I’m yet to meet a person who doesn’t love masala dosas. A light, healthy meal full of nutrients and flavour, dosas are widely popular on restaurant menus and in roadside cafés.
Ever since I was a little girl I have always associated these crispy rolls of spicy potato with family outings to a nearby vegetarian restaurant which serves ‘monster dosas’. If you hadn’t already guessed, these are gigantic versions of the South Indian speciality. When I say gigantic I’m talking over a ft long.
We didn’t always go out to eat moster dosas, sometimes we were treated to the special type of masala dosas – homemade ones.
On strained tiptoes, I used to peek over the stove top to watch my mother swirl the thinnest sheet of batter you’ve ever laid eyes on, as glorious mix of anxiety and hunger slowly took over my pot belly. As soon as I saw the faintest tinge of golden brown through the pancake, I’d run to pick up one of our very Indian Pyrex plates from Popat Stores in Wembley and return to collect my reward for waiting so patiently.
She would spread a layer of my father’s speciality coconut chutney on top of the rice and lentil pancake, then a tumble of spicy lemon potatoes, and slowly roll it up ready to slide onto the plate gripped with restless hands. A drizzle of chutney on top and I was ready to sink my teeth into a harmonious medley of textures and flavours.
Now, I could go all fancy-schmancy by making monster dosa for you to stun your guests into thinking you’re a domestic god/goddess – but I won’t.
1. Because I’m not a pro dosa spreader.
2. Because mini is always cuter and more convenient.
I’m good at applying justifications to my weaknesses. If you are amazing at batter-spreading please go ahead and make giant ones – they will taste great. The key is to get the filling and the chutney perfect. Always remember to add plenty of lemon, salt and sugar – they make a big difference.
After stacks of experimentation, I found that if you’re a novice and want to spread thin dosa, use a cold pan wiped with sunflower oil. The downside to this is that the colouring of the pancake is not as even as it would be if you used a hot pan.
If you’re feeling brave, try using a hot pan but ensure you spread very quickly and very evenly. Easier said than done – I know. With time the technique becomes much simpler to perfect. Here are 10 top tips:
1. Always use a flat, non-stick pan with no ridges.
2. Use half an onion, pierced onto the end of a fork to rub oil into your pan. It flavours your pancake and stops it from sticking.
3. Pour your batter into the middle of the pan with a ladle, making concentric circles outwards to spread thinly and evenly.
4. Using a cold pan? Leave the heat on high to warm up your pancake quickly. This may alter the colouring of the dosas.
5. Using a hot pan? (Good for you!) Spread quickly, evenly and as thinly as possible over a medium heat.
6. If your dosa are thicker than you’d like, try to spread them more thinly whilst on the heat, flattening as much as you can.
7. When the top of the pancake dries out, spread it with some oil using the back of a spoon to stop it drying out completely. You could then place a lid over the top of the pan if you wanted to.
8. When you start to see golden brown specks under the pancake, gently use a spatula to loosen the edges from underneath, ensuring it doesn’t break.
9. When golden, flip and cook the dosa for 5-10 seconds on the other side. Flip back and spread the uncoloured side with chutney, add filling and roll.
10. Keep remaining batter in the fridge for up to a week. You can use this to make uttapam (thick dosa with added vegetables – no need to roll).
Ingredients for the batter:
200g uncooked rice
100g urad dal (split and husked black gram)
50g channa dal (split husked Bengal gram)
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 small pinch bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp asafoetida
Salt to taste
You will also need:
½ an onion pierced through the top with a fork
Around 100ml sunflower oil
For the potato filling:
800g potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 cm cubes
150g onions, roughly chopped into cubes (optional)
2 large, hot green chillies, minced (or to taste)
2 tsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp ginger, minced
50ml lemon juice
1 ½ tsp salt or to taste
2 tbsp sugar
8-10 curry leaves
1 tsp turmeric
½ tsp asafoetida (optional)
Handful of chopped coriander
For the coconut and coriander chutney:
5 large hot green chillies
1 small clove garlic
1 tsp ginger
80g coriander, including stalks
100g desiccated coconut
100ml coconut milk
1 tbsp sunflower oil
40ml lemon juice
2 ½ tsp salt
3 tbsp sugar
120g Greek yogurt
For the potato filling:
1. Boil the potatoes in plenty of hot, salted water until tender. Drain and set aside.
2. Heat the oil in a large pan and add the mustard seeds. Wait for them to pop, then add the asafoetida, curry leaves, onions, chillies, turmeric and ginger. Allow to cook on a low heat for 5 minutes. Add the salt, sugar, lemon, and potatoes. Toss together and add the chopped coriander.
For the coriander chutney:
1. In a large bowl, soak the coconut in the coconut milk and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, blend together all other ingredients except the yogurt using a food processor or a pestle and mortar if you’re feeling energetic or have stress to relieve.
3. Mix the blended ingredients with the soaked coconut and yogurt mixture.
For the batter:
1. Mix together the rice, urad dal, channa dal and fenugreek seeds and wash 5-6 times in cold water.
2. Place them in a large bowl and cover with warm water overnight or for at least 5 to 6 hours.
3. After the soaking period discard the soaking water, reserving about 500ml.
4. Place the soaked rice, dals and methi seeds in a blender/grinder, and blend to a thick paste. The consistency of the batter should be just so that it covers the back of a spoon. Add a little bit of the reserved soaking water to help with the blending/grinding process. Blend/grind the batter to a degree where it’s grainy – this is what’s going to make your dosas crispy.
5. Place the dosa batter in an extra large bowl, and put the bowl on top of a tray to catch the batter the fermentation becomes too aggressive. Cover loosely and ferment overnight.
6. The next day, add salt, asafoetida and bicarbonate of soda, whisk lightly. It is important to add salt at this stage and NOT before as salt retards the fermentation process.
I created the slideshow below to illustrate the dosa making process. To see it in all its glory press play, hover over the slideshow and click the bottom right button to enlarge to fullscreen mode. Then click the top right ‘show info’ button to see my commentary.
You could also serve this with a finely diced salad of tomatoes, spring onions, coriander, a dash of lemon, a pinch of sugar, a pinch of cumin powder, and some salt. If you want to go authentically South Indian, top it of with a ladle-full of sambhar (a thick daal with vegetables). The dosa pancake is just a carrier for an array of fillings you cook up. We often fill them with lentils, vegetables and paneer, then serve with a variety of chutneys.
I don’t know about you but I could eat masala dosa for breakfast, lunch and dinner. My family love to have masala dosa parties where we invite all 50-70 family members over to dig in to dosas – yeah, I have a huge, loud and hungry family. These mini dosas are perfect for such occasions so why not try these and invite your family and friends over? Just don’t forget my invite.