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Buttermilk mung dal pancakes with fennel seeds (Masala cheela)

Cheela, or Chila, is commonly found in northern India. It is also known as the Vegan or eggless omelette and is part of the strict vegetarian or Jain menu. Cheela is the North Indian answer to the South Indian dosa.

Cheela is most traditionally made with chickpea flour, although there are regional variations with ingredients, including the lentils used, yellow lentils in this case. The recipes change between states and across communities. However, some core ingredients are the same: lentils, spices and chillies.

This is a version from Gujarat and is characterized by its delicate flavours, including the use of anise seeds. The cheelas are a bright yellow from the turmeric and decorate the tables beautifully. They are soft and delicate and melt in your mouth when eaten immediately. I served this with a spicy Green chilli sauce and a Roasted peanut chutney as accompanyments. The addition of yoghurt/buttermilk makes them lighter and richer.

Yamuna Devi's cookbook is probably the first I bought when I moved to the US 30 years ago for my PhD. Over the years, I have cooked almost half the recipes, it is the cookbook that taught me technique, and flavour profiles and always gave me a wonderful meal. This vegetarian cookbook is essential on any shelf; it is the bible of Indian vegetarian cuisine.

For more recipes from this amazing cookbook, click here.


1 cup yellow lentils (moong dal)

2 tablespoons coriander seeds, lightly toasted

1 tablespoon fennel seeds, lightly toasted

2-3 dried red chillies, or to taste

1/2 cup buttermilk or 1/4 cup plain full-fat yoghurt

Salt, to taste

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon asafoetida

Water, as needed

Ghee or oil

Soak the lentils in 5 cups of water for at least 4 hours; overnight is ok. Rinse out and drain thoroughly.

Add all the ingredients except the oil to a small blender and purée until smooth. Add enough water to make a batter that has the consistency of thick cream. Taste and adjust salt and spice as needed.

To make the cheela, heat a frying pan or dosa pan on medium flame. Allow the pan to become very hot. I like non-stick frying pans. Take a small ladle of the batter and add it to the centre of the pan. In a slow movement, spread the batter out, starting from the centre in concentric circles to make a thin, flat pancake. Drizzle with a tablespoon of oil. Cook for 2 minutes until it is browned. Flip and cook for another minute, then remove from the pan.

Note: The heat of the pan is essential in making the cheela. If the pan is too cool, the cheela tends to stick to it and is difficult to remove. If the pan is too hot, the batter tends to tear. Try one cheela forst and then adjust the temperature as needed.

Serve immediately.

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