This is a dish close to my heart! My mom made the best handvo growing up and if you have never had it, it's like a slightly spicy lentil, rice and vegetable cornbread-like Indian dish and it's absolutely delicious to eat in the mornings with a hot cup of chai or even for lunch with some pickled achar (pickled spicy fruit/vegetables). There are a few different ways to make it but my absolute favorite is the one my mom would make for us which includes doodhi (a bottle gourd that looks like a big light green squash that can be found in Indian grocery stores). It has a very high water content and makes the handvo especially moist and delicious. I have never ever made this on my own or even really helped my mom make it since she makes it so well by herself! But I feel like this is one of those things that I really wanted to learn for when I just get a craving for it.
So what did I do? I looked for an easy way to make it! Plus, I will say this. I really feel like this is one of those moments when you decide...do I make it from scratch or are their products out there that get the job done and done well. I decided that this was one of those moments. It was the same decision that I had made when making a red or green Thai curry paste. Why would you get a bizillon ingredients that you most likely won't use again when the products that they have out there already made are brilliant? As such, at the Indian grocery stores (or even on Amazon HERE), you can find an instant Handvo mix. Then you make a few tweaks to it and you have a delicious product will all the feels of home. Plus with all Indian food, you can totally tweak it to suit your tastes. Don't like it super spicy? Use less chilies. Like it extra crispy on top (like me!)? Then bake it an extra few minutes under the broiler and get that crispy top and side pieces that are like crack to me!
This recipe is super easy with this shortcut and the results are amazing. If you can't find doothi, no worries...instead of adding that in, you can simply replace it with water (as per the pre-mix's instructions on the box). My mom usually adds cilantro to the batter but I prefer it it without so that I can really taste the doothi so I didn't include it on the recipe. But seriously, make it to suit your tastes!
Take a look at this!
Doesn't that look amazing?? So easy too with the pre-mix. Here is the one that I used:
There are several brands but this is the one that my Indian grocery store had and it turned out wonderfully. If you don't have an Indian grocery store near you, you can also order this online on Amazon. Here is a LINK if you want to give it a try. You can certainly make your own but even my mom now uses this because it's just her and my dad in retirement and it's the perfect portion for the two of them.
There are two parts to this recipe. The mixing of the batter and the the Vagar. If you don't do any Indian cooking, let me explain what a Vagar is. It basically is spices cooked in oil separately and then added into your dish to add a dimension of flavor to what you are cooking. In this case, half the Vagar will be added into the batter and the rest will be added to the top right before it goes into the oven. This will ensure that the flavor hits every part of this dish and makes it super yummy.
This is what it looks like before and after it comes out of the oven. I love the crispy crunch of the sesame seeds on top but you can feel free to add less or not at all. The Vagar has some in it already so it's completely optional. The same with the crispy top - I love love the crispy top and sides with the insides warm and gooey. I put this under the broiler for an additional 5 minutes (watching it like a hawk the whole time!) until I get it just the way I like it. Again this is completely optional but so so so good!
Handvo (Shortcut Method!)
Handvo mix (can be found in Indian grocery stores or here)
1 small doodhi, shredded with skin on in a food processor (bottle gourd which can be found in Indian grocery store)
2 Tbsp Indian yogurt (can use Greek yogurt if you don’t have it)
Vagar (sautéed spices in oil):
8 Tbsp avocado oil (can you any unflavored vegetable oil)
2 cinnamon sticks
3-4 dry whole red chilies
1 Tbsp mustard seeds
1 Tbsp sesame seeds
1 tsp asafoetida powder
Preheat oven to 350F.
Prepare batter: Empty contents of handvo mix into a bowl and add the yogurt and grated doodhi and stir gently (do not over mix). Let it sit for 15 minutes while you prepare the Vagar. The batter will be thick but as it sits, the doothi will release lots of water.
Prepare the Vagar: Heat oil on a medium high heat in a pan and add the Vagar ingredients in the order listed above until everything becomes fragrant and toasted, careful to not let it burn. Once toasted, immediately take off the heat. Remove cinnamon sticks.
Pour half of the Vagar into the batter and stir gently. At this point, the batter should be the consistency of a pancake batter. If still too thick, slowly add lukewarm water to get it there.
Pour batter into a well-oiled 8”x10” or 8"x 8" baking pan. Sprinkle liberally with more sesame seeds and then evenly spread remaining Vagar over top of the batter (do not mix). Immediately place baking pan into the oven on the middle shelf.
Bake for about 25-30 minutes. For a crispier crust, bake for an additional 5 minutes under the broiler, watching it very carefully so as to not burn the sesame seeds on top. Once done to your preference, let it cool for about 10 minutes and then slice up and serve!
For using a box mix, it really came out amazing. Even my mom said that it looked great and that was high praise indeed! I used an 8"x8" pan (my absolute favorite All Clad pan!!!) and that made 9 perfect pieces - perfect for 2 people with some leftovers for the next morning. You can also freeze these in ziplock bags! Really one of my favorite foods growing up and now I can easily make it any time I want. :)