Chitra's Dosa and Sambar from Vibrant India (Ten Speed Press, 2017)
Makes 18 crepes /serves 6 to 8
2 cups uncooked long-grain or basmati rice
1⁄2 cup urad whole gota or urad dal, preferably without skin
2 tablespoons chana dal
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1⁄4 cup cooked rice
1 1⁄2 teaspoons kosher salt (not iodized)
Ghee or mild flavored oil such as canola, for frying
Making Dosa Batter
Wash the uncooked rice and place it in a bowl. Add enough filtered water to cover the rice by 2 inches. (Filtered water is important in case there is a high amount of chlorine in your water, which will inhibit fermentation.) Rinse the urad whole gota and chana dal and place in a separate bowl with the fenugreek seeds. (Good-quality urad will give off some bubbles when rinsed in water.) Add enough filtered water to cover the urad by 2 inches. Soak both mixtures, uncovered, for at least 6 hours or up to overnight.
Note: If you don’t have leftover rice, make some to include in the batter the next day. This ingredient adds crispyness but is not mandatory.
The next morning, drain the urad and fenugreek, saving the soaking liquid. Place the urad mixture in a blender (an Indian wet grinder is best, but a powerful blender also works well). With the machine running, slowly add about 1 cup of the reserved soaking liquid to the container, until you get a smooth, light, and fluffy batter. You may have to grind the urad in batches, depending on the size and strength of your blender. Do not let the batter overheat. To check that your urad has been ground finely enough, drop a little into a bowl of water. If it rises to the top, it has been ground enough. Pour the batter into a large mixing bowl. Repeat the same process for the rice, in batches if necessary, using about 1 cup of the reserved soaking liquid. Once the soaked rice is ground, add the cooked rice and grind further. The batter will be smooth but will feel slightly grainy to the touch. Pour the rice batter into the mixing bowl with the ground urad mixture, and add the salt. Mix the ground rice and urad together with your hand. The heat in your hand is good to kick-start the fermentation process while also adding more wild yeast. You should have a loose, thick batter that falls through your hands easily but also coats your fingers. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and set it in a warm place. The batter needs to be at a temperature of 80° to 90°F to ferment. (I usually place my batter in the oven with the light on and a large bowl of hot tap water below it. I change out the water a few times to keep the oven warm and humid. Home cooks in cold climates use many different methods, from placing the bowl on a heating pad to wrapping it in a blanket.) Depending on the temperature, your batter could take 8 to 20 hours to ferment. When fermented, it will have almost doubled and will look puffed up on the top. It will also have a sour, fermented smell. When you scoop it with a spoon, it will be a frothy mass of bubbles. Note that in colder climates, your batter may not rise as much, but if it has a frothy, bubbly look and smells fermented, you can start making dosas with it.
Cooking a Dosa
Stir the batter a couple of times. Ideally, you have a thick, flowing batter; it’s thicker than crepe batter. If too thick, add filtered water little by little. Before cooking the dosas, set a little bowl with ghee and a teaspoon, a metal spatula, a cup of water, and a few paper towels or a silicone pastry brush by the stove. I use a 1⁄3-cup measure to scoop up the batter and a large, slightly curved serving spoon to spread it in the skillet. Put a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet* over medium heat. Put a couple of drops of ghee in the skillet and lightly smear it all over using a paper towel or silicone pastry brush. A technique that restaurants use is to stick a fork in the top of a cut onion and put the cut side down on the skillet to smear the oil. This step helps to make the surface of the skillet more nonstick. At this point, you don’t want to add too much oil, as this will make it difficult to spread the dosa evenly. Sprinkle a few drops of water on the skillet to check whether it’s hot. If the water sizzles, it’s time. Turn the heat to low. Scoop up 1⁄3 cup of batter, using your measuring cup, and pour it into the center of the skillet.** The batter should sizzle a bit when it hits the skillet. Starting in the middle, swirl the batter outward in a circular motion, using the bottom of a large, slightly curved serving spoon, a flat ladle, or the measuring cup, until you have spread it out into a round dosa that is about 9 inches in diameter. It is important not to press down too hard with your spreading utensil. The reason a slightly curved or flat utensil is best is that if the bottom has too much contact with the skillet it will become hot and make it difficult for you to spread the batter. Spreading should happen more on the top surface than on the bottom. When you’ve finished spreading the dosa batter, turn the heat back up to medium. Wait a few seconds for the dosa to sizzle a little in the pan, and then drip about 1 teaspoon of melted ghee around the edges of the dosa and on top. If you have an oil sprayer, that will do the job efficiently. Cook until the dosa is dried out on top and you can see some browning and crisp spots appearing on the bottom, 2 to 3 minutes. When it’s ready, the dosa will peel off easily when you slide your spatula underneath. If you see the dosa browning but it is still sticking, just lower the heat and wait a few seconds. Then probe around the edges with your spatula until you find an area that starts to give, and usually the whole dosa will unstick once you start to pull it up from that spot. Flip your dosa over for a few seconds and then flip it over again. Fold the dosa in half in the skillet and slide it onto a plate for serving. You must cool down your skillet so you can easily spread your next dosa and prevent it from sticking to the pan. To cool it down, sprinkle a little water on its surface. When the sizzling stops, heat the skillet back up for your next dosa. Stir the dosa batter well before scooping up batter for the next one. You can refrigerate leftover batter; it will keep for about a week. If you do this, bring your batter back to room temperature before making the dosas. This will ensure that your dosas have a nice golden color when cooked. I personally prefer to make dosas right after the batter has fermented, as it results in the best texture and color.
*If using a nonstick skillet, you can reduce the amount of oil used to cook the dosa.
**To make a paper dosa, which is thinner and crunchier, you can use 1⁄4 cup of batter and spread it thinner in the skillet. For extra crispiness, use your spatula to flatten the batter down once you have spread it.
Makes 4 servings
1 cup red lentils (masoor dal)
2 tablespoons unsweetened grated coconut (fresh, frozen, or dried)
1 tablespoon ghee or unsalted butter
1 tablespoon mild-flavored oil such as canola
1⁄2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
Pinch of asafetida (hing) powder
4 or 5 fresh curry leaves
1 dried red chile, broken into pieces
1⁄2 red onion, diced
1⁄4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into 1⁄4-inch-thick disks
1 medium red potato, peeled and cut into 1⁄2-inch cubes
6 cups water
2 tablespoons huli powder (see below) or store-bought sambar powder
1 teaspoon tamarind paste, plus more as needed
Chopped cilantro leaves, for garnish
Wash the red lentils thoroughly, using a fine-mesh
colander. Thaw frozen coconut or place dried coconut in a little hot water to plump it up. Put the ghee and oil in a saucepan over medium
heat. When the ghee has melted and the oil is hot and shimmering, add one black mustard seed. When the seed sizzles and pops, add the rest of the mustard seeds and the asafetida. Keep a lid handy to cover the pan while the mustard seeds are popping. When the popping starts to subside (a few seconds), turn the heat to medium-low. Rub the curry leaves between your fingers a little to release their natural oils, and drop them and the dried red chile into the oil. Cover immediately, as moisture from the curry leaves will cause the oil to spatter. Then stir to evenly coat everything with oil, a few seconds. Turn off the heat. Add the onion and turmeric powder to the pan and fry until the onion has softened and is translucent, a couple of minutes. Mix in the carrot, potato, and a sprinkling of salt. Stir to coat with oil. Add the lentils and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the water and bring to a boil. Ladle out any foam that comes to the surface. Then simmer over medium-low heat, partially covered, until the lentils are falling apart and the vegetables are tender; this should take 25 to 30 minutes. Add the huli powder to the cooked lentils and vegetables and mix well. Add the tamarind paste and 1 1⁄4 teaspoons salt and bring to a boil. Cook at a boil for a couple of minutes, then turn the heat to medium-low and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes. Taste for salt and tamarind and adjust as needed. I like the consistency of my huli to be right in the middle, not too thick and not too thin. Add a bit more water or boil for longer depending on your preferred consistency. Mix in the coconut and simmer for a minute more. Turn off the heat. Garnish with cilantro leaves. Serve hot o with dosas. You can also enjoy the stew plain. When reheating huli, add water to get it back to your desired consistency, as it has a tendency to thicken up in the fridge.
Huli /Sambar powder
Makes 3 cups
3⁄4 cup chana dal
1⁄2 teaspoon urad dal
About 1 1⁄2 teaspoons mild flavored oil such as canola
2 cups coriander seeds
60 dried red chiles or 90 dried Byadgi chiles, stems removed*
4 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks
1 1⁄2 teaspoons fenugreek seeds
1 cup fresh curry leaves, loosely packed (optional)**
1⁄2 cup dried unsweetened shredded coconut (optional)**
1 1⁄2 teaspoons turmeric powder
Put a cast-iron frying pan or other heavy pan over medium-low heat. When hot, add the chana dal and dry-roast, stirring it all the while, until it turns a reddish golden brown and has a nutty aroma. This may take several minutes, so be patient. Transfer to a plate to cool. Next add the urad dal to the pan. Dry-roast the urad dal, stirring it all the while, until it turns a reddish golden brown and has a nutty aroma. Transfer to the plate with the chana dal to cool. The next group of spices each needs to be fried separately in a bit of oil. It takes patience, but this step is important because each spice takes a different amount of time to roast. Add 1⁄2 teaspoon of the oil to the pan. Add the coriander seeds. Roast and stir continuously until they are fragrant. Be watchful that the seeds do not burn. Transfer to a plate to cool.Add another 1⁄4 teaspoon oil to the pan. Add the dried red chiles. Stir and fry them until they warm up and become fragrant and your nose starts to tickle. Transfer to the plate to cool. Add 1⁄8 teaspoon of the oil to the pan and add the cinnamon sticks. Stir and fry until fragrant.Transfer to the plate to cool. Add 1⁄8 teaspoon of the oil to the pan and add the fenugreek seeds. Stir and fry until they turn golden brown and have a nutty aroma. Transfer to the plate to cool. Add the remaining 1⁄8 teaspoon of oil to the pan and add the curry leaves, if using. Roast the leaves, stirring them the entire time, until they have dried and start to curl up. Transfer to the plate to cool. Add the coconut, if using, to the pan. Stir it until it just warms up and becomes fragrant. Transfer it to the plate to cool. Grind the cooled spices, curry leaves, and coconut to a powder in a spice grinder or powerful blender. Mix in the turmeric powder.Store in an airtight container or glass jar. It will keep for several months at room temperature, and longer if stored in the refrigerator.