Thursday, September 24, 2009

South Indian dosas

This was an interesting experiment, one that I think I'll be repeating (actually, I'll be repeating it tomorrow because I've still got quite a bit of batter left over). You may remember that I had experimented with dosas using rice flour and urad flour rather than soaking and grinding the grains themselves; this time I did the long version and apart from the waiting periods and having to wash the blender, it wasn't any more difficult, and the results were superior, though I wouldn't mind trying the batter from the flours again and leaving it the full twenty hours as I did this time, because it really does foam up near the end in quite an astonishing way without, however, changing colour or looking or smelling odd; in fact the taste is much the same throughout and it seems to be the texture that changes. This recipe is from Madhur Jaffrey's World of the East Vegetarian Cooking, with the method adapted (simplified) here, and further simplified by me. The recipe in the book is very long and contains some additional directions, but this version will get you the results you need. I served it with the aloo gobi (cauliflower and potatoes in spices) and panak paneer (spinach with paneer—or in this case, fresh tofu) from Monisha Bharadwaj's India's Vegetarian Cooking: A Regional Guide. This is a really beautiful book, and I've found the pictures in it to be rather heavily Photoshopped as to colour but the recipes all still work even if your results aren't as pretty as the ones in the illustrations. The aloo gobi was particularly tasty. Here's a beauty shot of the mise-en-place:

South Indian dosas
makes 8 pancakes

1/2 cup urad dal
1 cup long-grain rice
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp ground cumin seeds
1/2 cup vegetable oil (about)

Pick over and wash urad dal. Soak in 2 cups water for 8 hours.

Wash rice and soak in 3 cups water for 8 hours.

Drain dal and rice and add to blender with 1 1/2 cups water; process until light and fluffy.
Here's what it looks like in the "light and fluffy" stage:

Cover and leave in a warm place to ferment, 16-20 hours. The fermented batter should be frothy:

Add the salt and cumin and stir to combine.

Have all cooking paraphernalia ready and at hand. You will need to have near your skillet: 1/4 to 1/2 cup of vegetable oil in a cup or bowl with a small spoon, a larger spoon to spread the batter, the bowl of batter with a 1/2-cup measuring scoop/cup, a spatula for turning the pancakes, and a plate on which to place the finished dosas after they are cooked.

Pour 1 tsp of oil into the skillet and tilt to distribute evenly. Heat the skillet over medium-low until oil is hot. Pour 1/2 cup of the mixture onto the center of the hot skillet. Use the large spoon to spread the batter in a spiral motion, until the pancake is about 6-7 inches in diameter. Drizzle another 1/2 tsp of oil over the top of the pancake. Cover and cook approximately 2 minutes until the bottom is lightly browned. Turn pancake and cook another 2 minutes on the other side, uncovered this time. Remove pancake to plate and repeat with remaining batter, adding enough additional oil to the skillet as needed to keep surface evenly greased.

They're thicker than I expected, gorgeously crispy on the outside and tender inside, and they don't taste "fermented", just really light and addictive. Madhur Jaffrey writes, "Dosas, plain or stuffed, may be served at breakfast, brunch, lunch, or as a snack. In South India, they are often accompanied by glasses of buttermilk or cups of steaming hot, sweet, milky coffee." Having tried the dosas, the steaming hot, sweet, milky coffee option sounds perfectly divine.

On edit: The batter only improves with time, becoming more sour and thicker, and it really is great with soy latte ;-)

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