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A Morning Song of India


Sunday brunch with Indian friends veered as far from the usual orange juice, omelet and coffeecake as you can get.

We started with steaming yellow squares that looked like corn bread. Instead, they were spicy dhokla, made with rice and Indian lentils ground to a powder. If you don't have a grinding stone and a lot of time on Sunday morning, there's a dhokla mix in Indian stores that makes the dish easy. That is what brunch cooks Rose Nair and her sister, Nalini Barretto, used.

For fruit, we had mango kalan, a puree of mangoes, yogurt, coconut, chiles and spices. Naturally sweet and only slightly spicy, the mixture is delicious spooned over rice. The mangoes Nair and Barretto used were the Alphonso variety from India sold canned. They are astonishingly intense in color and flavor. One look at this bright dish will certainly wake you up on a lazy Sunday.

Uperi, or green beans, was brilliant in color too. The mellow, nutty taste of this dish came from peanuts and fried channa dal. Channa dal, also known as Bengal gram, is a legume that resembles garbanzos.

There were other dishes, but making them all would be too ambitious for first-timers at Indian cuisine. Therefore, I've narrowed the brunch down to dhokla, the green beans, mangoes and rice. Brunch accompaniments that fit the Indian theme are fruit juice and hot coffee or tea with milk and sugar. You could also add sweets purchased from an Indian shop.


Dhokla (Rice and Lentil Squares)

Nalini's Mango Kalan

Rose's Uperi (Green Beans With Peanuts and Channa Dal)

Steamed Rice

Fruit juice, tea, coffee

Indian sweets, optional



Ground red chiles




Cumin seeds or ground cumin

Mustard seeds, preferably dark

1 onion

Small dried hot chiles

Shopping List

1 (7.1-ounce) box instant dhokla mix

2 serrano chiles

1 bunch cilantro

1 (1-pound) package frozen shredded coconut

1 (8-ounce) container plain yogurt

1 package fenugreek seeds, optional

Fresh curry leaves

1 (28-ounce) can Alphonso mango pulp

1 (1-pound) package split peeled channa dal

1 piece ginger root

1 (10-ounce) box frozen French cut green beans

1 jar dry-roasted unsalted peanuts


1 hour before: Prepare mango kalan and cool in serving dish.

30 minutes before: Prepare and steam dhokla. Steam rice.

15 minutes before: Prepare uperi. Brew coffee or tea.

At serving time: Pour juice. Arrange mango kalan, uperi, rice and dhokla in separate bowls for guests to help themselves.

After brunch: Set out plate of Indian sweets. Brew more coffee or tea if needed.


1 (7.1-ounce) package instant dhokla mix

1 serrano chile, chopped, optional

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro, optional

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground red chile


1 tablespoon oil

1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds, prefereably dark

1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 small dried hot chile, broken up

2 teaspoons sugar

Prepare dhokla mix according to package directions.

Add serrano chile, cilantro, turmeric, ground chile and water as called for in package directions. Let stand 10 minutes. Turn into oiled 8-inch square baking dish. Cover dish. Place in steamer, cover steamer and steam until knife comes out clean, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from pan. Cut dhokla into squares and place in serving dish.

Heat oil. Add mustard seeds, cumin seeds and hot chile. When mustard seeds pop, add sugar and 2 tablespoons water. Stir and pour over dhokla. Serve hot.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutritional data not available.


You'll find frozen coconut in the freezer section of most Asian markets, but for fenugreek seeds, curry leaves and Alphonso mango pulp, you will have to go to an Indian grocery, where you can also pick up such spices as cumin, brown mustard and turmeric.

3/4 cup frozen shredded coconut

1 teaspoon ground red chile, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin or cumin seeds

3/4 cup plain yogurt


1 tablespoon oil

1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds, preferably brown

1 or 2 small dried hot chiles, broken up

5 or 6 fenugreek seeds, optional

5 or 6 curry leaves

1/2 onion, sliced

1/2 (28-ounce) can Alphonso mango pulp


Puree coconut, ground chile, turmeric, cumin, yogurt and salt to taste in blender. Set aside.

Heat oil in saucepan. Add mustard seeds, chiles and fenugreek seeds and fry. Add curry leaves and onion and cook until onion is translucent. Add mango pulp and cook 5 to 8 minutes. Add yogurt mixture. Cook over low heat until slightly thickened, 5 to 8 minutes. Do not allow to boil. Turn into serving dish and decorate with cilantro.

Makes 3 cups.

Each 1/4-cup serving contains about:

67 calories; 40 mg sodium; 2 mg cholesterol; 4 grams fat; 8 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram protein; 0.60 gram fiber.


2 tablespoons oil

1 teaspoon split peeled channa dal

1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds, preferably dark

1 teaspoon minced ginger root

1 teaspoon finely chopped serrano chile

1 sprig curry leaves

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

2 tablespoons frozen shredded coconut

1 (10-ounce) box frozen French-cut green beans

1/4 cup dry-roasted unsalted peanuts, crushed

1 teaspoon salt

Heat oil in skillet or saucepan. Add channa dal and fry until slightly browned. Add mustard seeds, ginger and chile and fry together 1 minute. Add whole sprig curry leaves, turmeric and coconut. Cook until slightly browned. Add green beans, crushed peanuts and salt. Cook, stirring to blend, then cover and cook until beans are crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.

Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

160 calories; 593 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 13 grams fat; 10 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 1.64 grams fiber.

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