Saturday, February 9, 2013

Vegan South Indian Dosas

The beautiful, magically addictive mystery that is
The Dosa
Dosa ingredients assembled: Urad dal, chana dal, rice and fenugreek.
 My very first experience with dosas was quite accidental. My mother and I were on one of our yearly pilgrimages to NYC and in search of a good dinner spot. Enter Dosa Hut. The restaurant reviews said "Indian" "vegetarian" and described otherworldly addictive rice and lentil crepes.  Done, done and done. I considered myself something of a vegetarian Indian food expert at that point in my life, but the southern specialties, the ones always lurking on the back page of the menus of my favorite Indian joints, were too intimidating to tackle. This little hole in the wall served those southern specialties almost exclusively. We relied on the kind waiter to steer us in the right ordering direction and eagerly waited for our food to arrive. 

Crispy dosas served with homemade red lentil stew. Recipe here: Slow Club Cookery Vegan Red Lentil Stew
Fenugreek (Methel Seeds)

We were a bit tentative when the golden teepee-d dosa was delivered to the table.  It was gorgeous, but how to eat it?? The waiter, I think somewhat amused by our confusion, encouraged us to dig in with our hands. The second that first piece of torn dosa reached my mouth,  I was done for. My obsession was born that day and from that point forward I was on a constant dosa hunt, seeking them out in every restaurant near and far. This was not the most cost effective obsession. So, given my general cheapness and love of all things DIY/ fermented, I decided to learn how to make them myself.
Then I could have dosas
Oh yeah.

 A quick trip to the Indian grocery for bulk ingredients and a handful of failed attempts later, this recipe was born. Its an ever-so-slight variation of  a fairly classic dosa recipe, I've included chana dal which adds a bit of color and gives the dosas a slightly crispier texture. The fenugreek is a key ingredient (read: don't leave it out), it holds carbon dioxide which aids in the fermentation process.

Some things to keep in mind:

Traditional dosas can be cooked in ghee or oil, I cook mine in oil exclusively. If you are not vegan ghee can be used.

Dosas require between 16 and 24 hours of prep time for soaking and fermentation,
so plan ahead.

Finished batter can be stored in the fridge for up to 10 days.

Fermentation time can vary depending on climate, I've found that a warm oven with the light on is the best spot for fermenting batter.

Make sure that after soaking, the batter is ground VERY WELL.

Allow your griddle to preheat before pouring your dosa batter.

If batter has been refrigerated, allow to reach room temp before cooking.

Make sure your griddle is well seasoned, use the onion trick described below
to keep dosas from sticking.

Make sure you purchase SKINLESS urad dal (black lentils),
it will appear off white as in the top photo.

The onion trick:
Once the batter is finished fermenting, slice an onion into quarters and peel off the skin.
Impale the uncut side of one of the 1/4 wedges on the end of a dinner fork.
Use the cut edge to spread oil around the griddle between dosas, this will keep the pan seasoned, prevent dosas from sticking and allow you to use less oil.

Rice, dals and fenugreek, rinsed and ready for soaking. 
Dosa Recipe:
(makes about 8 large dosas)

You will need a wet grinder or a very powerful blender.

1cup medium grain white riee
1c parboiled white rice (also called idli rice)
1/2c Skinless Urad Dal (black lentils)
1/4c Chana Dal
1/2tsp fenugreek (methel seeds)
1 tsp salt

Oil for the pan
1/2 onion to spread the oil

Rinse dal and fenugreek, place in a large bowl and cover with 2" of water.
Rinse rice, place in a separate bowl and cover with water.
Cover bowls loosely with a tea towl and allow to soak overnight (about 8 hours).

Grinding the dal:
Place 1tbsp of the dal soaking liquid into the blender, remove dal mix from soaking liquid and add to blender.
Blend the dal, adding 1-2tbsp more of the soaking liquid as needed.
Blending time will vary, usually between 5-8 minutes.
The dal should be light, fluffy and airy when finished blending.
Pour ground dal into large mixing bowl.

Grinding the rice:
Place 1c of the rice soaking liquid into the blender.
Grind the rice until smooth (batter will remain ever so slightly gritty),
adding water as needed.

Add ground rice to mixing bowl with the dal, add 1tsp of salt and stir to combine.

Fermenting the batter:
Fermented batter will double in bulk, so make sure bowl is large enough.
Cover bowl with a tea towl and place in a warm place to ferment for about 8 hours.

Once your batter is ready:

Finished batter should be bubbly and airy. 
The fermented batter should be thin enough to pour but not runny.
If your batter seems too thick, add a bit of water to thin it out.

Cooking the dosas:
Heat skillet or non stick pan over high heat.
Once the pan is heated, drizzle a couple drops of oil into the pan.
Using the forked onion, spread the oil in circles around the entire pan.
Ladle 1/4c of batter into the center of the hot pan.
Move the back side of the ladle in concentric circles through the batter gently, spreading it to fill the entire pan.
Cook dosa until the bottom is lightly browned.
For a crispier dosa, flip and cook lightly on the other side.

Golden, crispy dosa, right off the griddle.
Remove from pan, roll or fold over and served with accompaniments such as coconut, tomato or mango chutneys or sambar.
Dosa can also be stuffed with curried potatoes.

Repeat process with remaining dosa batter or store in the fridge for future use.
Dosa batter will keep for up to 10 days in the fridge.
Allow to warm to room temperature before cooking.

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