India is a land where everything from the culture to the cuisine, from the language to the dialect, from the architecture to the music is unique. The very essence of India is evident in the multitude of dishes and flavors that represent its legendary cuisine.
Masala dosa, the quintessential South Indian dish, is nothing but dosa rolled up with a tasty potato filling. Now, dosa is a crispy, delicate pancake made from fermented rice and lentils. Masala dosa is said to have originated in Udupi, Karnataka. This classic vegetarian dish served with sambar and chutney, for breakfast or dinner, captures the signature flavors of the South Indian cuisine. Did you know that the National Geographic Traveler magazine rated breakfast in Kerala — appam, iddli, masala dosa, puttu, upma — as one of the best in the world? Oh yes!
The key to making successful dosa is a good batter. The dosa batter should be thinner than that of idli batter with a slight grainy texture. The consistency? Well, not too thick, not too runny either. It should coat a spoon, but at the same time be of pouring consistency — similar to a pancake batter. In the earlier days, large basalt-stone grinders were used to make the batter. Phew, such manual labour! Today, you can make equally good batter in an electric blender. Look out for pans that are specially made for cooking dosa. A cast-iron baking stone is best for this purpose. If not, use a large shallow pan with a solid nonstick base.
1 cup basmati rice
½ cup split black gram (urad dal)
handful parboiled steamed rice
water, as needed
salt to taste
1/3 cup vegetable oil and melted unsalted butter, combined
To prepare the batter:
Place rice and lentils in a sieve and rinse well. Add enough water to soak and set aside for a minimum of 6 hours; drain. In a blender, grind the rice, lentil and steamed rice by adding enough water to form a smooth, but slightly grainy batter. With the consistency of pancake batter.
Pour into a large container that can hold up to three times the volume of the batter; season. Leave to ferment for 12 hours or overnight, covered, in a warm place until the batter has expanded to almost double its volume. In winter, it is best to leave the batter in a warm place like the oven, if you have one. Preheat the oven for a few minutes until warm; switch off; allow to cool for 5 minutes; leave the batter inside. Once the batter is well fermented, gently stir once or twice to even out the aeration.
To cook pancakes:
Heat a heavy griddle over high heat. To season the pan, spread a layer of salt, heat for 3 minutes and wife off salt using a kitchen towel.
Reduce heat to medium for 3 minutes and very lightly grease the pan with the fat (butter and oil mixture). Test the temperature of the pan by sprinkling a bit of water. If water sizzles on contact with the pan, the temperature is right for cooking; wipe off water.
Using a flat-bottomed metal measuring cup, or a ladle, pour roughly ¼ cup of batter into the pan. Using the bottom of the cup/ladle, gently spread the batter outwards, moving in concentric circles to make a pancake about 7-8 inches in diameter. Drizzle a bit of fat on the top and around the circumference of the dosa. Cook for about 4 minutes or until the pancake is crisp and golden on the underside and cooked on the top. Use a palette knife to loosen the pancake. At this stage you can slide it out of the pan and serve immediately, if you desire, without the masala.
For making masala dosa, place the potato masala (see recipe below) along the center of the pancake and fold in sides to encase the masala in a neat roll. Plate the dosa with the seam-side down and serve immediately with sambar and chutney.
Spiced, Mashed Potato Filling — Potato Masala
The potato masala used as a stuffing for masala dosa also goes well with any kinds of bread like chapatti, paratha, puri and roti.
4 medium potatoes, skinned and cubed
¼ cup frozen garden peas
3 medium onions, halved and finely sliced
2 tablespoon oil
pinch cumin seeds
½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
3 dry red chilies, broken
1 teaspoon split chickpeas (chana dal)
1 teaspoon split black lentils (urad dal)
12 fresh curry leaves
2 tablespoon cashew nuts, broken
2 green chilies, sliced
1 teaspoon ginger, sliced
¼ teaspoon asafetida
¾ teaspoon turmeric powder, divided
salt, to taste
water, as needed
cilantro, for garnish
Cook peas in lightly salted water per instruction on packet. Drain and set aside. Cook potatoes in a pan by adding ½ teaspoon turmeric, salt to taste and water just enough to cover the potatoes. Pound the boiled potatoes to a coarse mash; do not drain any remaining water.
Heat oil in a casserole over medium-low heat. Roast the cashews until golden; set aside. Add mustard seeds and cook until they crackle, about 30 seconds. Add cumin, split chickpeas and black gram. Reduce heat and cook, stirring, until light golden — be careful not to burn them. Then add asafetida, ginger, dry chili and curry leaves and toss gently for few seconds. Tip in cashews and then, onion. Season. Cook onion, stirring often, for about 8-10 minutes or until soft and translucent. Stir in peas, green chili and ¼ teaspoon turmeric; cook for 15 seconds. Now tip in the potatoes with the remaining water. Toss and cook for 3 minutes. The masala should be moist — add more water, if needed. Taste and adjust seasoning. Finally, garnish with cilantro leaves.