Savoury Indian Dumpling Cake in a Tangy Tomato Sauce (Handavo)

For a North American, this is a very odd recipe.  It is from the state of Gujarat in India, and it is not the sort of  dish that finds its way into Indian restaurant menus here.  Just trust me that it is totally delicious.  A batter is made from cooked vegetables, tart yogurt,  soaked ground yellow split peas and spices.  Somehow, it holds together in this beautiful savory cake.   The  tangy tomato sauce balances the nutty, sweet, spicy flavour of the cake perfectly.   It is good for lunch, dinner or tea time.

You can add this to the growing list of recipes that we have posted from Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking by Julie Sahni.  For more gushing about that cookbook click here.  My sister and I both find Indian cuisine to be a treasure trove of  inspiring cooking techniques.  You could easily vary the vegetables, legumes and spices in this recipe to make dumpling cake with a totally different flavour profile!  Maybe I will try that sometime…or maybe Silvi will try it for me?  Last fall, Silvi invented a Comforting Greek Stew using the same techniques used to make Korma.

I used to make this recipe a lot, and I would always substitute dry shredded coconut for the fresh coconut in the recipe.  Now, I live in a Caribbean neighborhood where it is easy for me to get husked fresh coconut.  So, I decided to go with the fresh.  I spent the second half of my childhood in Hawaii and I was confident that I could deal with getting the coconut open.  Of course, once I was actually faced with the coconut, I realized that good-looking, young girls in Hawaii never have to crack open their own coconuts. Your manly machete owning friends and neighbors are more than happy to do this for you!  Here are some photos of my friend Hans taken the last time I went home (2009).

ANYWAY I did manage to get my coconut open by myself, by throwing it onto my kitchen floor over and over.  My downstairs neighbor LOVES me.  I think that the dry coconut works just fine if you do not have a machete owning neighbor whom you are friendly with!

I have been cooking a lot of cauliflower lately.  I have been saving the cauliflower cores that recipes always tell you to throw away.  Since the vegetables in this recipe get pureed into the batter, this is a good place to use up odd vegetable bits like cauliflower cores.



for the batter

  • 1 cup yellow split peas (channa dal)
  • 1 cup tart plain yogurt
  • 3/4 pounds cooked and chopped vegetables (I used cauliflower cores but the recipe would work with other vegetables such as cabbage or carrots as well)
  • 1/2 cup green peas
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/2 Tablespoon grated or minced fresh ginger
  • 2-4 hot green chilies, minced (I used  2  seeded jalapenos and it was VERY mild)
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • the juice of one lemon
  • 6 Tablespoons flaked fresh or dry coconut

for the topping

  • 4 Tablespoons light sesame oil or vegetable oil
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon carom seeds (1 teaspoon of dry thyme)
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons sesame seeds
  • 1 recipe Tangy Tomato Sauce (recipe below)
  1. Soak the yellow split peas in plenty of water for at least 4 hours.  Drain and rinse thoroughly.
  2. Combine the soaked split peas and tart yogurt in a food processor or blender and process into a coarse puree.
  3. Transfer the puree to a bowl and add the rest of the batter ingredients.  The batter will fizz a bit when you add the baking soda!  Very exciting.
  4. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and grease an 8 inch cake pan.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula.
  5. Measure each of the topping spices into their own pile or bowl and set them right next to the stove.  Heat the oil in a small frying pan over high heat.  When the oil is very hot add the mustard seeds.  When the spattering subsides add the carom (don’t add the thyme) and the sesame seeds and continue frying until the seeds are lightly golden.  Immediately pour the mixture over the cake.  If you are using thyme sprinkle it on now.
  6. Bake the cake uncovered in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center come out clean.  This takes more like an hour in my oven.  You can make the tomato sauce while you wait.  Let the cake rest for 10 minutes before unmolding it.  Serve sliced, with tangy tomato sauce.


  • 3 Tablespoons light vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onions
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 cups pureed fresh tomatoes (at this time of year, used canned tomatoes!)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  1. Saute the onions  in the oil until they are light brown.
  2. Add the cumin and stir once or twice.
  3. Add the water and tomatoes and cook uncovered for about 15 minutes.
  4. Season with salt and fresh cilantro and serve on the dumpling cake

13 Comments Add yours

  1. There are so many words in the title alone that make we want to run home and make this! Any suggestion on how to make it dairy-free?

  2. Yosef,

    It has been a while since I have adapted recipes to exclude dairy BUT I do believe that you could substitute the same amount of silken tofu for the yogurt. I would just be sure to add a bunch of extra lemon juice to replace he tartness of the yogurt and to be sure that the mixture is still acidic enough to create a reaction with the baking soda. You might want to make sure that the 1/3 cup water is hot as well (this will also wake up the soda). I hope it works!


  3. Ha! I remember working on opening a coconut with a friend of mine by throwing it off the porch onto the concrete pad. Time honoured ritual, really. I hear a drill works well.


  4. Glenda says:

    To open coconut hit it sharply between the eyes with a large hammer. Aloha, Mum

  5. Rima Fand says:

    Erin brought slices of this to the school where we teach together for our lunch, and let me tell ya, it was DELICIOUS! I’m a lucky gal…

  6. Katherine says:

    I made this for dinner! It is so yummy and interesting! It is more than the sum of its parts – even adding the tomato sauce changes the whole experience of this delicious cake.

    I used cauliflower core (and made the cauliflower dish from quick & easy Indian cooking) and carrots for the “cooked vegetables”. I sautéed them together until browned and soft, then chopped them up. I didn’t have black mustard seeds (need to get some!) so I substituted yellow and it was fine. Also, sadly, did not have sesame seeds, so I just used sesame oil to get some of that flavor. Also, I tried using frozen shredded coconut which they sell at my local Asian market and that worked well.

    I was tentative about the jalapeños and was worried that your note about it being SO mild was a typo! Ha! So I also just used 2 and, indeed, it was very mild. 4 would have been better. (luckily my Asian market sells jalepenos in packages of like 10!) yep, I’ll be bringing this for lunch tomorrow!!

  7. I am so happy that you made this Katherine! Thank you for the detailed and well written review! See everyone, I am not crazy, cauliflower dumpling cake is good!


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