoa, which I understood to be milk solids. I didn’t take the time to research it thoroughly but I thought large-curd cottage cheese (drained) would fit the bill and it did just fine. Later I learned that ricotta cheese would have been a closer substitute.

Coconut and sugar starting to cook

Start by mixing together the coconut and sugar in a saucepan and heat until the sugar starts to melt and maybe browns a little bit.

Completed filling for coconut crepes

Stir in the khoa (or your substitute of choice) and continue to cook and stir until the filling starts to smooth out. After about 30 minutes or so the milk solids will break down and filling will be a nice light golden brown. Set aside until needed.

Batter ingredients for crepes

Combine the dry ingredients for the crepe batter in a large mixing bowl, preferably one with a spout. Mix together with a whisk or fork and then gradually stir in the milk until the batter is thin enough to easily pour into the pan. It’ll be a bit thinner than regular pancake batter.

a freshly poured crepe

Heat a crepe pan (I use an 8-inch non-stick omelet pan) over medium/medium-high heat and prep the surface with a bit of butter (yes, even a non-stick pan needs the prep). Pour some batter into the prepared pan and swirl the pan around to spread it out until it’s a thin, even layer on the bottom of the pan.

Once flipped, the filling goes into the crepe

Once the first side is just barely cooked (the top will lose all it’s shine) flip the crepe over to cook the second side. (You can use tongs or a spatula for this, but it’s really not tough to shake the crepe over to the side of the pan’s edge and use your fingers to flip it.) Add a bit of the filling to the center of the crepe.

Crepe, filled, with one side folded over
Fold the first side over the filling, let it set for a second, and then fold the other side over and transfer to a plate or serving tray. It’s important not to cook the crepes too long or make them too thick or else they will not want to roll up and will be more likely to crack instead of gently fold.

Glazed coconut crepe

Drizzle a bit of the sweetened condensed milk over the finished crepe and garnish with a bit of extra coconut if you want.

The batter made about 3 dozen crepes but the filling only filled 2 dozen (another good reason to have made the banana filling). I even threw out some of the batter because we were at critical mass already and I was tired of making them and ready to have fun with my guests.

This particular crepe recipe is pretty sturdy and, once cold, can be quite chewy. It reheats fine, though, with a little zap in the microwave.

I never thought the ICC would have me making crepes, but I was glad for the excuse!

ICC: Khara Biscuit


It’s June 15th and time for another foray into the Indian Cooking Challenge! This month we have a spicy, savory shortbread called a Khara Biscuit from the recipe files of Champa. Unlike the fluffy, leavened biscuits we’re familiar with, this unleavened biscuit is more of a cookie. Studded with chiles and cilantro they make a nice snack or accompaniment to a meal.

Khara Biscuits

Iyengar Bakery-style Khara Biscuit

2 cups All-Purpose Flour
1 tsp Salt
6 Green Chiles, finely diced
3 Tbsp chopped Cilantro
6 Tbsp Butter, softened
4 tsp Sugar
3 Tbsp Plain Yogurt, plus more as needed (I used a total of 6 Tbsp, I think)

Putting it all together:

Preheat your oven to 325° Fahrenheit and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Mixing the dry ingredients In a bowl, whisk together flour and salt. Toss in the chopped chiles and cilantro until both are coated with a fine layer of flour and set aside.
The creamed butter and sugar, adding the yogurt In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.

Add the yogurt and continue to beat until fully incorporated.

The fully-mixed dough With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients and mix slowly, adding more yogurt as needed to get a dry but workable dough. Be careful not to overwork the dough as it could become tough.
Forming the biscuits without a cookie cutter The original recipe suggests rolling out to dough to 1/4″ thick and cutting them with round cookie cutters. I found the dough difficult to roll so opted to scoop even portions of the dough and flattened them with my hands.
The finished biscuits, top and golden-brown bottom Bake for 18-20 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through cooking. They’ll stay pretty pale but the bottoms will turn golden brown. Depending on the thickness of your biscuits, they may need a little more than 20 minutes (mine took about 25).

The original recipe mentioned using mint in place of the cilantro and I might have to make them again, just to try it out. The spicy cookies were a nice counterpoint to the sweet-garlic-eggplant we had that evening for dinner.

Khara Biscuits with Spicy Garlic Eggplant

ICC: Pudachi Wadi


It’s time for another installment of the Indian Cooking Challenge! And this month the authentic recipe I bumble my way through is the traditional Maharastrian Pudachi Wadi (aka Coriander Rolls). Now, for those who don’t know, in the United States coriander refers to the seeds (whole or ground) of the plant we call–in it’s leafy state–cilantro. Since we’re using the leaves, they’d be called Cilantro Rolls in our neck of the woods.

For many years I was not a huge fan of cilantro, and I’m not alone. The flavor was too pronounced, almost soapy in some instances and really was not my cup of tea. But the more worldly one eats, the more one is likely to encounter different flavors and, in time, I became more tolerant of the herb.

Good thing, too! Because these rolls are delicious and it would have been a shame to miss out on them if I’d never been willing to try cilantro again.

Pudachi Wadi
from Archana of Tried & Tested Recipes

Pudachi Wadi


1 cup Gram Flour
1 cup Wheat flour
3/4 tsp Chilli Powder
heaping 1/4 tsp Turmeric
Salt, to taste
4.5 Tbsp warm Oil
Water, as needed


3 tsp Oil
1.5 tsp Garam Masala
3 tsp Tamarind Concentrate

3 Tbsp Shredded Coconut
1.5 Tbsp Poppy Seeds
1.5 Tbsp Sesame Seeds 

1.5 Tnsp Oil
1 Onion, diced
1.5 tsp Ginger-Green Chilli Paste
3 cloves garlic, minced

2 bunches Cilantro, chopped fine (approx. 2 cups)
3/4 tsp Chilli Powder
Half a Lime, juiced
1.5 tsp Sugar
Salt, to taste

Oil, for frying

This one takes a little time, mostly because of the different steps, but it’s worth a few hours on a weekend afternoon to give it a try. A large part of the time required goes into rolling and forming the dough. While it wouldn’t be quite the same, I’m betting the paste and filling would be fabulous inside regular spring roll wrappers and steamed or fried.

I did have to finagle one ingredient: the ginger-green chilli paste. I substituted equal amounts of minced ginger paste and green salsa. Having never had the original, I can’t say how close I came but it seemed a logical substitution. If we’d had any in the house, I probably would have used Recaito, as it’s cilantro-based.

Combining the dough ingredients Make the dough. 

Mix the dry dough ingredients together and then stir in the warm oil. Depending on things like your flour’s water content and the humidity in your kitchen, the amount of water you’ll need to add to the mixture to make a smooth dough will vary. Just mix it in a teaspoon or two at a time until the dough is firm.

Set aside.

The paste ingredients Make the paste. 

Combine the oil, garam masala and tamarind concentrate into a smooth paste and set aside until it’s time to
assemble the pastries.

Toasting the coconut, poppy and sesame seeds Make the filling. 

Toast the coconut, poppy seeds and sesame seeds in a non-stick skillet until the coconut and sesame seeds are golden brown. Allow to cool.

Sauteing the onions, garlic and ginger green chilli paste Meanwhile, saute the onions in the oil until tender. 

Add the ginger-green chilli paste and garlic and saute briefly—just a few seconds–before removing from the heat to cool off a bit.

Grinding the toasted ingredients Process the now-cool coconut, poppy and sesame seeds until coarse. Really all you’re doing is breaking up the coconut as the others are already pretty small to start with.
Combining all the filling ingredients Transfer the onion mixture to a bowl and add the ground and toasted mixture, the chopped cilantro and the rest of the ingredients for the filling. Mix well and season to taste with additional salt as needed.
Rolling out the dough To Assemble the pastries

Divide the dough into 16 even pieces and roll each piece into a ball. Roll each ball into a circle (about 3 inches wide).

Brushing on the paste Brush a bit of the paste onto the center of the dough…
Adding the filling Then place a spoonful of the filling mixture in the center.
Wrapping the filling up Fold the edges of the dough over the filling and press them together to make a tight seal. It may help to add a little water to the edges of the dough.Apparently these rolls can either be round tubes–like a traditional spring roll–or triangles. I did some of each just to see if it made a difference. For what it’s worth, the triangular ones seemed to have a better distribution of dough and filling per bite.
Toasting the pastries Toast each roll or triangle lightly on a griddle. I almost skipped this step but am grateful I didn’t: the toasting firms us the dough so that they don’t fall apart so easily when you fry them. And electric griddle set on 250° worked perfectly for this as I could put one on, roll the next and flip the first when the second was added.
The final fry Deep fry the rolls just before serving. Frying goes quickly and, unlike a lot of fried foods, these do not float to the surface and bob around, they just sit there and cook so you need to turn them over after a few moments to keep them from getting too dark on any one side.

I think you’d also be safe making these up ahead of time through the toasting step and then refrigerating or even freezing them so you can fry as many as you need at any given time. Get a few people in the kitchen with you and bang out several batches at a go so you’re ready for anything. Because they don’t really hold all that great, we found, and reheating doesn’t do much for them once they’re fried.


I enjoyed participating in the monthly Indian Cooking Challenge so much that I created a monthly challenge of my own! For more details, check out the Medieval Cooking Challenge and sign up for the mailing list.