Travelling to eat has many advantages, especially if you are a chef; the biggest being the chance to meet some really passionate people who have been around food for generations and look at their dishes as an extension of their family.
Gujarat is full of such people, and eating around Ahmadabad I met quite a few. I cannot do without naming Surendra Patel of Vishala, who has one of the world's largest utensil museum, besides the restaurant that is born out of the sheer need to cook prasad for the small temple nestled in the vast expanse of the restaurant. Mr Patel strongly believes that food is a giver. He says it has given him the passion and the life force that his original occupation of interior designing and architecture couldn't. Having fed heads of state in his restaurant, he humbly dismisses his achievements as a gift of food. All his food is cooked without onion and garlic and he serves the best Undhyu I've eaten. Other gifted gentlemen I met in Amdavad were from the seventh and eighth generation 'farsaan' families and 'halwai' families.
I believe in a strong relation between cultural aspects like people, traditions, food and its ingredients, and one ingredient that encompasses the headstrong yet humble, resourceful and varied culture of Gujarat is the Chana Dal - a lentil that has been around for 4,500 years in India. It grows in the most adverse conditions, and yet is humble enough to lends itself towards preparations of all kinds and all courses ranging from starters and snacks (like farsaan) to mains (undhyus, gattas and other innumerable preparations), accompaniments (papads) to desserts (Mohanthal and other vast variety of sweet besan preparations).
This nourishing grain, which has been the food of the Harappa civilization and beyond in India for me truly exemplifies grit, resourcefulness and adaptability of a great culinary region in India.
Here's a recipe, which is a take on the Classic Chana Dal Dhokla
1 cups medium-grain rice
½ cups chana dal washed
½ cup sour yogurt
½ cup boiled beetroot paste
1 tsp finely chopped coriander
1 tsp gram flour
1 tsp oil
For the bean mixture
1 tbsp oil
2 tsp sliced onion
1 tsp ginger juliennes
½ tsp finely chopped green chilli
1 tsp sesame seeds
4 - 5 curry leaves
9 - 10 french beans
Salt to taste
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp vinegar
Make the batter of soaked rice and dal with warm water, add curd to it and allow to ferment for six hours. To make the mixture; in a bowl add the rice and split black gram batter, boiled beetroot paste, finely chopped coriander and gram flour and mix. Leave for 30 minutes.
Grease another bowl with oil and pour the mixture in it. Place the bowl in the steamer to let the mixture
steam. In a pan add oil, sliced onions, ginger juliennes, finely chopped green chilli, sesame seeds, curry leaves, french beans, water, salt, sugar and vinegar and let it reduce for two minutes.
Remove the prepared dhoklas from the steamer and cut into long pieces. Place it on a plate and add some of the french bean mixture. Add some more dhoklas and keep the leftover french bean mixture.
Beetroot Dhokla is ready to eat.
PS: If you want, you can steam them in your tiffin dabbas itself.