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.

Beans, Lentils & Tofu–Oh My!


image via Amazon.com

On their own or with other heavy-hitters, beans, lentils, and tofu can make quite the filling meal. While they are the perfect comfort-food base for the cooler months, they also work well in Spring and Summer.

Because they are common sources of vegetable protein, you might expect 250 Best Beans, Lentils and Tofu Recipes: Healthy, Wholesome Foods would be all-vegetarian all the time, but there are plenty of recipes throughout the book that combine the headliners with meat, poultry, fish and seafood. I mean, with 250 recipes you’ve got to figure the match-ups will be pretty varied.

Even though Todd’s not the biggest fan of tofu, I figured this would be a prime time to try out some new tofu material on him and see how we fared.

The first try wasn’t as successful as I’d hoped.

Cantonese Noodles

Cantonese Noodles

I don’t think it was the tofu’s fault, though. I’ve made one other dish in semi-recent memory, a buckwheat polenta, and remembered it having an odd taste to it. Granted, I chalked it up to the anchovy sauce and didn’t think about it until we sat down to the Cantonese Noodles (p.219) and it all came back to me. It also doesn’t help that the soba noodles I used were 100% buckwheat and turned the sauce into a gluey, brownish-grey muck. Maybe using a mixed buckwheat/regular wheat noodle would cut down on that.

The small hand-rolls I made to go with them were tasty, though! Jasmine rice, sliced cucumber, and lightly steamed carrot and parsnip curls bundled into a narrow slip of nori.

The next experiment was much more successful.

Curry-Fried Tofu Soup

Curry-Fried Tofu Soup

Tofu is great for absorbing the flavors around it and dredging it in homemade curry powder and pan-frying it would be a hit with our curry-loving palates. The Curry-Fried Tofu Soup with Vegetables and Udon Noodles (p.41) was a complete meal in a bowl and perfect for a quick weeknight meal.

Bistro Lentils with Smoked Sausage

Bistro Lentils with Smoked Sausage

Switching gears to the Bistro Lentils with Smoked Sausage (p.190) we made a fabulous, filling supper and were able to use some locally made sausage to sweeten (or would be that be to savor) the pot. We had some parsnips in the crisper so decided to add them along with the called-for carrots and the additional color and flavor were amazing in this dish.

Another fabulous collection of recipes for the when you get stuck for something different to do on your average Tuesday night, or just for a bit of inspiration in general.


I was provided a copy of 250 Best Beans, Lentils & Tofu for purpose of review. The opinions express are entirely my own.

ICC: Gujarati Dal


It’s that time again: time for another installment of the Indian Cooking Challenge hosted by Srivali of Spice Your Life. I had to take a couple months off to deal with the move and so forth, but I’m glad to be participating once again. This month’s recipe is Gujarati Dal (a lentil stew of the Gujarat-region of India) studded with vegetables and miles of flavor and was graciously offered by the authors of Sukham Ayu, an Ayurvedic Cookbook.

Gujarati Dal with rice, garlic naan and samosas

Gujarati Dal with Rice, Garlic Naan and Samosas

First skim of the ingredient list had me excited–I had almost all of the ingredients already, it was a more meal-oriented and not a snack (known as chaats, which are nice, but hard to make a meal out of sometimes) and I thought for one hot second that I was actually going to be able to use meat in this one! The tricky word drumstick had me looking forward to a lentil and chicken stew when I realized that the description of “4-5 pieces, 2 inches length” either meant really small birds or, most likely, that I had no idea what this ingredient was. Of course it was the latter. Drumstick is a common name for moringa, a vegetable with tough outsides but edible insides. More on that in a bit, but I did find it canned at the local Indian grocery store that has saved more than one of these experiments.

After doing the usual converting math, I doubled the recipe to make sure I’d have enough for both dinner as well as lunch the next day. Other alterations were the tamarind concentrate for pulp, cashews for groundnuts (which Todd doesn’t eat) and butter for the ghee called for in the tempering step (I hadn’t picked any up and it wasn’t as crucial for us to go to the trouble to clarify a pound of butter just to get a few tablespoons).



1.25 cups Split red lentils
1.5 tsp Turmeric powder
4 cups water

2 Tbsp Tamarind Concentrate
1 Tbsp Jaggery (un-centrifuged sugar)
8 Hard, Dry Dates, halved & pitted
8 pieces Drumstick, cut to 2″ lengths
3-4 cups cubed Sweet Potatoes
3 Tbsp Cashews, roughly chopped
4 Green chillies, split
2″ piece of Ginger, minced
2 Tbsp Coriander powder
1 Tbsp Cumin powder
2.5 cups Water

For Tempering

2 Tbsp Butter
1.5 tsp Mustard Seeds
3/4 tsp Fenugreek Seeds
1.5 tsp Cumin Seeds
4 Dry Red Chillies
3/4 tsp Asafoetida Powder
10 Curry Leaves

For Finishing

3/4 tsp Garam Masala
Coriander leaves to garnish
Kosher Salt, to taste

Serves 4-5

Putting it all together:

Soaking the dal and rice Rinse and soak the lentils for 20-30 minutes. Rising helps you spot any small pebbles or other stuff that might have made it’s way into the bag of beans and the soaking helps speed the cooking time. Granted, lentils for dal have their outer husks removed which is why they cook so fast to begin with, but the soaking is still a good idea. Since I was making basmati rice to go with the dal, I went ahead and soaked both side-by-side while I chopped the rest of the ingredients. Drain each well before moving on to the next step (you don’t cook rice or beans in the water they were soaked in).
Cooking the dal with turmeric The original recipe calls for pressure-cooking the dal but a) I don’t own a pressure cooker and b) lentils cook quickly enough as it is so I just put them on to boil with the water and turmeric (aids digestion, always a good thing) and cooked for 10-15 minutes. The original recipe also calls for churning the dal. I took that to mean stir, but I see from other participants that it means to mash them. The lentils were pretty cooked down into mush already so I really don’t see as this little translation “error” has any bearing on the finished dish, but now we know!
The rest of the dal ingredients The up-side to not using a pressure cooker is that we don’t have to switch pots when we add the next ingredients (tamarind through water) to the pot and simmer the mixture for 15-20 minutes, stirring as needed to keep the mixture from sticking to the bottom of the pot. The goal is to have the sweet potatoes tender before adding the tempering mixture, so if it takes a little more time, it’s okay.
Tempering ingredients for Dal In a small saute pan, heat the ghee or butter until melted and then add the mustard seeds. Once they start to jump around in the pan, add the fenugreek seeds, lower the heat and, once the fenugreek starts to brown, add the rest of the tempering ingredients and cook until fragrant.
Adding the tempering to the dal Add the tempering mixture to the dal and simmer for another 5 minutes or so, just enough to left the flavors mingle. Turn off the head and stir in the garam masala and salt, if needed. Or, if your like me, forget to add the garam masala until after dinner is already on the plates and sprinkle a little on top of each portion to be stirred in just before eating–it works the same. I was also lacking coriander leaves (aka fresh cilantro) for garnish.

Deforesting Dinner

Gujarati Dal with rice, garlic naan and samosasRemember I mentioned something about those mysterious drumsticks? Well, my research had forewarned me that the usual way to “eat” this was to chew the pieces and spit out the inedible husks. Well, that probably works wonders when you’re working with fresh, but the canned version disintegrated by the time the dal was finished and left us pulling the 2″ twiggy bits from the stew before we could comfortably dig in. While I’ll probably skip this (or substitute something like okra) next time, it certainly didn’t ruin the dish for us.

The flavor is both sweet and spicy and was wonderful over the basmati rice I’d prepared–the rice helped tone down some of the spice (could have held back a few of those red and green chillies). The lentils made a wonderful backdrop for the sweet potatoes, dates and nuts. We loved it and were very happy to try this month’s challenge.

Looking forward to the next one!