Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Monthly Mingle: Instant Dhokla

The theme for Meeta's Monthly Mingle this month is Savoury Cakes. After thinking of spicy cornbread and olive breads and this lovely cheese bread that our Italian friend BG once baked for us, I came full circle to the savoury cake I love best: dhokla. I know Meeta will get several dhokla recipes in her round-up, and here, I'm adding my very first experiment with making dhokla at home: Instant Microwave Dhokla.

In snack shops in Bombay, a very prominent sight is a huge tray on the counter piled high with squares of a delicate and spongy yellow savoury cake called dhokla. They disappear just as fast as a tray of gooey fudge-y brownies would in the US. Dhoklas come from the Gujarati tradition, and are one of the icons of that snack-loving cuisine.

A fermented batter made of seasoned chickpea flour is steamed into a spongy cake, then drizzled over with a spicy tempering mixture, "the icing on the cake". Gujarati food is famous for a touch of sweetness in every savory dish, and dhokla is no different. The mild sweetness in dhokla comes from either the addition of some sugar to the batter or by sprinkling the steamed cake with some sugar-water. Dhokla can be eaten by itself, or dipped into a sweet or spicy chutney. Some of the tastiest versions I have tasted are the sandwich dhoklas, layers of dhoklas sandwiched with green (chili-cilantro) chutney, in the manner of "layer cakes".

Short of actually fermenting the batter, instant dhokla can be made (just like a quick bread) with chemical leavening agents. One that is frequently seen in dhokla recipes is a brand called Eno's fruit salt, a combination of citric acid and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). When added to a batter (that is, in the presence of water), these two powders chemically react and release carbon dioxide, and the bubbles trapped in the batter result in a lovely sponge.

The recipe I decided on comes from Tarla Dalal's Microwave Desi Khana (desi is a term for "Indian" and khana is simply "Food").
This booklet is a cute little resource for making a bunch of Indian dishes entirely in the microwave. In the microwave, the dhokla is neatly made in 4 minutes or so. The recipe called for citric acid crystals to add tang to the batter and I was able to buy these in the Indian section of the international market. I could not find the Eno's fruit salt, and just substituted equal parts of citric acid and baking powder. Microwaves can vary quite a bit, so you may have to adjust the time required to cook the dhokla in your microwave. The tempering is an essential component of the dhokla. To my palate, the crunchy sesame seeds in the tempering are the best bit!

Instant Microwave Dhokla

(Adapted from Microwave Desi Khana by Tarla Dalal, makes 6 wedges, serves 2-3)
1. Grease/ Spray a microwave-safe bowl with vegetable oil and set aside. I used a 4-cup round Pyrex bowl.
2. In another bowl, combine 1/2 cup besan (chickpea flour), 1 tbsp rawa (semolina), 1/4 tsp citric acid crystals, 2 tsp sugar, 1 tsp finely minced ginger, 1 finely minced chili and salt to taste. Stir to mix, then add 1/2 cup water and mix well.
3. Combine 3/4 tsp baking powder and 1/4 tsp citric acid, then sprinkle it on the batter. Sprinkle a tablespoon of water on the powder to get the reaction started. Stir it gently into the batter, you will see merry bubbles forming!
4. Microwave on HIGH for 2 minutes or until the surface no longer looks very wet. Let the bowl stand for 2 more minutes (it will continue to cook during this time). At this time, the dhokla cake will leave the sides of the bowl. Invert onto a serving dish.
5. Meanwhile, prepare the tempering. Heat 1 tbsp oil, then add 1 tsp mustard seeds, 1 tsp cumin seeds, pinch of asafoetida and 1 tbsp sesame seeds. Take the tempering off the heat, stir in 2 tbsp minced cilantro and pour the tempering mixture over the dhokla. Cut into wedges and serve warm.

The verdict: While this is an instant microwave dhokla and will never taste exactly like the real thing, it still tastes great! I am very glad to add this recipe to my repertoire for a hot and tasty snack that is ready from start to finish in under 10 minutes. It will definitely satisfy tea-time cravings and feed friends who drop in unexpectedly. I think it tastes just fine by itself, but of course it would be even better with some tamarind chutney or green chutney.

Thanks, Meeta, for hosting! I'll be back in a couple of days, with another recipe prominently featuring sesame. Any guesses?

For the round-up, featuring a multitude of tasty savory cakes, click here!


  1. Lovely, Nupur. I am a big (in more ways than one, sadly) fan of dhokla, but have never gathered myself together to make the effort to make it. I think your recipe is just what it will take to change that. A couple of quick questions: I've no idea where to get citric acid crystals, so do you think that lemon juice will serve as an adequate substitute? (appealing to your scientific background here!) And is the batter to be cooked as soon as the "merry bubbles" form, or is there a waiting period?
    Thanks a lot.I think I've said this before, but I'll say it again: your site is fantastic!

  2. Dhokla in microwave..neat. One question though, Can I use lime juice instead of citric acid. What are the citric acid cystals for ? I don't have them, but the rest of the ingred. is at home so is it possible to give it a miss ?

  3. Kamini and Sandeepa, the citric acid crystals perform two functions: (a) they are acidic and react with baking powder to produce vigorous bubbles of carbon dioxide gas which creates the sponge in dhokla (b) they provide a nice tangy taste.
    You could certainly substitute with lime or lemon juice, but you will need more: like a couple of tablespoons (as compared to the fraction of tsp of the concentrated citric acid). Do give it a try...it is a small-scale experiment anyway and quite non-fussy because of the microwave. If you do try it with lemon/ lime juice, I would be really thrilled if you could share the results in the comments so we could all learn from it! Thanks!
    I found the citric acid crystals right near all the other Indian spices in the Indian store. I can think of only two uses for them: dhokla and making paneer, but they will last forever in the pantry and the packet was only a dollar-something, so, not expensive.

    Kamini, the reaction is quite instantaneous so you don't need to rest the batter. In fact, I suspect that if you left it sitting around for too long, it might deflate. Just mix, pour into greased pan and toss into the microwave.
    I never tried making dhokla before this, but this recipe worked surprisingly well at first shot. Worth a try for us dhokla fans :) Thanks for the encouraging words, Kamini :)

  4. The looks delicious Nupur, I was planning on making it too this weekend. But I shifted to a new apt and could not find the dish that goes into my pressure cooker, totally forgot I could use the microwave instead !! Will try it out with your addition of sesame seeds today :-)

  5. Til-cha ladoos??

  6. Wow..That's a nice and quick recipe..Another one for my must-try list..And yeah, this can be a life saver when friends drop in:)

  7. two things come to mind - tahini? tilgul?
    BTW a friend of mine once made rava dhokla in m/c, was pretty good instant food! you might want to try it if you wish.

  8. Actually you are only the second. Not bad huh? I really like Dhokla and have always been looking for an easy recipe. Thank you for this and also for entering it to the MM. Love to have you there.

  9. hi nupur
    dhokla looks tasty.i too made this once and it is in my blog also.i have tried ur gobi paratha including some other veggies.it was great.it is going as an aentry for mbp-march event.u can see it here...

  10. hey Nupur,
    I am eating this dhokla along with ginger tea right now:)
    I usually make these with the instant ones..but this recipe is better than that!!
    It was so easy to make..plus, I even had ENO on me:)
    I only added a little lemon juice to it..and it tastes marvellous..
    Thanks for the cool recipe!

  11. Hello Nupur the Dhokla looks Awesome and baking in microwave is a GOOD Idea...

  12. Wow! That looks yummy. I know what you mean about its draw. I'm like a cat in catnip with dhokla. I don't have a microwave, but I do get take-out dhokla from a nearby chaat house almost every weekend to eat Sunday AMs with good coffee and the Sunday New York Times.

    Mmmmmmmm....is it Sunday yet?

  13. Hi Nupur,
    If i decide to use Eno whats the proportion to be used?

  14. hi Nupur, Nice recipe. never thought there can be a dhokla made in a microwave. it so simple and easy. looks good too.

  15. Hi Nupur - this looks fantastic and I LOVE easy :) I'm guessing I'd have to cook it longer - my microwave is only 600 watts. Does the book talk about timing for different microwaves?

  16. Nupur you seem to have fallen in love with the upside down thing. I loved all three. Sesame seeds give nice nutty flavor.

  17. hi nupur

    any ideas on how to adapt this recipe for a stove top. i dont have a microwave and would love to make dhokla


  18. Priya, good luck with settling into your new place! yes, this is totally hassle-free with only a microwave required. And a microwave is easier to find in the "moving" clutter than little cooker inserts :)

    Raingirl, those are yummy, but 'fraid not!

    Swapna, glad you like it!

    Richa, your first guess is right! :) Must try your rava dhokla...is it all rawa or mostly rawa and some besan? Are there any recipes out there that you would suggest?

    Meeta, thanks for hosting! I love savory way more than sweet so I am excited to see the round-up and get some new recipes.

    Swapna, your parathas look so tasty!

    Rays, girl, you made it already??! Glad you liked it. And that you had eno around! Even better.

    Sushma, thanks very much!

    Diane, I face the cat-with-catnip temptations with any and all snack foods :D Loved hearing about your Sunday morning ritual...that's what life is all about!

    Anon, is you use ENO, use 3/4 tsp of it in step 3 instead of the baking powder and citric acid.

    Sharmi, I was pleasantly surprised with the results too!

    Cathy, no, the book says nothing about wattage at all. I would suggest trying it anyway at 2 minutes, then a minute more if required. It is a small quantity and worth a shot if you are able to standardize it.

    Anjali. :) I am going through this strange phase with the upside-down thing! So funny :) Oh yes, the sesame seeds here were so delicious.

    Meera, do you have a steamer or maybe a cooker that can be used for steaming by not using the weight? If yes, you can try steaming this batter, or try one of the other wonderful dhokla recipes out there, like this one or this one or this one.

  19. Hi Nupur,loved your microwavable dhokla...must give it a try!!

  20. Nupur, it is all rava, no besan at all. I don't know of any recipe that i can direct you to, but will try to find out and let you know.

  21. I've never used chickpea powder. Thank you for introducing me to it and for the flavorful recipe. It looks so moist and must be so aromatic.

  22. wow this looks great! i don't eat enough indian cuisine!

  23. Wow, I love dhokla.. sadly my earlier attempt was a total flop, so I was a bit hesitant to try... but i will give this a shot soon!Thanx :D

  24. Nupur, that looks fantabulous!! I could lift that beautiful fluffy wedge straight off the screen and gobble it up. I am seriously tempted to go into the kitchen and make some immediately. Microwave, four minutes, fresh hot savory tempering on top... who could ask for anything more? You are a genius :)

  25. hey nup,
    Just gobbled up one batch of dhokla right now. I tried it yesterday evening and forgot the sugar. It tasted ok kinda but not what i am used to .
    Just now tried it with the sugar and yogurt instead of water. That did the trick . Also , since I did not have any citric acid crystals, I used some baking power in the batter and some sprinkled on top. To this I added some lemon juice and mixed it. The whole thing turns frothy white. I popped it into the microwave and it rose like a souffle but did not plop back down.
    Simple tempering of mustard seeds and the taste rocked. Fluffy and soft and that awesome combo of hot sour and tangy with that hint of sweetness.

  26. awesome,I tried it today in microwave. It was better thn gas/pressure cook dhokla :) , I'm a bad cook ;)

  27. Thanks for a delightful recipe. I have been coming to ur site in search of recipes and love it!
    Alos - you can make instant rava idli using Eno salt by just adding a spoon or two of eno to rava and season with mustard, urad dhal, karipatta and other veggies like carrots, peas if you want more nutrition.
    You can do the same - microwave or steam it on the stove in idli plates.

  28. Hey Nupur,
    I was looking for a dhokla reciped and stumbled on your blog. Have enjoyed reading your cooking blog. I had a question - I bought dhokla flour from the indian stores - it does not tell me what it in it and I was wondering whether I can simply substitute that for equal parts in your recipe. Thanks. Kaveri

  29. Kaveri, I have no idea! You'll just have to try and see :)

  30. The Dhokla looks yummy, udes to have it a loooot when i was in India. Really missing it now. Will try this one though sometime. Thanks for sharing.


  31. hey Nupur, just tried it.. as usual a hit with us like all of ur other recipes ! thnx for the saturday morning breakfast :)
    have a nice weekend gal..


  32. Hi Nupur tai, can you please tell me how many watts the microwave you used is? We have a 1100W one so i just dont want to burn the dhokla!

  33. Gauri, mine is 1200 watts.

  34. hi,dhokla looks yummy and nice picture. plz visit my website

  35. Hi!!
    I did tried this Dhokla... it tastes awesome... Thanks for a quick receipe...


  36. hi nupur, I tried this dhokla recipe with lemon juice and baking powder, it turned out good, fast and easy to make, thanks for sharing !

  37. I can't wait to try this; I had a frozen version today and really wanted to make my own now. TY!

  38. Hi Nupur,

    I have made this dhokla at least 10-15 times now. I have the same recurring problem -- the timings never come out correctly and the fluffiness just isn't there. Clearly the problem is me, and not your recipe, as all your recipes are amazing.

    My microwave is only 750 watts, vs your 1200 watts, so that is one issue.

    Here's my question: when you put the mixture in the microwave, do you cover it or leave it open?


  39. Dhokla in minutes? I might keep that microwave after all....


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