Handvo – Indian Tea Cakes

handvo - indian tea cake

My oven has been busy, but it helps keep the home warm and smelling great in this slow-coming Spring. Here’s another cake to look at, but this time I picked something personal & unique to my native Gujarati cuisine and hence, not as widely known outside India and perhaps even Gujarat.

We call it handvo — pronounced either “hahn-d-vo” or “ahn-d-vo” with a silent ‘h’. Handvo was the perfect breakfast or snack to have with milk or tea growing up in Gujarat. It’s a savory, sesame-coated tea cake, and a popular snack which can be made in many different ways. The most common method requires a bottle gourd which is hard to find here in Seattle, so what you see is made with zucchini.

ginkgo tree

I can eat this stuff all day long, and I can eat it hot or cold. The honest truth of the past is that when I was growing up back in India, I hated eating gourds and squashes of any kind. I related them to eggplant (If you’ve read this one interesting eggplant story, you’d know the extent of the dislike 😉 — the reason being that Indian gourds, like eggplants break down into mushy textures in Indian subzis, or vegetable dishes. Given my dislike of that texture when I was a kid, handvo was yet another great trick on my mom’s part to get me eating more of the good old vegetables. Here’s an interesting thing to ponder — how many foods don’t you like because of texture or smell, not just taste? I think I figured out my dislikes early in life, good because I avoided them but also not so good because I got a bit picky!

Now that I’m older, they don’t have to force me to eat anything. In fact, gourds or squashes of any kind are one of my favorite things, and I can cook and eat them in different ways all year long! I can’t even count how many ways I eat zucchini or other seasonal varieties of squash we have locally available. Squash is one of the most easily digested vegetables, and it can blend into so many flavors.

handvo - indian tea cake

Handvo making, on the other hand, is a bit of a laborious process. It is traditionally made from scratch by grinding all the daals and so on, but who has the time when you have to spend so many waking hours grinding at work and commuting!

So, we start with handvo flour, which many Indian grocery stores carry. Handvo flour is usually a blend of rice, chana daal, and toor daal, and it does make handvo easier if you have it. You let the batter ferment, temper it with spices, and then finally get it to bake. Balancing flavors in this dish is the key and my mother is the queen of it. I’ve had handvos that were too sour or too sweet, but my mom gets it just right. Last time I prepared it, I was under her nose and hence, there was no assistant to write down the recipe.

The batch you see here was just right, but I still haven’t managed a good enough approximation of mom’s recipe because honestly, measurements are a bitch! I must say though, handvo is one of those dishes where perfection comes with practice, and I’m still waiting for it. I’ll let you know, and share my recipe, when I achieve it myself!

Until then, just enjoy handvo with your eyes!