What is a dosa ? For starters, it is pronouced “Though-sah”. It is a South Indian crepe or savoury pancake and is the pride and joy of that part of the country. There is nothing like a fresh brown, crispy dosa served with a little blob of butter melting on top of it. The city where I come from (Bangalore) and the state it belongs to (Karnataka) take the humble dosa very very seriously. In fact, a good dosa joint is worth sitting in traffic for along time. Luckily for us, when we visited Bangalore, one of the best dosa places in town was across the road from where we stayed. At the cost of about 60pence a dosa, we had they to our heart’s content!
The traditional dosa is made mainly of lentils ( urid dal) and par-boiled (partially boiled and dried) rice with little embellishments such as fenugreek seeds and cumin seeds. One starts by soaking the lentils and rice overnight to soften them. Then, each ingredient is ground to a slightly gritty (grit size about 1mm) paste in a strong kitchen blender or a dosa grinder. The batter for dosa is then made by mixing the two pastes, adding a bit of salt and allowing the batter to ferment for 8-10 hrs but usually overnight. The natural yeast in the air are what makes dosa batter ferment. If you are in a cold country, then your best choice is to place the dosa batter inside your boiler cupboard to ferment.
The resulting batter is airy, slightly tangy smelling and an absolute treat once cooked. Mum says that the ratio of rice to lentils for dosa batter is 3:1 and perhaps a tablespoon of fenugreek seeds (to soak with the lentils). Cook dosas like you would cook any pancake with vegetable oil to easy the edges of the pan. While a lot of taste is in the dosa itself, the things that go with dosa add a whole new dimension to this traditional crepe. The most popular form of filling for a dosa is one made with boiled potatoes. In addition, dosas are served with chutneys (dips) made of coconuts, chillies, onions, garlic and roasted lentils.
Today’s blog is going to be about the friends of a dosa. The dosa I made was a cheat as I bought an instant-mix by a company called MTR. If you don’t have easy access to an Indian store to buy MTR dosa mix, you can make dosas out of semolina and standard flour. Use one cup of semolina and half a cup of standard flour, mix in one cup of yoghurt, salt and enough water to make a pancake-like batter. To jazz it up a bit, you can add finely chopped onions, green chillies and cumin seeds to the batter too.
Dosa and its friends: Top left = Potato curry ; Top centre = Lentil, onion and chilli chutney; Top right = Coconut and coriander chutney; Bottom centre = MTR’s instant dosa
Why the addiction – well these books respect vegetables like I have been taught to respect them as a life time vegetarian. Growing up in a South Indian household, my mother and grandma had endless ways of making vegetables exciting and I try and continue this tradition till today. However, I’m also a little more adventurous that mum and grandma and I cannot eat the same/similar things day in and day out. This is something I did quite gladly did when I was still dependent on my parents, but ever since I’ve moved out on my own, my kitchen has been a bit of a playground, as is this blog I host.
Jerusalem, Moro and Ottolenghi, while laden with meat-based recipes are also quite generous with their coverage of vegetable/vegetarian dishes from Eastern Mediterranean regions, Israel, Palestine with influences from Italy, Spain and Northern Africa. Overall, these vegetables are prepared quite differently (most of the time) to how I’d prepare them as a person of South Indian upbringing and I find that really really exciting. Sometimes, I find some similarities and start thinking about the origins of certain food and how recipes might have travelled from one region to another in ancient time.
To summarize it is food, vegetarian food, exciting vegetarian food and I love it! Food to me is most satisfying when I’ve made it and others are enjoying it 🙂 An opportunity presented itself when we decided to host a dinner and board games evening at our place. While I usually cook Indian food, I decided that I’d try recipes from my recently acquired books instead. There was a deathly silence as everyone sat eating until one of our friends spoke up and said , “You know the food is good when everyone is too busy eating and cannot stop to speak”. I’m going to call it a successful experiment based on this !
My menu and links to the recipes are presented below. I managed to take a lot of pictures for the first few dishes and then ran out of time and my guests arrived so I couldn’t keep clicking any more. Hope you try some of the recipes and like them !
This is another one of my North Indian food guru’s recipes. It has lots of vegetables and simple but tasty spices. His book tells me that the dish was invented in the colonial times when servants would cook the leftover meats from the night before with peppers and chillies to make a new dish. The word means spicy and fried. I tend to skimp on the friend and lean more towards the spicy.
When we were little, jhalfrazie was something only grown-ups (my parents) could eat so I didn’t get to taste it until I was much older. Loved the taste then and love it now. Hope you do too…
Aloo’ means potatoes in Hindi. ‘Dum’ means strength or pressure and in this context, it means that the potatoes are cooked with a lid covering them so they are under pressure due to the build up of steam. The pressure is important as it helps the potatoes soak up the flavours of the sauce they are in. ‘Amritsari’ implies that it came from the city of Amritsar in the state of Punjab.
This potato dish was a novelty when I was a child and I always imagined only special people in the restaurant could make it because my mum never did. My dad who worked in Calcutta, West Bengal when he was younger would rave about ‘Dum Aloo’ or ‘Aloo dum’ but I never got to taste it until I was an adult. All I knew was that you had to use whole baby potatoes to make it and that it was awesome.
In my early teens when mum would let me tinker in the kitchen, I’d attempt to make what I imagined dum aloo should be like. Of course, I only used the simplest of ingredients (onions, tomatoes, potatoes and garam masala +coriander for garnish) back then and mum had to help me fry the potatoes. I like this grown-ups recipe better with a lot more spice and a partiality towards chilli and I try not to fry the potatoes because they can be quite oily.