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Modern Dosa Cookbook

The dosa is the most perfect food available. It is easy to make, crispy, soft, delicious and a perfect vegan protein. It’s easy to store the batter for weeks, everyone likes them, they’re fun to eat and it might just be my very favorite food.

Traditionally, dosa are made in South India (we’ll see why in a second). And they’re traditionally a simple fermented batter made from white urad dal and long grain rice. The combination of the two is almost magical, from both a nutrition and a taste perspective.

It turns out that you can make dosa with many grains (rye berries work) and many kinds of pulses/legumes, including lentils, chickpeas, etc.

On this page, I’m going to take you through the basics and then continue to add more reports and insight as we learn together.

First, you’ll need a few household items to be able to make dosa at a high level.

A Vitamix blender. I also have a wet grinder, but the truth is, the blender does a better job. The downside is that the batch size is much smaller. And it’s noisier and less authentic. But still, arguably higher quality.

A tava, or dosa pan. I don’t like the thin ones or the non-stick ones. I find that a larger flat cast iron round works beautifully. It’s not supposed to have a lip, but the lip doesn’t really get in the way and it keeps your stove a lot cleaner.

A crepe stick. I’ve always used the wooden ones, but recently discovered stainless steel that’s much easier to wash. The traditional method is to use a flat metal measuring cup (the one you use to scoop the batter) but I can’t get the hang of it. Basically, scoop the batter then use the bottom of the cup to spread it thin. Here’s a video of each approach: Stick. Cup.

Parboiled rice. When using rice, it turns out that parboiled gives you a much crispier dosa. I’m a fan.

You’ll also want some spray oil (like Pam). It turns out that coconut oil works nicely, but the ghee spray always jams. It just does.

And for the fermentation, you’ll find that an electric heating pad is a simple shortcut.

Anyway, as you’re learning, no need to go out and buy all the stuff as above, but when you’re ready, the links are there for you.

So, here’s the secret: Dosa batter is fermented. And the reason that you will rarely create it as well as they do in India is that the method of making the batter in that warm, germ-friendly climate is to plunge your hands into the batter before you leave it to ferment. Just as the sourdough at Poilane in Paris tastes different, the microbes matter. We’re going to dispense with the hand plunging, though.

The basic recipe:

3 parts rice (or other grain) to 1 part of pulse or other protein similar to lentils.

There are two methods to pursue. One, the busy homemaker method, is to use already ground flours. Rice flour, ground lentils, etc. The advantage is that if you buy the stuff already ground, you don’t have to mess with it. The disadvantage is that it’s not as fresh tasting. If you have a grain mill at home, well, that certainly can work. Let’s begin with the whole grain approach.

Put the rice into a bowl and cover with warm water. Enough water to leave at least two inches of depth. The rice expands as it soaks. Leave it for an hour.

Put the lentils in a different bowl and cover with warm water. Use more water than you used for the rice, perhaps enough to cover by 30%. Soak this for an hour as well.

It’s hard for me to understand why, except for mechanical reasons having to do with your wet grinder/Vitamix, you need to do the soaking separately. Please do. If you mix them at this stage, your batter will be grainy at the end.

Let’s do the rice first. Drain the water, rinse the rice, and then put the wet rice into the blender along with enough lentil water to make a slurry. Don’t use too little or you’ll burn out your Vitamix, and don’t use too much because it’ll be watery. The proportions vary by rice, so you’ll have to figure this out. Start with small batches. And you can always add water as you go. If you run out of lentil water, you can use tap water.

Slowly mix the rice with water. Over the course of the next few minutes, gradually turn up the speed until you end up with a luxurious, unctuous and smooth batter. It should look like whipped cream or soft cream cheese.

Put it into a big bowl.

Now, put the lentils and their remaining water into the blender (no need to clean the canister). Do the same thing you did to the rice. It’ll be a bit noisy and it might take a while. This is an important moment–make sure when you feel the lentil batter with your fingers, it’s not grainy.

Mix it in the big bowl with the rice slurry.

Add some baking soda. How much? I’m not sure. We’re working on this. Figure one teaspoon for every 6 cups of slurry. You can also throw some Feugreek into the blender with the rice, just a few grains, but there’s really no need.

Cover the bowl well with plastic wrap then put the bowl on a heating pad. The goal is to keep the batter at 100 degrees for around 8 hours. 12 hours is fine. Go to bed.

Tomorrow, your batter will be ready! Put into plastic deli storage containers and keep in the fridge.

To make a dosa, you’ll want to heat your tava. Nice and hot. Little bits of smoke coming from it. It takes a little while.

Spray the tava well with spray oil.

Pour about a cup of batter into the center, then use the crepe stick to make it as thin as you can. Here’s another video.

Spray the top with a bit of oil.

Be patient. Wait until the bottom is nice and brown, don’t rush it.

Flip. Wait 30 seconds.

Serve. You can use dal, Indian pickle, chutney, hummus, or whatever was for dinner to go with it. I had one last night with avocado and sweet potato.

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