You might think fast food is a relatively recent phenomenon, and that the idea came from the USA. But the South Indians have been at it for thousands of years! Unlike a lot of western fast food—South Indian fast food is healthy, quick and tasty.
It’s South Indian street food at its best! Go to any stall and they make this fresh, crispy and delicious rice pancake right in front of you. Then you can have a filling of your choice, served with a chutney and spicy sauce.
A ‘dosa’ is made from rice which is gluten-free and high in carbohydrate energy. The rice is combined with black urid beans which are high in protein. They are soaked overnight, and then ground to a paste and left to ferment for 24 hours.
This is a healthy fermentation process, a bit like making yogurt using good bacteria. Fermentation makes the dosa easier to digest and increases the vitamin content. It’s a natural souring process—a bit like making sourdough bread.
Once the sour paste is ready, it is fried in coconut oil to make a thin tasty pancake. It’s then stuffed with a filling. For Masala Dosa, the filling is a spicy potato one, and it’s served with a coconut chutney (made from fresh coconut, ginger and curry leaves) and sambal (a soupy spicy lentil dish).
To make Masala Dosa properly, you need to start 2 days in advance. For this recipe I used a mixture of channa and urid dhal, fenugreek seeds and basmati rice.
Add water. I soak the channa dhal, urid dhal, and fenugreek seeds in one bowl and the rice in another.
Then I just leave it overnight to soak.
The next day put the soaked grains and pulses into a good blender, along with some of the water.
Then simply blend the mixture until it is really smooth. If it is still a bit grainy I go over it again with a stick blender which seems to make it a bit finer.
Then cover the mixture with clingfilm and leave it to ferment for 24 hours in a warm place.
The mixture should double in size—the warmth in the room acts as a natural raising agent. This is easy in South India where it’s about 30 C. Our house is about half that, so it may not rise so much in a colder climate. You can cheat by adding bicarbonate of soda instead to make the dosa super light.
If you are worried that the batter may go off by leaving it to ferment, just add some bicarbonate of soda to the fresh batter and use it straight away.
This is up to you. Just check that your life insurance is up to date. I love the slightly sour taste from the natural fermentation and I find it easier to digest.
Make a thin pancake with the batter and cook in coconut oil. It takes a bit of practise so don’t worry if the first one is a disaster! The pan needs to be well sealed or non stick. It also needs to be quite hot so it forms well and goes crispy.
Carefully loosen the edges and turn over when it is quite firm. It is a bit more delicate than a pancake made with flour and eggs so be patient. If at first you don’t succeed try try again!
Carefully turn the dosa over and cook the other side.
This dish is a staple in South India and is served with a spiced potato filling, coconut chutney and sambal (a spicy dal with vegetables).
Perfect Dosa Batter
This is the healthy fast food breakfast in South India. No junk food here, the grinding and fermenting increase the vitamins and digestibility of this dish. You need a good processor to grind the soaked grains and pulses. For best results it needs to be really fine. I often grind it a second time with a stick blender so it is really smooth.
400g basmati rice
75g urid split dhal (shelled, it should be white)
75g channa dal
1 tbsp fenugreek seeds
2 tbsp live yoghurt
½ tsp bicarbonate soda
½ tsp salt
Soak the rice in one bowl of water and the two dhals and fenugreek seeds in another bowl. Use plenty of water, as the dhals will double in size. Leave for at least 6 hours, or overnight. Drain excess water into a jug, and use to make the paste.
Use a food processor or good smoothie maker to grind the soaked dhal and fenugreek seeds, add enough water to make a thick paste. It should be soft and smooth.
Now repeat the process with the rice.
Transfer both mixtures to a large bowl, with enough space for it to rise during fermentation. It should be the consistency of pancake batter so add more water if needed. If the texture is still a bit grainy you can use a stick blender to make it finer.
Add the yoghurt and stir well.
Cover and let it ferment for 24 hours in a warm place. It may rise to double its size if it is warm enough.
In a small bowl dissolve soda and salt with a little water. Add this to prepared batter just before cooking.
Keith’s tips for non-fermented version
If you are concerned about the hygiene of fermenting the batter in a warm place for 24 hours, you can skip this step entirely. Simply add some raising agent instead to the freshly ground batter, and use straight away.
To keep my blog free of annoying adverts and exclusively full of quality content, I’ve written a fantastic ebook ‘Keith on Food’ which I hope to entice you to purchase. It’s an excellent read even if I say so myself, and I hope you will take a look. Here are the links for the US and the UK, but it’s surely available worldwide.
Thank you so much.