Three dosas you should probably become friends with
It's not even called a dosa where I come from, if you really want to know. We call it a dosai. The global menus that are trending these days called them 'crisp rice crêpes from India'. But they're not supposed to be all that crisp and papery either. In my neck of the woods, the dosai that comes out looking that lovely golden brown all over is rejected as an imposter, not the real thing at all.
The real thing is much more, well, real. A food lover’s home-made dosai — note the ‘i’ at the end — is generous, slightly crisp and crunchy outside, and warmly soft underneath. It is unassuming and never hopes to make it in life, awaiting only the kiss of the right chutney to turn it into a queen.
To get that totally dishonest sunset brown color, restaurateurs add chick pea flour — which would turn my old grandma a sunset brown color bless her soul. The true dosai dough mixes 1 part rice with 1 part urad dal, soaked overnight, and then smoothly ground to paste with some salt.
The reason I’m writing all this, however, is that there are many more of them dosas out there than meets your untrained eye.
There are 13 commoners, let me count them for you. You have the Paper Dosa, an impostor to the rim. You have the Ghee Paper Dosa, which is a way of making a fast buck by adding a spoonful of ghee. The Paper Masala Dosa, the Ghee Paper Masala Dosa, ditto ditto.
Then there’s the Uttappam, which is not a dosa so much as a distant uncle tolerated by the rest of the clan. The Uttappam is the Dravidian answer to the pizza, and comes with toppings of onion, tomato, both, both and coconut, none of the above, and sometimes, horrors, cheese and noodles.
The Rava Dosai and its masala and ghee permutations, say some, are better value for money than other dosas, but rava batter has a way of honeycombing itself into holes, like old fin de siecle singlets. To me that’s paying money for batter-fried holes.
Finally, there are two things called the Peserate Dosa, and the Mysore Masala Dosa, which are equally unintriguing.
I intend to pull, out of an old South Indian lady’s hat, three dosas you should cultivate and become close friends with. You may not have eaten them before (assuming all the while that you are not a Drav like me). These are, respectively and respectfully, known as the adai, the maida dosa, and the arisi dosa. Some Udipis feature the adai on their blackboard menus as the one item they will say is not available that particular day.
#1 Wheat dosa
Now we go to school. That is, I go to school. I am 13 or so and I am hungry. I want a dosai, but my mother, as yet unaccustomed to my whimsies, does not have the batter ready. She thinks a bit, and casually invents the maida dosai. You need 4 cups of maida, salt to taste, and enough water to make a batter of the consistency of pancake batter. Into this, add a little hing, and a garnish of 2 seedless red chillies, 1/2 tsp mustard, 1 tsp jeera fried in a little oil. When the mustard starts spluttering, add two chopped green chillies. Sprinkle a few curry leaves over the batter.
A tip: Prepare the tava by spooning a little oil on to it, and then spreading it around using a half piece of onion or potato. This, say the Dravs, imparts certain non-stick properties to the tava, and much facilitates the birth of a good dosai.
Another tip: Unlike commoner dosais, which are spread on the tava centre outward, the maida dosai must be laid down from the outside in. Spread a circle of batter and then fill out the inside, keeping it very thin, very thin.
Dosai Number 2 is the adai, which for long I believed would create dyspepsia in my sensitive constitution. This is not true, however. An adai is a man of the world, robust and nutritious, and addictive into the bargain. To make it, you must soak overnight 2 parts parboiled rice, and 1 part each of the dals urad and tuvar, and 1/2 part chana dal, together with 5 or 6 red chillies. The next morning, make the dough, including in it some ginger, chopped green chillies, curry leaves, some hing and salt to taste.
This one is fun only if the batter is coarsely ground. Lay it down on the tava to a thickness of about 1/4 inch, and spoon oil around the rim. Part a small hole in the centre, and pour some oil there as well. The result ought to be a lovely amber brown, thanks to the chana in the mix. The adai does not need the help of no pickle, madam. I have it with good plain curd, and it leaves me completely fulfilled and fed up, as they say in Bengal.
#3 Arisi adai
The arisi adai is the most unexpected of this trio. You must soak three cups of rice overnight, with salt to taste. The next morning, make the dough, making sure you include a cup of finely grated coconut. Into the batter mix in a cupful of shredded drumstick leaves. Grind into a coarse batter. The arisi dosai is made like the adai, about 1/4” thick.
Like the dosai, the suggested accompaniment is simplicity itself. Into good plain curds, mash in a bunch of green chillies, using the strength of your hands. Add salt to taste.
And that is the the, as an absurd friend of mine used to often say.
- WHEAT DOSA
- Make a thick batter with the wheat andrice flours and a little water. Add salt and finely chopped green chillies and ginger.
- Makes 12-15 dosas in a non-stick pan.
- Soak rice, pigeon peas, and skinned black gram together for 20 minutes. Grind coarsely with red chillies, hing and salt.
- Makes 6-7 dais.
- ARISI ADAI
- Soak the rice for about 20 minutes. Grate the coconut medium fine in the meanwhile.
- Grind the coconut and soaked rice finely with a little salt, adding chopped curly leaves at the end.
- Makes 10-12 adais.