Introducing…. The Dosa
I can’t remember the first time I had a dosa. It must have been way before I could say my first word. But ever since I can remember, the word dosa always conjures up an image of a white, thin pancake. If I jog my memory, I can recollect relishing a really soft, white pancake sometimes or a very crispy one at others and sometimes even a stuffed one with potatoes. But that was about it. I knew only three kinds of dosas – soft, crispy, potato stuffed. I learnt later that the crispy one was a ghee roast, the stuffed one, a masala dosa, and the soft white one just plain/sada dosa.
There were only three kinds of dosas. I believed that to be true until a trip to Marina Beach as a 10-year-old. I was awestruck when I saw a waiter at a beach restaurant walk by with plates full of big, brown dunce’s caps, just like pyramids on plates! What’s that? A dosa, my uncle said. Wow! A dosa shaped like a dunce cap! And then another waiter walked by with a long rectangle plate with a really long rolled dosa that extended past the edges of the plate. The Family Dosa, my uncle said. Was I fascinated! I don’t think I got to taste the wonderful-looking dosas from that insanely crowded beach restaurant. But I do remember walking away thinking that there was more to this white pancake than Amma could make at home. I don’t remember if I harassed her to make the dunce cap dosa or the family dosa, but I knew two more varieties existed. So five types it was until, a decade later, I got to sample at least 35 different varieties at a food fest along Kochi’s Marine Drive.
Well what do you know, there are over a 100 varieties of dosas and counting! Besides the five mentioned here, there’s rawa dosa, pesaru attu, neer dosa, benne dosa, open dosa, ragi dosa, paneer dosa, maida dosa, ada dosa, wheat dosa, instant dosa, pumpkin dosa and even non-veg dosas! The list as you will see, is endless.
Before we list out some of them, here’s a bit about what a dosa is and where it all started. A dosa is “a thin, spicy, crispy crêpe-like food made from fermented rice, very popular in restaurants in South India. It may be served plain with sambar and chutney.”
Among the most ancient of Indian dishes, and there are so many stories surrounding its origin, but it probably dates back to the 5th century AD and has its roots in the Temple Streets of Udupi, Karnataka. It is perhaps the most reinvented dish of all time. What started out as just a plain fermented rice-daal mash dish has spawned hundreds of varieties to even include our Chinese neighbours (Manchurian Dosa, anyone?) and dosas with memorable names such as the Rajnikanth Dosa.
The dosa is a popular breakfast dish across South Indian homes and a favourite eat-out dish for the rest of India. Quick and easy defines it really. Some varieties need no time with the batter, some need a bit of fermentation. But the sum of all products is always the same – tasty dosas.
Here’s a list of the most basic types. We would love for you add to this list and help us build a DOSA INVENTORY. So bring em on!
MASALA DOSA Just plain dosa with a spiced mashed potato filling.
RAWA DOSA Dosa made with semolina and rice flour. No grinding, no fermenting. Just mixing the two with water or buttermilk.
PESARATTU Dosa made of green gram (moong daal). A popular Andhra Pradesh breakfast and snack, made by mixing chopped green chillies, ginger and onions to the green gram batter.
NEER DOSA Dosa from Karnataka. “Neer” means water in Kannada. Really thin dosa made of water and rice flour. No fermenting.
DAVANGERE BENNE DOSE Dosa from Davangere, a north-west Karnataka town. Means butter dosa. Dosa made with white unsalted butter. There are three kinds of these –Benne khali dosa, Benne open dosa and Benne masala dosa, depending on whether the potato masala is inside or outside the dosa.
ADAI DOSA Protein-rich dosa made of different types of pulses (urad daal, chana daal, toor daal, yellow and green mong daal, arhar daal) mixed with cumin and fennel seeds and chopped chilies, onions, ginger and coriander or curry leaves
MAIDA DOSA Dosa made of maida (plain flour) and rice flour mixed with chopped chilies, onions, ginger and coriander or curry leaves. No fermenting.
ATTA DOSA Dosa made of atta (wheat flour) and rice flour, with or without chopped chillies, onions, ginger and coriander or curry leaves.
1 cup whole skinned/unskinned Urad Daal
3 cups Idli Rice
3-4 Fenugreek seeds
Salt to taste
4 tbs Oil to make the dosas
Note: I usually leave the rice and daal to soak in the morning and do the grinding at night and let it ferment overnight. You could find your own comfort zone with this.
Soak the rice and daal separately for 3-4 hours. First grind the daal into a smooth consistency, add water as you go. Grind the rice also into a smooth batter. Combine the two, mix well, add salt.
Let it ferment in a large bowl with a lid (not tightly shut), for about 6-8 hours. Keep it somewhere warm, hastens the process.
To make the dosas, add water to the fermented batter if it isn’t already of a smooth, pouring consistency.
Heat a tava or a skillet and grease with the oil lightly (I bypass the oil at this stage if it’s a non-stick tava). Pour about large ladleful of batter at the centre of the tawa. Do this over a reduced flame because you don’t want the batter to stick to the pan before your start spreading it.
Use the back of your ladle start spiralling and spreading the batter clockwise (or anticlockwise, whichever way your wrist loves to turn) to almost fill out the tava. Don’t spread too thin because, you could end up with gaps in your dosa. This needs loads of practice to get right. Loads! If you want it crispy, spread the batter really thin, if not just go with what you think is best.
Drizzle about 1 tsp of oil around the edges of the dosa and on the top, too. Increase heat. After about a minute or so, use a spatula to get the dosa edges off the tawa. Lift the dosa and flip over. Cook for about half a minute and remove from tawa. Serve hot with coconut chutney/sambar/sambar/pickle/honey/sugar/left-over chicken curry – just about anything you like.
PS: The thing about the batter is that the rice–daal ratio can vary a bit depending on the quality of rice and daal.
MYSORE MASALA DOSA
½ cup Urad daal
½ cup Tuvar (arhar) daal
½ cup Chana daal
4 cups Rice
Salt to taste
For the masala:
3 cups boiled and slightly mashed Potatoes
2 cups chopped Onions
½ cup boiled Peas
3 Green Chilies, finely chopped
¼ inch piece of Ginger crushed
2 cloves of Garlic (crushed)
3 tbs Oil
1 tsp Mustard seeds
1 pinch Asafoetida
Salt to taste
1 tsp Turmeric powder
1 tsp Cumin powder
Chopped Coriander leaves
½ cup grated fresh Coconut
For the Chutney:
2 cups fresh grated Coconut
¾ cup chopped Green Chilies
1 cup roasted Bengal Gram
Salt to taste
Soak the rice for 8-10 hrs. Combine & soak the daal for about 2 hrs. Grind the daal enough water to make a smooth batter. Follow the same for the rice. Mix in the salt and set aside the mixture in a warm place. Allow to ferment.
To make the masala, heat the oil and add mustard seeds, let them pop, add the curry leaves and asafoetida. Add the onions and fry until clear. Stir in the ginger, garlic and green chillies. Add the potatoes, peas and everything else and mix well. Cook till done.
For the chutney, grind all the ingredients to a fine, thick paste. Add salt.
To put the Dosa together, heat a tava and follow the same procedure as the plain dosa till you flip over.
Now spread a layer of the chutney. Place a large spoonfull of the masala in the middle and fold one half over the other. Remove from pan and serve hot with chutney and sambar.
About the contributor:
Marshmallow is a fussy-eater-turned-food enthusiast and sometime writer. Mother to two Bean-loving (British not French) kids and wife to a travelling spouse, M has been cooking since age 10.