Rovaco Dance Company Founder Rohan Bhargava Shares His Savory Indian Breakfast Recipe

May 30, 2024

Rohan Bhargava sees cooking as a form of love. “It’s something I acquired from my fiancé because his love language is cooking for someone else,” says the founder and artistic director of the New York City–based Rovaco Dance Company. Bhargava’s fiancé, Shivam, gets the credit for reintroducing him to a childhood favorite: besan ka cheela, savory gram (chickpea) flour pancakes. “It’s a breakfast dish I grew up eating a lot back home in New Delhi, India,” says Bhargava of cheelas, which also happen to be vegan and gluten-free. “I always thought it would require so much effort, but it’s something that’s really fast and easy to prepare.” Although cheelas are usually paired with green chutney, Bhargava also enjoys eating them with ketchup. “It’s an unpopular opinion that a lot of people look down on,” he jokes.

In Indian culture, cooking is deeply tied to hospitality, a tradition Bhargava works to share with Rovaco’s audiences. “For the longest time I had a fear of proudly claiming my identity, and a lot of it had to do with growing up in postcolonial India, where it was ingrained in people’s brains that Western culture is superior,” he says. “Now I’m trying to unlearn those tendencies and highlight aspects of my culture and identity in my work.”

For the past few years, he’s put on the Rovaco Dance Party, where guests are immersed in a five-sensory experience that includes Indian food and drink. While Bhargava emcees the event, dancer Ashmita Biswas takes on the cooking and each year finds a new way to put her own twist on Indian street-food delicacies, drawing on influences from her native Kolkata and her Bengali upbringing. “We feel that culture is best understood when it is experienced firsthand, as opposed to just watching it from afar,” says Bhargava. “We let them experience the beauty of it.”

Bhangra Bops

Bhargava likes to listen to upbeat music while he’s cooking. He has also recently started learning bhangra, a traditional Punjabi dance form, and has found himself drawn to Punjabi music, especially songs by Diljit Dosanjh, Garry Sandhu, and Jasmine Sandlas.

This recipe yields 8–10 pancakes.

a man whisking a metal bowl in his kitchen
Courtesy Bhargava.


  • 1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 small plum tomato, finely chopped
  • 2 cups besan flour (The Hindi word “besan” translates to gram or chickpea flour. You can find besan at Indian or specialty grocery stores, or on sites like Amazon.)
  • 2 tsps red chili powder (Red chili powder, as opposed to chili powder, tends to be hotter and is customary in Indian cooking. If you can’t find it, Bhargava suggests substituting with 2 tsps of finely chopped fresh green chilies.)
  • 2 tsps salt
  • 1 tbsp crushed kasoori methi/dried fenugreek leaves (“These come in a box that lasts forever,” says Bhargava. If you can’t find them, you can substitute 1 tbsp of finely chopped fresh cilantro.)
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups water (Bhargava says that the exact amount depends on your desired consistency.)
  • vegetable oil or cooking spray for the pan
  • chutney, hot sauce, or ketchup
3 bowls with tomatoes, onions, and other ingredients
Courtesy Bhargava.


  1. Chop half a small red onion and half a small plum tomato, and set them aside.
  2. Combine besan fl our, red chili powder (or green chilies), salt, and fenugreek leaves (or cilantro) in a large bowl.
  3. Add water, starting with 1 1/2 cups and adding more if you prefer a thinner consistency, and whisk vigorously until the batter is smooth and frothy, with no lumps.
  4. Mix in the chopped onions and tomatoes and stir to combine.
  5. Place a skillet over a medium flame, and grease it well with oil or cooking spray. When the pan is hot, add a ladleful batter to the center. Using the back of the ladle, spread the batter until it thinly coats the pan.
  6. Once the batter solidifies and the edges lift from the pan, usually after 90 seconds to 2 minutes, use a spatula to flip the pancake. Cook the other side for roughly 90 seconds, occasionally pressing down with the spatula so that the entire cheela cooks evenly.
  7. Remove the cheela from the pan, and enjoy it hot. (They can get dry once cold, adds Bhargava.) Serve with a condiment such as chutney, hot sauce, or ketchup.
a pancake shaped food on a glass plate
Cheela made by Bhargava’s grandmother. Courtesy Bhargava.