Many of you must be wondering what is dodol? Dodol or dhodal is a rich, jelly-like sweetmeat of Malay origins that has not gained due recognition around the world. It is very popular in Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Goa and of course in South East Asia. The main ingredients used to make dodol are also very typical of the above mentioned areas such as fresh coconut milk, red/brown or black rice flour and jaggery or palm sugar. In South East Asia, where the dodol originates from, pandan leaves and glutinous rice, are traditionally also added in addition to the aforementioned ingredients. In the Goan dodol, millets (ragi) are sometimes used. In Sri Lankan dodol, red rice (naatu arisi) is used and in the commercially sold dodols nuts and dried fruits are also frequently added to please the masses. I have also eaten some homemade dodols with mung beans. In this post, I am going to demonstrate how my family makes dodol.
Back home, we make dhodal, as we call it, the good ol' way. My aunts only make dhodal with the best of coconuts available. They say for the ultimate taste you need sethal thengai meaning ripe, flawless coconuts and only the first and finest portion of the coconut milk is squeezed and added initially in the dhodal-making process. The red rice is sent to the mill to be grinded and then carefully sieved at home, rejecting any grains found. The rice flour is then mixed with the second portion of the coconut milk. Adding the rice flour directly into the boiling coconut milk might result in lumps, so therefore the rice flour is first mixed with the second portion of the coconut milk and made into a smooth, fine paste before adding to the thick, boiling coconut gravy. We use black jaggery that we call sakkarai, which is dark brown in colour, that together with the red rice flour gives the dhodal a rich, deep-brown look.
Making dhodal is a grand affair but also a time-consuming and back-breaking process, and quite unlike any other sweet I have seen being made. Everyone in our family takes turns stirring in the big iron pots over the scorching wooden fire, that leaves them exhausted with their arms aching. The dhodal must be stirred non-stop for hours on end with a wooden paddle. If the dhodal gets burnt on the bottom, the dhodal will taste and smell burnt, and this happens faster than anyone would think, if it is not stirred constantly and properly. The dhodal will shrink in volume and become thicker and glossier as the hours pass by. Pure, golden coconut oil will start to be released from the dhodal when it reaches the final stage. The more coconut oil is released and separated from the dhodal, the longer the dhodal will last in storage but most people who make dodol never make it to the final stage. The dodol is often taken away from the stove when it has thickened "reasonably" and even if you reach the final stage, separating too much oil will also result in a dry dodol so you have to take strike a balance here.
Having often watched my aunts make the glorious dodol, triggered the desire to make this on my own at home some day. I had been waiting to make this with mixed feelings. Despite the fact that making dodol here means I have to make it with store-bought coconut milk and not fresh coconut milk and even though my mother pooh-poohed the idea of making dodol with store-bought coconut cream, I still remained adamant on trying this for my parents 30th wedding anniversary. The rice flour I prepared at home. Since I used only 1 cup of rice flour, making the dodol took me only 2 hours. The amount of jaggery may sound a lot to you but please keep in mind that black jaggery is not as sweet as refined sugar. It was still sweet, but moderately so. I dare say, the dodol turned out exactly as how I remember the dodol my aunts made were, both in texture and taste, and that is what I had aspired to. I was very pleased with this experiment, so much so that I didn't mind my sore arm for the next couple of days.
3 cups coconut cream (minimum 70 % coconut)
4 cups water
1 cup fine unroasted red rice flour
400 g black jaggery or palm sugar
1/2 tsp salt
To make dodol (the way we make it), you need unroasted very fine red rice flour. You can prepare this at home, if you have red rice. Soak 3/4 cup red rice overnight in cold water. Sieve the red rice and rinse it a couple of times the next day. Keep the rice in the sieve until it becomes dry, but not completely dry. Then grind the rice until smooth. Sieve the ground rice flour with a very fine sieve in 2 to 3 batches. Spare the grains in another bowl. Once you have sieved all the rice flour, grind the grains and sieve again. Put aside. Next step is to dilute the ready-made coconut cream with water. In a bowl, measure up 1 cup of rice flour (the flour that you produced earlier is probably more than 1 cup). Pour one cup of the coconut cream-water mixture in there and mix until smooth and completely free of lumps. Put aside but keep it within reach, close to the stove.
Grease a silver or stainless steel tray with either coconut oil or ghee. Put aside. In a pan, melt the jaggery with about half a cup of water, on below to medium heat. Boil until the jaggery has melted completey. In a large wok, pour the coconut cream and the syrup while stirring frequently, so that it doesn't get burned on the bottom. Add the rice flour and mix. Before adding the rice flour, stir it properly first because the flour has probably sank to the bottom. If you add the rice flour without stirring it will inevitably become a little lumpy. After adding the rice flour, stir and do your best to dissolve any lumps, while stirring. After this all you have to do is to stir. The dodol will get darker, thicker and glossier as the hours pass by. You don't have to stir as vigorously in the beginning as you will have to towards the end, when most of the water has evaporated and the dodol has a tendency to get burned, if you don't stir fast and non-stop.
The entire stirring process will take 2 hours, on medium heat. When the dodol leaves the sides, is thick and is not sticky, it can be taken away from the stove. Take it away from the stove and spoon it on the greased tray you prepared earlier and level it, if you can manage before it sets (and it sets really fast). Let it cool. Once it has cooled, slice the dodol with a knife or pizza cutter and cover the dodol with a plastic foil so that it doesn't get dry or wrap the slices up in a plastic foil and keep them in an air-tight container in room temperature. Good luck!