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During my journeys to India I’ve developed a serious addiction to dosa’s. For people who never heard of them: dosa’s or ‘dosai’ are round ‘sheets’ made of fermented rice and lentils. They are crispy, savory, a little sour and SO tasty. The process of fermentation adds an interesting, deep flavor.
Particularly in South-India dosa is a popular breakfast. But it can be eaten on every time of the day. I love to eat it at the roadside as streetfood. But also in cosy, canteen like restaurants. The famous, Chennai Based restaurant chain Saravana Bhavan sells great units.
Dosa’s are often served with a spicy potato stuffing. This dish is called Masala Dosa. But there are so many variations possible and every South-Indian region has his own characteristics. Also the sizes can differ. From little set dosa’s to huge, one diameter long rolls. And the textures vary from thick and soft to crispy and paper thin. I truly believe you can write a thesis about all the different types of dosa’s that exist.
Dosa is often served together with sambhar, a tasty, watery, tamarind-flavored stew. Coconut chutney is also indispensable. But you can choose any kind of filling or side dish you like. Cheese and tomatoes or leftovers are also great. Do you know that in India they even sell dosa’s with noodles? ‘Maggi dosa’ is the name of this this fusion dish. And now we’re on the funky road anyway: consider for dessert a dosa with Nutella, banana and icecream!
I eat dosa’s because I simply love them. But did you know that these delicacies are extremely nutritious? They are loaded with proteins as the main ingredients are rice and lentils. The fermentation process makes the lentils and rice more light and easier to digest. It also increases the amount of vitamin B and C. I almost forget to mention that dosa’s are also completely vegan and gluten free?
Making dosa’s is very easy, but at the same time many things can go wrong. And also the cold North-European climate isn’t helpful for the fermentation process. Don’t get frustrated. It takes a little bit of practice before you be a dosa master. It’s a matter of ‘Fingerspitzengefühl’.
It took me a lot of practice and patience to learn how to make dosa. My first ten attempts at home failed miserably. My creations had the appearance of sad, cauliflower white, thick amoebas instead of paper thin, golden brown crepes. It was after an individual cooking class from an skilled and experienced teacher in the person of Krishna, before I finally learned how to make perfect dosa’s!
What can go wrong?
- The batter is very sour. This happens when it ferments too much. Use salt to stop the fermentation process and keep the batter cool. Add sugar to antidote the sour taste.
- The batter is too heavy. This happened to me when I used besides urad dal also chana dal for the batter. Use baking powder to make the batter more light.
- The batter sticks to the pan. This can caused by many things. Either the batter is not fermented well (or too much), the rice and dal are not well grinded, the flame under the pan is too high or the pan is not nonstick.
So pay attention for these things:
- Make sure you grind the rice and lentils well with a minimum of water. Add more water little by little. Otherwise the batter will be too coarse and lumpy. The batter should be runny and a little bit more thick than pancake batter.
- Don’t add salt in the batter before the fermentation process. This delays the fermentation.
- Don’t ferment the batter too short. The fermentation is necessary for the taste and consistency of the batter.
The fermentation starts when the temperature is between 30 and 35 degrees. In hot weather the fermentation takes about 6 hours. When you’re not blessed with a tropical climate, you maybe have to wait for about 20 hours. I ‘boost’ the process by heating my oven for a few seconds and but the batter in the oven. When, after a few hours the fermentation process is too slow, heat the oven an extra time. But NEVER but the batter in the oven when the heat is on. Another trick is to leave the light on in the oven. The temperature will rise. The batter is ready when it almost doubled in size. It smells a bit sour (not so nice) and there are little bubbles in it.
- Don’t ferment the batter too long. It will get too sour and too flaky.
- Use a nonstick tava or pancake pan and heat it on a medium high flame. Lower the heat before you put the batter in the pan, so it doesn’t stick to soon. When the batter is spread to the sides, you can higher the temperature.
- Use the back of a big, flat spoon or ladle to spread the batter in eccentric circles from the middle to the side. You can also use a mug or bowl.
Now I am happy to share my favorite, paper thin masala dosa recipe! I prefer to eat it with sweet potato filling. It adds a nice sweet contrast to the savory and sour character of the dosa. Let’s get started!
Preparation time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 11 – 28 hour
About 10 portions / plain dosa’s
Grinder or foodprocessor
Nonstick tava, pancake pan, skillet or grillplate
big, flat spoon or ladle
1 cup parboiled rice
2 cup basmati rice
1 cup urad/urid dal (split black lentils)
1 tsp fenugreek seeds / methi
Optional pinch of sugar
A half onion
(Coconut)oil or ghee for cooking
Wash the dal and the basmati rice separately. Wash and rinse at least four times till the water is clear. Then soak the basmati rice together with the fenugreek seeds. These seeds help the fermentation process. Do the same with the dal in a different container. Wait 4-6 hours.
Then wash and soak the parboiled rice for 30 minutes. Drain the dal and keep the soaking water aside. Now put the dal in a grinder or food processor and grind. Add little by little the soaking (this water also improves the fermentation process) water till it’s a smooth paste. Now drain the parboiled rice and mix with the basmati rice. Grind with a minimum of water until it’s results in a smooth, slightly coarse paste. Mix very well with the dal paste. When you are living in a colder climate, than add some sugar to improve the fermentation. Put everything in a closed boil or container and let it ferment in a warm place as long as needed. The batter is ready when it has (almost) doubled in size and smells a bit weird (please don’t worry and don’t throw it away, when cooked it will be delicious). Stir the foamy batter well (this is always a fun thing to do). The batter should be runny but slightly more thick than pancake batter. So maybe you need to add more water.
Heat a tava or pancake pan on a medium high flame. Sprinkle some oil or ghee and spread out with the half onion or with a paper towel. Lower the temperature and/or keep the pan of the flame. Then put one spoon of batter in the middle of the pan and quickly (but not to quick) spread the batter with the back of a spoon or bottom of a cup in excentric circles to the side. For me this is always the most tricky part, because the batter can stick to the pan too quickly. When you succeeded increase the temperature. When the batter is set sprinkle some oil on the dosa, especially in the holes. The dosa will now get a nice, brown colour. Use the spatula to loosen the sides. After a few minutes the dosa is ready. You can either flip it over and cook in on the other side or serve immediately, plain or with filling.
Sweet Potato Dosa Filling
About 5 – 8 portions
½ kg sweet potatoes
3 red onions, coarsely chopped
1 inch ginger, grated
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 green chili (add to taste)
1 tsp turmeric powder/kurkuma or fresh grated kurkuma
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp garam masala
chili powder, add to taste
salt to taste. I prefer Himalaya salt
oil or ghee
a hand of fresh coriander leaves and/or spring onion, coarsely chopped
Peel and chop the sweet potatoes. Cook them for about 10 minutes until they are soft. Mash them a little. Wait! Not too much, because you destroy all the fibers. They provide the puree a firm consistency.
Heat the pan again with oil and sprinkle the mustard seeds. Let them pop. Wait 30 seconds or so and then add onions. Saute. Add ginger
saute the onions for two minutes. Add the grated ginger, garlic, green chili and turmeric. Wait for five minutes and stir occasionally. Turn the flame off. Add the sweet potato puree, garam masala and mix well.
Now the filling is more or less ready.
When the dosa is ready put a full spoon of the filling in the middle of the dosa. Spread a little with a soon. Drizzle some lime juice and sprinkle the fresh coriander and/or spring onions. Make a roll and serve!