Dhokar Dalna is a Bengali vegetarian delight. Dhoka in Hindi means cheating and this dish has nothing to do with cheating. It is in fact too much of a pleasure to have, usually a part of an elaborate vegetarian meal. The fish loving Bengalis are so averse to a vegetarian meal that the women at home had to sweat a lot planning the same. Usually it was a norm to have all vegetarian once a week.
At our home we used to have an all vegetarian meal on Thursdays. Me and my brother hated the idea so much.....no fish at home..how can we survive. We behaved so awkwardly that my daddy used to tell my mother...forget the custom/ritual....make some fish curry for them. I do not know why mom was so unwilling to break the rule. Strictly she declared....Thursday should be an all vegetarian day. At the same time she would bribe us with crispy fried potatoes, different types of pakoras and such delicate curries like Dhokar Dalna among others.
I close my eyes and can see a wednesday night, mom soaking a bowl full of Bengal gram dal. We did not have a mixer grinder then. She would make a paste of them in "shil nora"...a form of mortar and pestle. I can see her sweating. That generation believed there cannot be any shortcut to good cooking. I respect their belief very much. There are ready made dhoka mix available in stores but they never will taste the same, I can guarantee. So we can go a little further and take the liberty to prepare the paste in an electric grinder. So here is for you curried lentil cakes...which we fondly call Dhokar Dalna.
INGREDIENTS : [for the dhoka / lentil cakes]
Bengal Gram Dal[chana dal] : 250 gm
Asafoetida : 2 pinches
Ginger Paste : 1/2 tsp
Green Chilli : 2
Cumin Seeds : 2 pinches
Salt : As required
Turmeric Powder : 1/2 tsp
Sugar : 1/3 tsp
Oil : 1tsp + 5 tbsp[for frying]
INGREDIENTS : [for the gravy]
Ginger Paste : 1 tbsp
Cumin Powder : 1 tsp
Dry Red Chilli Powder : 1tsp
Salt : As required
Turmeric Powder : 1tsp
Cinnamon Powder : 2pinches
Cardamom Powder : 2pinches
Cloves Powder : A pinch
Cumin Seeds : 2-3 pinches
Bay leaf : 1
Sugar : 1/4 tsp
Ghee : 1tsp
Oil : 2 tbsp
Wash the dal and soak overnight in a covered bowl. Next morning grind it to a bit coarse paste adding salt as required. Chop the green chillies.
Heat 1 tbsp oil in a wok. Temper with cumin seeds. Add 2 pinches of asafoetida. Pour the dal mix to the wok.
Add the ginger paste, turmeric powder, chopped green chillies and sugar. Mix well and keep on stirring till the dal mix tend to come out from the sides of the wok. Switch off gas.
Take a little deep square container and grease with few drops of oil. Transfer the dal mix to the greased plate and spread to all sides with your palms.
Let it rest for 15 minutes. Now turn the cooked dal mix onto a plate.
Now cut into diamond or square shapes.
Heat 5 tbsp oil in a clean wok. Fry the lentil cakes in batches till light brown. Take care, they should not break.
If there is some amount of oil left in the wok after frying, you will prepare the curry in it. Once the oil is hot again, temper with cumin seeds and a bayleaf.
Add the ginger paste. Fry till the raw smell goes. Add salt, turmeric powder, cumin powder and dry red chilli powder. Saute well till the oil separates from spices.
Now add 1 coffee mug of water. Cover and let boil for 5 minutes at low heat. Add the fried lentil cakes. Bring to a boil, add the sugar, ghee, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves powder, stir and switch off.
Transfer to a serving bowl and serve with piping hot steamed rice.
Please note, you can also have the fried lentil cakes as a starter and omit the curry!!