dosas and uttapams

Dosas and Uttapams |A Brown Table

I love dosas and uttapams, they are one of the tastiest savory crêpes and pancakes from the Southern states of India. Since they are made from ground lentils and rice, they are also gluten-free and vegan but either way they are good! One of my closest friends from grad school is of South Indian origin, every time, I visit her family in New Orleans, dosas are the first thing I ask for because her mom makes them the best. 

Several years ago, I tried making dosas and uttapams at home, the uttapams were easy but the dosas tricky. The dosas would rip while I tried to spread the batter over the pan and since a dosa should be thin and crisp (I still need a lot more practice making them crisp), these were not ideal. I finally turned to my friend's mom and asked her for help. This version is based on her recipe which she was extremely kind to share. Before we get into more details, let me just start by saying that this is the way, I make them at home. It is highly simplified from the traditional method of letting the batter rest and allowing it to ferment for a few days.

Dosas and Uttapams |A Brown TableDosas and Uttapams |A Brown TableDosas and Uttapams |A Brown TableDosas and Uttapams |A Brown TableDosas and Uttapams |A Brown Table
  • Black gram/black lentil/urad dal in most Indian stores and you should be able to find them at any International market. There are enzymes in this lentil that help break down the structure of the starch in the rice that are critical to producing this batter and forming the characteristic dosa and uttapam shapes. I've also noticed a lot of Indian stores now selling urad dal flour which would eliminate the process of soaking and grinding the lentils. I haven't tried that yet but I do hope to soon.
  • You will notice that my batter is a little greenish because I like to leave the skin of the lentil on, traditionally you would use urad dal which has the skin removed. This is completely up to you. I like the little colored flecks in the batter. 
  • I use rice flour and this rice flour is not made from basmati rice. Any regular rice flour will work here.
  • I add yeast to cut back on the fermentation time. In the past, depending on the ambient temperature, my batter would not rise properly and would take more than one day. You need yeast to ferment the components of the batter, instead of waiting for it grow naturally in the batter and speed up the process, I add a little bit of yeast to bump up the process.
  • To make the dosas, the pan needs to be warm but not hot when you add and spread the batter. Avoid adding to much pressure when spreading the batter or it will clump easily. It takes a little bit of practice on learning how to spread the batter (the two photographs below should give you an idea of how the batter looks, the image on the left is of the dosa, notice how relatively thin and spread out it is compared to the uttapam in the image on the right). Uttapams are an easy place to start and that is where I began to learn and practice.
  • This recipe will make a large batch of dosas and uttapams, around 3-4 helpings for 8-10 people depending on how thick or thin you make them.
  • There are lots of different accompaniments to serve these guys with, my coconut cilantro coconut chutney that I shared on Food52. I haven't posted a recipe for sambar (another great lentil dish) or the traditional potato filling that is sometimes wrapped up in the dosas in this post. I will share that sometime separately in another post, I wanted this post to be all about the dosa and uttapam. 
  • To store excess unused batter, I keep it covered with a lid in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Before preparing, I let it sit out at room temperature for about 4-6 hours and stir it once or twice. Dosas and uttapams are best when made fresh and straight off the hot pan. 
  • Lastly, I've given exact volumes of water I used but you should note that you might need to add a little more or a little less to get the consistency right to that of a thicker pancake or thinner crêpe batter depending on whether you want to make uttapams or dosas. 
Dosas and Uttapams |A Brown Table
Dosas and Uttapams |A Brown Table
Dosas and Uttapams |A Brown Table

dosas and uttapams 

yields: about 8-10 servings

ingredients

1 cup urad dal/black lentils (split or whole, I used whole with the skin on but you can use the ones without the skin too)

500mL water + 2.5 Liters + additional 500mL for dosas

4 cups rice flour

1 teaspoon fenugreek seed powder, freshly ground

1 1/2 teaspoon kosher sea salt

1/2 teaspoon yeast

1 cup chopped tomatoes

1/2 cup red onion chopped 

1/2 cup cilantro leaves, freshly chopped

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon roasted cumin, freshly ground

1/2 teaspoon kosher sea salt

vegetable oil for cooking (I also find vegetable oil sprays to be pretty useful here)

1. Clean the lentils to remove any stones that might be present. Rinse under running tap water, place in a large bowl, cover with water and soak overnight. The next day drain the water and grind the lentils with the 500mL of water to a smooth paste with a blender. There should be no clumps in the batter. Transfer to a bowl and cover and let it sit for at least 12 hours or at this point you can either refrigerate the lentil mixture and use it within 2-3 days.

2. The next day transfer the lentil mixture to a large mixing bowl. Add the flour, fenugreek powder, salt and yeast. Add the half of the 2.5 Liters of water to batter and stir to form a smooth batter. Transfer the batter to a large container or stockpot (one with deep bottom will be useful when the fermentation causes the batter to rise and prevent it from overflowing. Allow the batter to sit covered (not airtight) for at least 6 hours before using. The batter will ferment and rise. 

3. On the day of cooking, mix the tomatoes, onions, cilantro, chili, cumin and salt in a medium bowl and keep aside. (This will be used to top the uttapams)

3. To prepare Uttapams: Heat a large non-stick pan or cast iron skillet on medium-high. Pour and spread a teaspoon of oil on the surface of the pan. The batter will be thick resembling the consistency of a pancake batter. Pour about 1/2 cup of the batter in the center and allow it to spread by itself into an 8 inch circle. Sprinkle about two generous tablespoons of the mixed tomato-onion mixture over the top of the uttapam and then drizzle with 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil. Cook until the edges get golden brown and they start to come off from the sides. Using a silicone spatula, release the uttapam from the sides, and flip to cook on the other side for about 1 - 1  1/2 minutes. Prepare the rest similarly. Serve hot.

4. To prepare Dosas: Add 500mL of water to the batter and stir. The consistency should be thinner like that of a crêpe batter. Heat a large non-stick pan or cast iron skillet on medium-low. Pour and spread a teaspoon of oil on the surface of the pan. Using a ladle pour about 1/2 cup batter in the center of the oiled pan and spread the batter with a circular motion using the ladle starting from the center moving outwards to form a large thin crêpe (don't use too much pressure or it will tear the dosa as it begins to cook). Drizzle about 1/2 teaspoon oil over the dosa. Cook until the dosa begins to turn golden brown and begins to leave the sides of the pan. Using a silicone spatula, release the uttapam from the sides, and flip to cook on the other side for about 30 minutes. Prepare the rest similarly. Serve hot.