Food I cook for my family, baking recipes, cookbook reviews, and your cooking questions answered
Dosa, my way
Like most traditional recipes, there are multiple ways of making dosa, and this is my version. We all love to eat it (mostly for a weekend lunch). So I wanted to get is as close as possible to the “perfect” version that I recall eating in my mother’s kitchen. She truly is a magnificent cook, making do with the limited resources in her day to churn out delicious and exotic dishes. She must have badgered countless South Indian restaurant chefs to part with their dosa secrets, so I am attempting to share her dosa wisdom, and do justice to her cooking.
The dal – It has to be urad dal (washed split black gram dal, which confusingly isn’t black, but white), which I am guessing you can only find in Indian stores. Urad dal is special as it fluffs up and ferments quickly; a key requirement. Thanks to my mother’s advice I do add a tiny bit of chana dal (split yellow lentils) as this is what gives a restaurant quality golden hue to the dosa.
The ratio of rice to dal is what determines the final texture of the dosa. I like to use a 3:1 ratio of rice to dal. However, several recipes suggest a 2:1 ratio, (which is the same for idli, another South Indian favourite) and use the same batter for both. I find the 2:1 ratio makes for softer dosas, the choice is yours.
The rice- The choice of rice is paramount. I have many excellent South Indian cookbooks, but when it comes to dosa, the recipes often state just “rice”. That is inadequate to say the least, as this is a key component. A combination of raw rice (for crispness) and parboiled rice (for stickiness for lack of a better word) works best.
For raw rice, my mother would recommend using the cheapest broken rice, with no aroma, and she was right. Basmati is a no-no for this reason. The best bet is ordinary rice like raw ponni or sona masuri (both of which can be found at Indian stores). If all else fails, you can use Thai jasmine rice, but the results may be different.
For the uninitiated, dosa is a fermented Indian crepe, crisp and slightly tangy, usually enjoyed with coconut chutney and a spicy lentil sambhar. Traditionally from South India, it's now a national favourite. Don’t attempt this recipe without a robust grinder/blender. Also review the notes below for troubleshooting points. Dosa batter freezes well. Ensure it's at room temperature before using.
Start the recipe the day before by soaking the ingredients. Wash the dals together a few times, until the water runs clear and soak in several inches of water together with the fenugreek seeds. Similarly wash and soak the rice separately. Soak for 8-9 hours.
Drain the dals (leave very little water) and start grinding in a blender. Add cold water gradually to loosen the mixture. Urad dal starts becoming fluffy when it’s ground, so don’t overfill the blender, and grind in batches if necessary. The final consistency should be a thick fluffy batter, which drops off a spoon easily. Transfer to a large bowl.
Similarly, drain and grind the rice. Rice doesn’t become fluffy, so be careful not to add too much water as it will be hard to get a fine paste, which is what you are looking for. Rub the ground rice between your fingers to check – it should be barely gritty and quite fine.
Transfer the rice into the bowl containing the dal. Add the salt and mix everything well. Cover and leave in a warm place.
This last bit is key. The batter needs to ferment naturally and it needs warmth. Use the pilot light in the oven if your kitchen is cold and place the batter there overnight or for at least 8-10 hours. It should be bubbly and frothy, and more than doubled in volume. When you are ready to make the dosas, stir in the sugar and taste and add more salt if needed.
Before you start making dosas, assemble a bowl of water, a small bowl with cooking oil, a flat thin but stiff spatula, a cut onion half stuck on a fork, and a ladle with a large rounded base.
The best vehicle for making dosas undoubtedly is a well-seasoned cast iron griddle. A non-stick pan works too, but we have mostly dispensed with non-stick pans at home so I use a heavy old cast iron griddle that I have owned for ages. To prepare the griddle correctly, you need to heat is gradually until it’s very hot, turn down the heat, and season with oil. Use the cut onion half to rub the oil into the surface of the griddle till it’s glistening. Then, sprinkle the surface generously with water. As soon as it stops sizzling your pan is ready for the first dosa. (See video).
Pour a ladleful (you need enough to spread to the edges of the pan, so it will need some trial and error to estimate the correct quantity) of batter in the centre of the griddle. Using the ladle with confidence and slight pressure, spread the batter in concentric circles to as far as it will go. (See video above).
If the batter has fermented properly, bubbles will form immediately on the surface. That’s a good sign. Dribble some oil around the edges and a few drops in the centre. Keep a watch on the edges of the dosa. The edges should stay stuck to the pan until the dosa is the colour you want it. Once the edges release, the dosa won’t brown. If that happens, incrase the heat to facilitate browing quickly. Generally, lower heat and longer cooking time will produce a crisper dosa.
No matter what anyone says, a dosa isn’t meant to be flipped over. The batter must cook through without the need to flip it. If you want a softer thicker dosa, and spread the dosa thickly, cover it briefly to help cook through, but don’t flip!
When ready, release the dosa from the griddle using the spatula and either fill and roll and or roll plain. A little splash of ghee at the end adds a nice yummy touch. And my kids love a conical dosa, which is obtained by cutting through the radius of a crisp dosa and rolling it into a cone!
Serve with sambhar and chutney for a complete feast.