A masala dosa is a delightful dish. Growing up, I ate it for breakfast or ‘tiffin’. A tiffin is an Indian English term used to refer to a light snack which is usually had between meals. However this was no light snack for me. I could easily tuck away 4-5 of these dosas and still be hungry for lunch or dinner. If my parents took me to a restaurant, I would want to eat only a masala dosa and nothing else. When I grew older, I recall eating many masala dosas and drinking filter coffee at a small canteen in my college between classes.
Needless to say, my love for a good dosa has not waned as I have progressed into my adult years. But moving away from India had me searching for a recipe for a good dosa. A good dosa is crisp in the center, and spongy on the edges. Despite being a fermented food, it should not be too acidic or sour. After playing with many ratios of ingredients and ingredients, this recipe is one that I get the best results with.
A dosa is a crepe made with a fermented batter composed primarily of rice and black gram (urad daal in Hindi). The batter is spread on a cast iron pan in a circular manner, similar to how a crepe is spread. The exception is that unlike how a crepe is swirled or troweled on the pan, you use a round ladle to spread the batter on the dosa pan. Some oil or melted butter is drizzled on top of the dosa and it is allowed to cook until golden. If you want to make a masala dosa, place a generous scoop of spiced potatoes in the center of the dosa before you roll it up to serve it. Common accompaniments to a dosa or masala dosa include coconut chutney, tomato chutney or chutney powder which is a coarse ground mixture of roasted lentils and spices.
The first component of a dosa batter is rice. Use a rice that is known to have lower amylose sugars, such as parboiled rice, brown rice or basmati rice which are popularly for their lower glycemic index. Lower amylose sugars translate to lower amounts of lactic acid generated, which means the pH of your batter is relatively high. A batter with relatively high pH results in a better flavor since the batter is not sour. Some recipes balance parboiled rice with regular rice so there is a balance between pH (sweeter batter) and starch (crisper texture). Rice provides most of the sugars that are necessary for fermentation.
The second essential component of a dosa batter is urad daal or black gram. I recall my grandmother always used the whole ural daal, with its black skin intact. She soaked it overnight, which caused the skin to break away from the plumped up inner white daal. After a patient process of coaxing the skin to release from the seed and rinsing the urad daal, she would grind it with the rice. Today’s choices for the busy home cook are whole urad daal or split urad daal, both with skins removed. Urad daal provides the yeast that is necessary for fermentation. It is also a suitable substrate for the fermentation by trapping carbon dioxide that is released during fermentation. Carbon dioxide is responsible for the mildly fluffy nature of the dosa, especially around the edges.
In this recipe below, I have used basmati rice and whole urad daal. The rest of the ingredients in this dosa batter are more to enhance taste, texture, and color – channa daal and fenugreek promote a nice deep brown color, poha (Hindi word for flattened rice) makes the dosa a tad softer, while salt and sugar are for taste.
To make dosa, preheat a non-stick pan or a cast-iron dosa tava. Spritz the pan with water when you think it is hot. If the water sizzles in the first 2-4 seconds, the pan is hot. Wipe the pan clean with a paper towel, and using a round ladle, pour about 1/3 cup of batter in the center of the pan. Using the back of the ladle and starting in the center, draw an imaginary clock-wise spiral radiating outwards, until you have spread the batter into a circle. Drizzle the top of the dosa with about 3/4 tsp of oil or ghee, ensuring that the oil is spread evenly. Wait until you see the dosa turning a nice golden brown. Roll up the dosa or fold it half and serve with Spicy Potatoes.
Soaking time: 4-6 hrs Fermentation time: overnight or 8-10 hrs Cooking time: appx 1 hr Serves 4 (makes appx 16-20 9" dosas) Ingredients: 1/2 cup urad daal or black gram 1.5 cups basmati rice 2 tbsps channa daal 1 tsp fenugreek or methi seeds 1/4 cup flattened rice or poha 3/4 tsp salt 1/2 tsp sugar oil or ghee, for drizzling over dosas Method: Combine urad daal, rice, channa daal and fenugreek seeds in a large bowl and rinse throughly with tap water. Add enough water to cover the mixture and soak for 4-6 hrs at room temperature. About 30 minutes before making a batter, soak the 1/4 cup flattened rice or poha in 3/4 cup water. A heavy duty blender is the best appliance suited to prepare the batter. Grind the daal mixture with enough water to make a thick batter. A batter of right consistency should coat the back of a spoon nicely and stay there a few seconds before plopping down. A food processor may take longer to produce the smooth batter that is necessary for this recipe, or it may not even do the job properly. Depending on the size of your blender, you might have to grind the batter in two or more batches. Empty the contents of the blender into a clean bowl. The bowl should be capable of handling double or triple the amount of batter you have; this is to provide enough room for fermentation. Whisk in the salt and sugar, and continue whisking a minute or two longer. Whisking promotes aeration, which is the addition of oxygen into the batter. Oxygen promotes an environment that is suitable for the growth of yeast. Cover and set aside in a warm location in your kitchen, 8-10 hrs. Overnight is preferable. An unheated oven often does the trick. Make dosas per the instructions above.