Dhokar dalna is one of those dishes I have loved, but carefully stayed away from cooking given the number of steps involved (you have to soak and grind the lentils, pre-cook them lightly with spices, fry them and then add them to a gravy) with chances of things going wrong at each step. But given how much I love the dish, and in the spirit of taking culinary plunges I thought I’d give it a go.
The result wasn’t half-bad and while I need to work on getting the dhoka (the lentil cakes) firmer and crunchier, the flavours worked and the cumin, green chilies and hing (asafoetida) in the lentil cakes all came together nicely. The next step was to make the dalna or gravy and I went for the Bengali version of the niramish (or vegetarian) gravy that’s made without onions and garlic. The latter are considered non-vegetarian in some strict sense and hence for certain folks and on certain religious occasions, the food is cooked without onions and garlic. (I am not sure what term would be used for my dietary range in a world where that is the definition of vegetarian food!) Anyway, I actually like our vegetarian dalnas without onion and garlic as the flavours are lighter and you can taste the stars of the dish – the dhoka – in this case.
So, the final step was to make the tomato, ginger and garam masala based gravy and lightly simmer the dhoka in the gravy so it soaks up the flavours, becomes soft, but still retains its texture and shape. All in all, a great twist on lentils and the final product makes every step along the way worth while!