3.17.15 Dosa Do
Yes, it's another pancake. I'm on a (gluten-free) roll. The dosa is not dissimilar to the blini in that it's also made from a batter that sits around and gets bubbly, but it's got no yeast. Its gentle loft and tang come from a process of natural fermentation. If you live in the city, you might never think about making your own dosas. You're much more likely to head to little India—or to that award-winning dosa cart in Washington Square—and simply indulge your craving without much ado. But those of us out in the sticks have to get creative. We've got to psych ourselves up to scale these culinary walls. Ignorance and inexperience cannot stand in our way. Gotta scratch that dosa itch.
Of course you won't be surprised that I had urad dal on hand already. My ethnic pantry goes deep. But these hulled and split black lentils are easily found in Indian markets or online. The other main ingredient, short-grain white rice, is probably a staple for you.
The rice gets soaked in one bowl and the dal is combined with fenugreek and soaked in another. The seeds of the fenugreek plant—which evidently aid in the fermentation process—have a nutty, slightly sweet flavor with notes of maple and celery. (Sounds weird but it works.) After soaking for 6 hours, the rice and dal are ground separately in a blender or Vitamix, then combined and whisked with water to make a thin, pale batter. This sits, covered, in a warm spot, for another 8 hours.
Yes, yes, some planning is required. But this is a great weekend project and—bonus!—once made, the batter keeps in the fridge for a week. So you can have dosas for several meals if you like. And you will like, that's how delicious they are.
After the batter has fermented, you stir in salt and nigella seeds. No, not that Nigella. These are the black seeds of a flowering plant of the same name, and they are used to impart a pleasantly bitter taste.
While your batter is fermenting, consider make a filling for your dosas. The traditional masala dosa is stuffed with spiced potatoes, but the sky's the limit, really, though I draw the line at Nutella. Hampton Chutney has lots of ideas, both classic and creative.
I cooked some chickpeas and spinach with onions, garlic, ginger and curry leaves until it was a soft, fragrant mass.
New to curry leaves? This South Asian herb (unrelated to the powder) imparts a faintly citrusy, bitterish taste and a sweetish, pungent aroma almost like lemongrass. I buy mine fresh at Kalustyan's and keep them in the freezer, where they lose their glossy finish but retain their flavor. They're edible but are mostly pushed to the side in the finished dish.
The most challenging part about making dosas is the actual cooking of the pancake. This is where You Tube comes in handy. I watched this lovely Indian lady's technique and, from this person, learned the trick of greasing my griddle with the cut side of an onion dipped in ghee. I also picked up the idea of sprinkling a few drops of ghee on the dosa before it gets flipped over briefly.
Apparently the onion releases something that helps prevent the dosa from sticking. I couldn't find out anything more specific than that, but none of my dosas stuck to the griddle.
The trick to making thin dosas that have a crispy finish on one side, is to use the bottom of your ladle to quickly spread the batter out in concentric circles. This requires a certain skill that only comes with practice. The good news is that even slightly thicker, doughier dosas are absolutely delicious and will be immediately gobbled up by certain individuals standing behind you at the stove drooling with impatience.
This is a bad photo of an early, slightly-too-thick specimen. It was nevertheless quite tasty. After the sixth one or so I started to get the hang of it. And I'll definitely be making these again because I adore their mild, lightly tangy flavor and their soft, stretchy texture.
There are several ways to fold dosas: in half, like an omelette; in square packets; or rolled, as above. As much as I enjoyed my chickpea filling, I also really love dosas simply smeared with chutney—like Patak's excellent brinjal (eggplant) relish or a spicy mango chutney or a piquant lime pickle. Think of dosas like Indian crepes and you will suddenly see them as vehicles for almost anything that strikes your fancy. Next thing you know, you're whipping them out like a boss.
Dosas (Indian Lentil Pancakes)
- — 2 cups short-grain rice
- — 1/2 cup urad dal (split husked lentils), source at an Indian market
- — 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
- — 3/4 teaspoon sea salt
- — 2 teaspoons nigella seeds
- — 4 tablespoons ghee, melted
- — 1/2 onion (cut horizontally)
Rinse rice in a strainer until the water runs clear then place in a bowl and cover with water. Combine dal and fenugreek and do the same. Leave both bowls to soak for 6 hours.
Drain rice and place in a blender or VItamix with 1 cup water. Process into a smooth paste, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl, then repeat the process with the dal mixture.
Whisk the two pastes together, adding a little water if needed to achieve a medium-thick batter.
Cover bowl with a dish towel and set in a warm place to ferment. After about 8 hours, the surface should have little bubbles. Stir in the salt and nigella seeds. You can use the batter right away or refrigerate for up to a week. Add additional water if batter thickens too much.
To make dosas, warm a cast-iron griddle or skillet over medium heat. Impale the round side of the onion half with a fork and dip the flat side in the melted ghee. Use it to season the griddle, running it over the top for a few minutes.
Ladle about 1/4 cup batter onto the center of griddle and, using bottom of ladle, quickly spread batter outward in a circular motion to form a thin pancake about 7" in diameter. Drizzle 1/2 teaspoon of ghee on top. Let the batter cook until the outer edges look dry and the bottom is golden brown, about 2 minutes. Using fingers (careful!), a spatula or tongs, gently flip the dosa and cook the second side for a few seconds. Fold or roll around your topping of choice and serve immediately. Repeat with remaining batter, or use as much as you like and refrigerate the rest for another time.