MANY PEOPLE become dosa fans with their first taste. I joined their ranks in 1971, at a breakfast served in the Madras home of Sri K. K. Balu. My golden-brown paper-thin dosa, which looked similar to a pancake, was more than 20 inches across. The dosa had been flexible when the cook had removed it from the griddle. As the dosa had cooled, he had placed a spoon of spiced mashed potatoes on it and artfully eased it into a crisp five-inch-high scroll. The paper dosa, as this style of dosa is known, was served South Indian-style on a fresh banana-leaf plate, with plenty of sambar (spicy vegetable-and-dal stew), hot iddli (steamed bread made with rice and dal), and moist coconut chutney on the side.
I recall the occasion perhaps more for my exchange with Srila Prabhupada than for the outstanding dosa. I was one of several devotees traveling with Prabhupada around India. The highlight of many days was to take a meal with him. On this particular morning my eyes were glued to Prabhupada. While reciting a Bengali prayer glorifying prasadam, food offered to Krsna, he watched the servers distribute trays of dosas. Then, with a graceful sweep of his right hand, he broke off a piece of dosa with his thumb, forefinger, and middle finger, his little finger and ring finger slightly extended. He then picked up a bite of potatoes with the piece of dosa and dipped it into the chutney. I followed suit, and as our eyes met, his head moved slightly side to side in appreciation. It was one of those meals where quiet replaced chatter and each bite brought a new taste sensation. After we'd finished the meal, Prabhupada called me over and asked if I could prepare dosas. I replied that I hadn't a clue how to do it but that I would learn. I've been working on it ever since.
A Little About Dosas
Contemporary cooks loosely define dosas in two categories classic and quick-style. Classic dosas prevail in most South Indian kitchens, where they are made daily from rice and urad dal. The ingredients are soaked separately, drained, ground into batters, and set aside in a warm nook to ferment, as is done with a sour dough starter. Classic dosas are best cooked on a smooth, well-used iron griddle. The dough is spread out anywhere from one-eighth inch thick to parchment-paper thin. Depending on the thickness and size, dosas may be served as is, stuffed and folded in half, or stuffed and rolled as "logs." Paper dosas are eased into a hollow scroll shape and are often served with a seasoned vegetable dish.
Quick dosas are made from flours of dal, rice, or other grains, whisked into thick or thin batters. Some cooks like to moisten the flour with yogurt so the dosas have a characteristic sour flavor. I have experimented with numerous flours and have come up with delicious nontraditional dosas made with flours of corn, wheat, buckwheat, semolina, and wild rice. Several recipes are found in the class textbook, Lord Krishna's Cuisine, and reduced-calorie varieties in Yamuna's Table. Batters for quick dosas are thinner than those for classic dosas, so quick-dosa batters cook differently and require different cookware. Because quick-dosa batter is similar in shape and consistency to French crepe batter, an omelet pan or a good quality nonstick griddle will serve you well when cooking quick dosas.
Yamuna Devi is the author of the award-winning cookbooks Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking and Yamuna's Table. She is a regular contributor to The Washington Post and Vegetarian Times. Write to her in care ofBack to Godhead.
South Indian Dosa with Potatoes and Coconut Chutney
(Serves 6 Twelve 8 ½-inch dosas or eighteen 6 ½-inch dosas)
This quick-dosa batter, made from everyday ingredients, is wrapped around seasoned mashed potatoes and served with a moist coconut chutney. Serve it with rice anytime, as a light meal by itself, or as an entree preceded by salad and sambar dal.
1 cup stone-ground cornmeal
1 cup semolina
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
½ tablespoon red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
3 to 3 ½ cups water
1 cup yogurt
1 teaspoon salt
pinch of soda
unrefined corn oil for cooking, as needed
1 cup corn kernels
6 cups hot coarsely mashed potatoes, spiced as desired
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup grated coconut (6 ounces frozen)
2 cups yogurt
2 teaspoons unrefined corn oil
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
1 large jalapeno, seeded and slivered
¼ teaspoon yellow asafetida
1 teaspoon split urad dal, optional
15 fresh curry leaves
Combine the first 8 ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix well. Cover and set aside for at least 2 hours, or overnight. (The batter can even be made 2 days ahead of use. Refrigerate well sealed. Stir the batter before each use.) When you are ready to make the dosa, add enough of the remaining water to make a thin, pourable, crepelike batter. Stir in the salt, the soda, and ½ tablespoon of oil.
Heat 2 or 3 large griddles or nonstick omelet pans over medium to medium-high heat. To shape each dosa, scoop out ½ cup of batter (for 8 ½-inch dosas) or ¼ to 1/3 cup of batter (for 6 ½-inch dosas). Pour the batter over the bottom of a pan. Lift and tilt the pan so the batter flows to make the crepe. Cook the dosa until the edges begin to curl and the bottom turns golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. (If your nonstick surface is old, you may need to drizzle a few drops of oil around the dosa as it cooks.) Flip thedosa over and cook the other side.
Place the corn in a frying pan with a few spoons of water. Steam a few minutes. Add the potatoes, re-season with salt and pepper, and mix well. With the browned side of the dosa facing down, spoon a thick line of potato filling across the center of eachdosa. Roll up the dosa to enclose the filling. Transfer the dosa to a shallow oiled baking tray. Repeat with the remaining ingredients. Bake the dosas in an oven preheated to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) for about 15 minutes.
To make the chutney, whisk the coconut and yogurt in a bowl. Fry the oil, mustard seeds, chilies, and dal in a small pan until the dal turns brown and the mustard seeds crackle and pop. Add the asafetida and curry leaves and let them sizzle about 10 seconds. Pour the seasoning into the yogurt and stir to mix.
Offer the dosas and chutney to Lord Krsna.