Lentil cakes in gravy

Serves 4 Starters and mains

JOS2022012 D00005 Kolkata Dokar Dalna


For the lentil cakes (Start 1 day before serving)

  • 250g Bengal gram lentils (chana dhal), pre-soaked in water overnight
  • 1tbsp desiccated coconut
  • 2cm piece fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 green chilli, roughly chopped
  • 1tsp asafoetida
  • 1/2tsp carom seeds
  • 1tsp ground cumin
  • 1tsp sugar
  • 1tbsp rapeseed oil
  • 1tsp cumin seeds
  • vegetable oil, to grease and shallow fry
  • 2tbsp plain flour

For the gravy

  • 2tbsp mustard oil
  • 2 potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 1 1/2tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
  • 2.5cm piece fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2tsp ground coriander
  • 1tsp Bengali garam masala (see our Bengali chicken and potato curry)
  • 1tsp ground turmeric
  • 1tsp sugar
  • 1 green bird’s eye chilli, slit lengthways
  • 1tsp salt, or to taste
  • 1tsp ghee


To make the lentil cakes, drain the soaked lentils and put them in a blender along with the coconut, ginger, chilli, asafoetida, carom seeds, ground cumin, sugar and 1tsp salt. Add around 5tbsp water and blend to a semi- coarse mixture – if the paste is too smooth the lentil cakes will break when frying.

Heat a karahi or wok over a medium heat and add the rapeseed oil. When hot, add the cumin seeds and cook until the aromas release. Carefully add the spice paste – it will sizzle. Cook for 6 minutes, stirring constantly to ensure the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. It will begin to thicken as the water evaporates. Continue to stir until the mixture starts to look like a dough, then remove from the heat.

Oil the work surface with 1tbsp vegetable oil. Place the lentil mixture on the surface and use a straight-edged spatula to flatten it out into a square shape around 2cm thick. Smooth out the edges and top. Carefully divide the square into 20 equal small squares and gently separate each one on the work surface.

Heat enough oil for shallow frying in a karahi, wok or deep frying pan. Meanwhile, put the flour in a small bowl, add 6tbsp water and mix to a thin white paste. When the oil is hot, take a lentil square and dip it in the flour paste. Ensure it is well coated, then gently lower it into the hot oil. Repeat with all the lentil squares, ensuring you don’t add too many in one go.

Fry for around 4 minutes until the lentil cakes begin to turn a golden colour, then remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and place on a plate lined with kitchen paper to drain. Repeat until all the lentil cakes are cooked and set them aside.

To make the gravy, put a separate karahi or wok that has a lid over a medium heat and add the mustard oil. Once hot, add the potatoes and cook for 6 minutes, stirring occasionally until lightly browned. Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate and set aside.

To the same pan, add the cumin seeds, bay leaf, cinnamon stick and cardamom pods. Cook until the aromas release, then stir in the ginger and cook for around 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes and cook for around 2 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the ground cumin and coriander, garam masala and turmeric along with 2tbsp water and mix to a loose paste.

When the tomatoes are cooked, add the sugar and the spice paste and mix well. Cook for around 4 minutes until the oils begin to release. At this point, add 100ml water and bring to a simmer, then add the green chilli and salt.

Add a further 500ml warm water and bring back to a simmer, then add the potatoes, reduce the heat, cover with a lid and cook for a further 10 minutes.

Check the potatoes are soft, then gently add the lentil cakes to the empty spaces in the pan, taking care not to overlap them so that they can absorb the gravy. Increase the heat to medium and cook for a further 3 minutes. Drizzle the ghee over the dish, remove from the heat and cover until ready to serve.

Recipes taken from Kolkata: Recipes from the Heart of Bengal by Rinku Dutt, photography (food) by Steven Joyce (Smith Street Books, £26).
JOS2022012 D00005 Kolkata Dokar Dalna
Recipes taken from Kolkata: Recipes from the Heart of Bengal by Rinku Dutt, photography (food) by Steven Joyce (Smith Street Books, £26).


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