When I began working on the Asian Dumplings manuscript, I surveyed a number of my friends and fellow food writers about their favorite dumplings. Ruta Kahate, author of 5 Spices, 50 Dishes: Simple Indian Recipes Using Five Common Spices, suggested dal dhokli. It’s a creamy, fragrant Indian lentil dish that at first glimpse didn’t quite seem to fit my already elastic definition of Asian dumplings. But then I did some research and realized that a dumpling doesn’t always have to be something wrapped, stuffed, or dropped to be a dumpling. In fact, the notion of dumplings as pieces of bread dough poached in a stew is an enduring western culinary concept that is also part of Asian cuisines.
Indian cooks, particularly those from Gujarat where this dish originated, cut diamond-shaped pieces of unleavened chapati bread dough and gently simmer them in an aromatic, spicy lentil dal. The saucy, rich, and satisfying vegan result is a beloved comfort food. Some people describe dal dhokli as a pasta-like dish, but the practice of dropping everyday bread dough into a simmering pot puts it in the dumpling category.
This recipe did not make it into Asian Dumplings because it didn’t dovetail tightly with the other recipes. I’ve been waiting to present it to you because it’s amazingly tasty. Every time I prepare it at home, my husband and I stick our head over the simmering dal and inhale the fragrant aromatics and spicy heat, saying, “Ah, dal dholki!”
Ingredient notes and substitutions
Durum wheat atta flour (a.k.a. chapati flour) and toovar dal (split pigeon peas that are also called toor dal, above left) are available at Indian markets, as are raw peanuts, curry leaf (Murraya koenigii is the botanical name), and tamarind. However, I’ve made this dal dhokli recipe to great success with ingredients purchased from supermarkets and health food stores.
- Durum wheat atta flour can be replaced with whole wheat flour and unbleached all-purpose flour.
- Instead of toovar dal, use split yellow peas (above, right). The former is a shade darker and smaller than the latter.
- If curry leaf is unavailable, increase your measurements of each spice to compensate for the dark-green herb’s flavor and fragrance
- If tamarind isn’t handy, squirt in some lime juice at the table for tang.
- No fresh green chiles? Go wild with the cayenne powder!
I’ve made dal dhokli so many times with and without all the ‘authentic’ ingredients, and it’s always a winner.
Gujarati Wheat Dumplings in Spiced Lentils
What to serve with dal dhokli? It’s great alone, or with a salad or lightly sauteed leafy greens (such as chard). If you want to add meat, grill some ground lamb patties flavored with similar spices as used below, or your favorite curry powder.
Serves 4 as a light main course, 4 to 6 as a starter or side dish
5 ounces (1 cup) atta flour, or 3 3/4 ounces (¾ cup) whole wheat flour and 1 1/4 ounces (¼ cup) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup warm water
2 teaspoons canola oil
3/4 cup toovar dal, or ¾ cup yellow split peas
2 tablespoons raw or unsalted, roasted cashews or peanuts (optional)
4 cups water
1 large tomato, quartered
3 tablespoons canola oil
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon brown or black mustard seeds
5 large cloves garlic, sliced
1 or 2 hot green Thai or Serrano chiles, stemmed and halved lengthwise (optional)
10 fresh or thawed curry leaves, blotted dry with paper towel (optional)
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground cayenne (use the maximum if no chiles are used)
1 tablespoon tamarind liquid (render from tamarind pulp and hot water) or fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro, leafy tops only
Melted ghee or unsalted butter (optional)
1. Put the flour and salt in a bowl and make a well in the center. Combine the warm water and oil and then gradually mix into the flour, stirring constantly with a spatula, to form a ragged mass. Knead the dough in the bowl to gather it together. Transfer to a work surface and vigorously knead with the heel of your hand for about 5 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and medium-soft, much like Play-doh. Press your finger into the dough and it should bounce back gradually but an impression of your finger should remain. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside while the dal cooks. Or, refrigerate overnight and return to room temperature before rolling out, if you like.
2. Put the dal, nuts and water into a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Skim the scum and then add the tomato. Reduce the heat to simmer. Cover and cook until the dal is soft and broken up and the nuts are tender but still slightly crunchy, 40 to 60 minutes. Remove and discard the tomato skin pieces, and then gently whisk to further blend the dal and tomato. Expect the nuts to stay whole and the dal to be watery, not creamy.
3. Bring the dal to a simmer and have a lid ready before proceeding. Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat until nearly smoking. Add the cumin and mustard seeds and partially cover to shield yourself from the sizzling drama. Decrease the heat to medium and after the seeds stop sputtering, uncover. Add the garlic, chiles, and curry leaves. Cook, stirring, for about 1minute, or until fragrant and slightly blistered. Remove from the heat and stir in turmeric, coriander, and cayenne. Add to the dal. Stir in the tamarind, sugar, and salt.
4. Quarter the dough with a sharp knife. Using a western or Asian dowel rolling pin, roll out a piece of dough, dusting the work surface with flour as necessary, to a scant 1/8-inch thickness. Shape isn’t crucial, but rotating the dough as you roll prevents sticking. (If you aim for a perfect circle, roll from the center out, picking up and rotating the dough between each pass of the rolling pin.
Use the knife to cut 1-inch strips, and then cut the strips on the diagonal into diamond shapes, each about 2 1/4 inches long. A few non-diamond ones are to be expected. Lift each diamond up and gently drop into the bubbling dal, stirring occasionally to avoid sticking. Repeat with the remaining dough.
Once all the dough is added, simmer for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring often, until the dumplings are cooked and the dal is no longer watery. Cover and let rest for 5 minutes before ladling into individual shallow bowls. If the dal dhokli is too thick, stir some water into it. It should be like a thick soup but not cementlike! Garnish with the cilantro and serve. Invite guests to top their dal dhokli with a teaspoon of ghee for added richness.
The dal can be cooked a day in advance, allowed to cool, and then refrigerated; return it to room temperature before using. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring often, to prevent scorching.
If by chance you have leftover dal dhokli, reheat it with a little water to thin it out.
Making sambhar lentil stew from this recipe: Instead of adding the dumplings, you’ll be adding diced vegetables instead. Add about 2 cups of water when simmering the lentils. Double the amount of tamarind (or lime juice for tang) and increase all the spices by about 50 percent. If you have sambhar powder (a South Indian roasted lentil and spice blend), add 1 or 2 teaspoons and don’t use more spices than what’ s called for in the recipes above.
When you’re suppose to add the dumplings, add 2 1/2 cups of diced vegetables. Use a combination of 3 vegetables, such as 3/4 cup carrots, 3/4 cup green beans (cut them into 3/4-inch lengths) and 1 cup eggplant (toss with 1/2 teaspoon, let sit for 10 minutes then rinse and squeeze). Simmer the vegetables for about 10 minutes and you are done. Taste and add extra salt and lime juice, as needed. Garnish with cilantro and serve in a communal bowl or individual shallow bowls.