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Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Perfect Dosa - Rice and Urad Dal Crepes

Dosa or dosai is a thin crepe which is a staple in all south Indian homes. In many homes, it is eaten as a breakfast dish and often times serves as a perfect snack, very healthy and filling. Over the last couple of decades, it has become one of the most popular menu items in restaurants all over India. In fact I must say it is probably one of the most popular exports from India, as popular if not more than the ubiquitous palak paneer and chicken tikka masala.


I must confess that until a couple of months ago, I could not make dosa batter. My main challenge - grinding the batter to the right consistency. The rice and urad dal must be very ground very fine. It needs to be very smooth so when you feel it between your fingers, it should feel like paste. You shouldn't be able to feel the grain at all. This entails grinding the rice and dal very fine, which in turn means that you must have a good blender. My previous blender did a pretty good job with the dal but could not grind the rice to a smooth consistency. I often thought that I may have to get a wet grinder to make the batter or a processor from India. However, I recently discovered that my cuisinart blender does a fantastic job. So, if you are having similar challenges and don't want to get a very expensive specialized gadget just for this job, go for a high wattage blender.  Another very important step is to make sure that the batter is fermented. This makes the batter light and the crispy. See the tips below for tricks to make sure that the batter ferments during the cold winter season.

Now, I make dosa batter a couple of times a month.  It lasts for about one week and is very handy. It is the perfect life saver when I come home and don't have the energy to cook a complete meal.

Special thanks to my friend AG for sharing tips and showing me how she makes dosa.


Ingredients
1 cup urad dal (split and washed, so it doesn't have the black peel/skin)
3 cups idly rice (this is parboiled rice. I have tried parboiled rice from a local store before, but the end result was a very sticky batter. So I went back to using rice marked as "Idli/Idly" rice from the Indian store. If you cannot find idli rice, use regular rice)
1 tsp fenugreek seeds/ methi seeds
water, enough to soak the grains
salt to taste (to use when making the dosa)


Method
Soak the rice with enough water to cover the rice and then add some more water so that there is about an inch of water above the level of the rice. Add the methi seeds to this.  In another vessel, soak the urad dal with enough water to soak the dal, again about an inch of water above the dal. Let the rice and dal soak for about 6-7 hours. Grind the rice to a fine paste, as fine as you can. Grind the urad dal till it's soft, smooth and fluffy. The dal becomes very fluffy as it gets finer. After this, mix the two batters together. The consistency of the ground batter should be slightly thick and not watery. It should be similar to cake batter consistency, a little thinner is also ok. Add water to the batter to make sure the consistency is correct. Then cover this and allow it to rest overnight or for about 7-8 hours. At the end of the 8 hours, the batter will have risen a little and will become light and fluffy. Store this in the fridge. You can use a little at a time to make the dosa.


When you make the dosa, take about 2 cups of batter, to this add the water to thin out the batter. This batter should be crepe consistency, so that when you pour it, it flows easily. Add a little salt at this stage, before you make the dosa.

To make the dosa
Add a couple of drops of oil to a non stick pan and grease it. The pan should be hot when you pour the batter. Then, take a ladle full of batter and pour it out onto the center of then pan. Then using the base of the ladle, move the your hand in a circular movement (one direction only- clockwise/anti-clockwise) and move the batter out from the center towards the edge of the pan. Cover the dosa, for a few minutes. Then, uncover and cook till you can the dosa being released from the edges of the pan. The dosa will be light brown at this stage. You can let it brown a little  bit more if you want. Then flip it over and cook it on the other side for a minute. Serve hot with sambar or chutney.







Tips
There are many tips interspersed in the instructions above, so read the method above to prepare the batter . To ferment the batter, especially during winter, keep the batter in the oven (without turning it on), with just the oven light on. Another method, is to cover your batter with a couple of kitchen towels so that as the batter ferments, the temperature is maintained and the container doesn't become cold. If it's really cold, use both, the oven light in conjunction with covering the batter container with the towels. This ensures that the batter is well fermented even if the temperature in the house is at about 60-65 Farenheit.  

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