How to make a perfect dosa at home

Dosas, crisp crepes from southern India, stuffed with greens and tangy pumpkin seed chutney. PHOTOS: NYTIMES
Lentils, spices and fresh curry leaves make this dish earthy and fragrant. PHOTOS: NYTIMES
When making dosas, spreading a thin enough coating of batter on the griddle takes practice. PHOTOS: NYTIMES

(NYTIMES) - I had not even considered making the dosa I had sampled at Pondicheri, a restaurant in New York City. The crisp lentil and rice crepe, thin as newsprint but far more delicious, was stuffed with a pumpkin seed chutney and sauteed greens.

It was a little sweet from coconut, fragrant with curry leaves and mustard seeds, and gently sour from the fermented batter.

It probably would have remained in the category of restaurant-food-best-left-to-professionals, had the restaurant owner, Anita Jaisinghani, not offered me the recipe when I could not stop effusing about the dish.

Making dosas at home is not hard, but there is a learning curve. The batter required a trip to an Indian grocery for ingredients, then 24 hours to soak, grind and ferment. But it was easier than making bread dough since I did not have to knead.

After my batter puffed up into a glorious pale froth, I pulled out my favourite non-stick pan and started frying.

Kitchen wisdom says that, when it comes to frying crepes, the first few should be fed to the dog. In the case of my dosas, it took about a dozen tries to get anything resembling a smooth crepe. The rest clumped, ripped or simply sloshed off the pan.

I will admit that, having no hungry dog at my ankles, my husband and I ate them ourselves. Ugly and floppy, they were still extremely tasty - especially topped with the pumpkin seed chutney, which would probably even make newsprint taste good.

A week later, while my second batch of dosa batter was fermenting, I went back to Pondicheri for a frying tutorial.

One counter-intuitive trick, said Ms Jaisinghani, is not to use too much oil, which encourages the batter to slide around the pan instead of setting. Also, when she poured the runny batter onto the griddle, she let it set for a heartbeat before spreading it with the bottom of a measuring cup.

Taking that extra beat before spreading was what really helped improve my dosa technique at home. My next batch all looked like crepes, turning golden and crisp on the bottom while the tops stayed nicely pale. They still were not paper-thin. But, as Ms Jaisinghani pointed out, thicker dosas allow you to fully appreciate the flavours of lentil, rice and fermentation. It also does not hurt that thicker is also easier for a novice dosa cook like me.

Lentils, spices and fresh curry leaves make this dish earthy and fragrant. PHOTO: NYTIMES

Dosas With Mustard Greens and Pumpkin seed Chutney

For the batter
1 cup white rice (long or short grain)
⅓ cup white urad dal (a type of black lentil that has been split and husked)
¼ tsp fenugreek seeds
⅓ cup rice flour
⅓ cup ragi flour or millet flour (malted finger millet flour)
½ tsp sugar
1 tsp fine sea salt
Coconut oil, as needed for cooking

For pumpkin seed chutney
1 cup raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
½ cup coconut oil
¾ tsp brown mustard seeds
2½ Tbs fresh or frozen curry leaves, chopped
1 cup finely chopped red onion
⅔ cup coarsely grated fresh or frozen coconut
2 Tbs grated fresh ginger
⅛ tsp cayenne pepper
⅓ cup coconut water
Pinch of fine sea salt

For the greens
½ Tbs coconut oil
½ tsp whole coriander seeds
1 small bunch mustard greens, torn into bite-sized pieces (about 6 cups)
Pinch of fine sea salt

1. Make the batter: Rinse the rice and urad dal in cold water, then drain and transfer to a large bowl or container. Add fenugreek and cover with cold, filtered water by 5cm. Let soak at room temperature for six hours or overnight.
2. Drain the mixture, then transfer to a powerful blender, food processor or wet/dry grinder. Add 1 cup filtered water and blend until you get a smooth and runny batter. Depending on the power of your machine, this could take several minutes.
3. Whisk in rice flour, ragi or millet flour, sugar and salt. The mixture should resemble thin pancake batter.
4. Transfer batter to a large bowl, cover with a kitchen towel and let sit at room temperature for eight to 24 hours to ferment - the colder the room is, the longer it will take to ferment. It is ready when the batter has puffed up and bubbles have formed all over the surface. If not using immediately, cover and keep refrigerated for up to one week.
5. Make the chutney: In a blender or spice grinder, coarsely grind ⅔ cup of pumpkin seeds and set aside.
6. In a large skillet, heat ½ cup coconut oil over medium heat. Stir in mustard seeds and curry leaves and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about one minute. Stir in onions and grated coconut and cook until translucent for 10 to 15 minutes. If necessary, reduce heat to low to prevent browning. Stir in ginger and cayenne and cook another 30 seconds until fragrant. Stir in coconut water, ground and whole pumpkin seeds, and salt to taste; scrape into a serving dish. Chutney can be made up to five days ahead and stored in the refrigerator.
7. When ready to make dosas, remove batter from fridge and let come to room temperature.
8. Cook the greens: In a large skillet, heat coconut oil over medium heat until almost smoking, then stir in coriander and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Stir in greens and salt and continue to cook until just wilted for two to three minutes. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.
9. To make the dosas, heat a 25cm or larger cast-iron or non-stick skillet or griddle over medium heat and brush very lightly with coconut oil. Do not use too much oil or the dosas will move around and will not cook properly. Using a ¼ cup measure or ladle, pour batter in the middle of the griddle. Let it set for about two seconds, then quickly spread outwards in a circular motion using the bottom of the ladle or measuring cup. Make a circle about 20cm in diameter.
10. Drizzle a little coconut oil on top of the dosa. Leave dosa batter to cook until browned on the bottom and dry at the edges and on top for two minutes. Use a spatula to carefully loosen all sides of the dosa and transfer to a plate.
11. Spread a layer of pumpkin seed chutney over the dosa, then top with greens. Fold in half or gently roll up and serve immediately. Repeat with more batter, chutney and greens.

Serves six

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