#1000Kitchens is a series that takes you into kitchens all over the country, documenting heirloom recipes that tell a story. In this instalment, we visit Manju Ashiya, successful entrepreneur and gifted cook, who shares the recipe for a traditional Rajasthani one-bowl meal, dal dhokli.
Rajasthani women are experts at employing the wisdom in that old Italian phrase 'L’arte d’arrangiarsi' - the art of making something out nothing. In a region where water is scarce and fresh vegetables a luxury, both the desert landscape and the hardy lifestyle of the Rajput warrior tribe affected the evolution of their cuisine. With little to work with, they created inspired dishes using desert berries, dry fruit and spices, to cook flour and pulses in inventive ways. Fresh tomatoes were hard to come by, and mango powder was often used as a substitute souring agent. The cuisine, like the people, is beautiful while resilient.
Manju Ashiya led a sheltered life in Jodhpur. The only daughter in a large household, she grew up within the safety of the family haveli, veiled behind the modesty of the ghungat. In keeping with patriarchal tradition, she was escorted everywhere, always accompanied by her brothers, seeing the world from behind the screen of a car window. Her manner betrays a genteel polish, her restrained gestures a cultivated economy of movement. At 17, she was married to an army man, and her life about to undergo a sea change. Army living forced her to embrace a more communal lifestyle. As she organised events and attended parties, she began to uncover new capabilities and interests – even ambition. Raising two children as the family relocated every few years, Manju took on teaching positions at the local army school in each new town. Eventually, they settled in Bangalore, where she served her last term as a well-loved English and History teacher whose infectious, bright-eyed passion rubbed off on her students. Today, ten years on, she runs a thriving business placing army officers in corporate jobs after they have left the services. From an inexperienced young mother at 19, to a teacher at the head of the classroom, and now, running her own company, she is unfazed by the patronising reactions she often receives. Cutting remarks about a woman’s place in the world are so commonplace that they no longer bog her down.
Interestingly, her company is staffed entirely by women. She hires young girls who are college drop-outs and incentivises them to finish their degrees, rewarding them with promotions and raises when they graduate. The loyalty she receives has reinforced her belief (and Kofi Annan’s now-famous assertion) that there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.
Manju slips between her roles as entrepreneur and mother with ease. She always makes time to cook delicious meals for her children’s friends as they arrive in droves, unannounced. Given her background then, it is ironic that today in Manju's kitchen, we are documenting the recipe for a rustic peasant dish made in villages in Rajasthan – dal dhokli. In a dry desert state, fresh vegetables are a luxury. Dal dhokli is a nutritious and hearty meal that can feed large numbers with minimal prep time, with only a few basic ingredients on hand.
"We would have this for lunch on Sundays at home, when I was a child,” Manju tells us. “It is best eaten freshly made. In my recipe, we use a lot of garlic – we eat plenty of that in the desert. The dish comprises both dal and roti, and is topped with finely chopped onions, chilli and coriander. And lots of ghee,” she adds. Chopping the veggies quickly, she tells us the best thing about these rustic dishes, is that there are no rules. “The only thing that matters is that is tastes great.”
Recipe - Rajasthani Dal Dhokli
500 g wheat flour
20 ml refined oil or ghee
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp cumin
2 tbsp oil
1 cup of yellow dal
10 ml ghee
2 cups water
1 pod of garlic
2 green chillies
1 onion, roughly chopped
4 tomatoes, grated
10 ml ghee
1 g asafoetida
5 g cumin
3/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp chilli power
3 tsp coriander powder
2 tbsp water
1 tsp salt
Set aside the 2 tbsp of oil and knead together all the remaining ingredients for the roti. The dough should be a bit hard, and not as soft as for regular rotis. Knead well for 10 minutes. Add water to bind as required, and add the 2 tbsp oil toward the end, for a finer finish.
Make the dough into small balls in the palm of your hand, and flatten with a rolling pin to about a 5 mm thickness. Slice into squares and coat with oil.
Cook the dal with 2 cups of water and 10 ml ghee for 3 whistles in a pressure cooker.
For the tadka
Roughly grind the garlic and chopped green chillies in a mortar and pestle.
Heat the ghee in a pan. Add the asafoetida and cumin, then slowly add the onion and fry till translucent. Add in the garlic and chilli.
Mix the spice powders with a bit of water to make a thick paste, and add to the pan. Add more water as it evaporates to let the spices fry for longer without burning – it draws out the flavours better. When the ghee separates, add the tomatoes and allow to cook until homogenous. The tadka is ready. Now add to the dal and mix well.
Drop the roti-squares into the dal while cooking on low flame. Check for salt, and pressure-cook for 2 whistles.
Take off the flame and allow to cool. Add a bit of water to the dal, to bring to a consistency of your liking. Spoon the dal and dokhlis into a bowl, and garnish with finely chopped onion, coriander, a squeeze of lime and a spot of ghee.
#1000Kitchens is a collaborative project between Goya Media and Alicia Souza.
Words by Anisha Rachel Oommen and photos by Aysha Tanya; Illustration by Alicia Souza of www.aliciasouza.com.