I saw a man make dosas today. I watched him from a window as he poured thick batter on a searing flat top stove. With the back of a cup, he spread the crepe-like batter in a large oval shape. With the speed of lighting, he poured 11 more dosas on the flat top.
A red dot decorated his tan complexion and white hair framed his face. He was wearing a flannel shirt that reminded me of the clothes my father wears when he’s on the farm.
With nimble fingers and impressive speed, the old Indian man with the gentle eyes spread the potato filling on each dosa before rolling them up.
I told him I was watching because I wanted to learn how to properly cook a dosa. His English must not have been that great because he did not respond. He looked at me with a smile. As if rewarding me for watching him, he gestured for my plate and placed the very first cooked dosa on it.
I beamed as I walked back to my table with the South Indian delicacy on my plate.
This dosa was not as good as the one’s I’ve had in New Jersey. The potato filling was not as spicy and the restaurant did not offer the coconut chutney that normally accompanies dosas. Nonetheless, I savored every bit of it because I knew it was made especially for me.
What is a dosa?
The easiest way to describe a dosa is by calling it a sort of savory crepe. I truly hate this description because I think it offends both the Indians and the French. However, describing it as a crepe gives you a better idea of what a dosa looks like.
But that’s where comparisons end. Crepes are made from an egg rich thin batter, that looks more like a thinned down pancake batter.
Dosas, on the other hand, are made from fermented rice and lentils. It involves fermenting the ingredients and then pureeing them together and adding spices. The result is a very tasty batter that gets very crispy when cooked.
At restaurants, dosas are cooked into very large shapes (I’ve seen dosas so large that they were literally the size of a small tabletop). After dosas are filled, they then get rolled into the desired shape. I’ve seen them rolled into what seems like a huge rolling pin, which is a stunning presentation as the server walks the dish to the guests table. I’ve also seen dosas rolled into pyramids. At home, people usually roll them into small logs.
How to cook a dosa
The trick for a nice crispy dosa is high heat and a well oiled cooking surface. Traditionally, Indians cook dosas using a tava, a form of cast iron flat skillet.
Although I own a tava, my Indian mom taught me to cook dosas in a nonstick sauté pan. Again, the trick is to cook in proper high heat they come out crispy every time.
How to get started
For beginners, I recommend buying the premade dosa batter. You can find it at any Indian spice shop. You can also find the prepared powdered mix. For the powdered mix, just follow the directions on the back. Usually, the directions call for adding water (a ratio of 3 parts water to 1 part mix). You will let the batter sit for 5 minutes while you preheat your nonstick skillet. Check dosa batter and make sure it is not too thick. It should be a runny batter just like a crepe.
When the skillet is piping hot, add some oil and swirl around. Slowly drop a little batter in the skillet. Immediately swirl the mix around to coat the bottom of the skillet, making sure the batter is evenly distributed.
You will fear your dosa will burn because of the high heat. Don’t panic. The idea is to get a very nice crisp crust on one side of the dosa. It will be ready to pull from the heat when the dosa easily pulls off the skillet. If it sticks, then it’s not done.
You can eat the dosa as is or fill with your favorite vegetable filling. Mine is potatoes and onions with chillies and turmeric. Mmmmm!
For the beast in the kitchen
If you want to go hardcore and make a dosa from scratch, please do so by all means. It is very labor intensive but rewarding.
Here is a link to the recipe: http://indianfood.about.com/od/ricerecipes/r/dosa.htm