How to make the best dosa?

And how to beat homesickness with food

In early 2019, I quit by job at NITI Aayog and moved to Tripura. Although we got married a year earlier, Chandni and I hadn’t stayed together yet. This was our first attempt at recreating what we saw our parents were able to do - stay together under one roof, cook food, and go about our normal lives. This was important for us because we were staying more than 4000 kilometres away from our homes, and anything familiar to hold on to would make it easier on us. A big part of that is our own food. Dosa is definitely at the top of that list

How to make bad dosa?

  1. Making dosa with instant dosa powder available in the market is a sure shot way to make some of the worst dosa you’ll ever make. Don’t do it. We did it for far too long because we didn’t commit ourselves to make the dosa batter ourselves.
  2. The second mistake that compounded our troubles was using non-stick pan for making dosa. It’s not worth the effort.

The recipe for bad dosa is instant dosa powder and non-stick cookware. Avoid at all costs.

How to make good dosa?

  1. Make the batter yourself
  2. Invest in a good cast iron dosa tawa

On this, I’ll entertain no debate. Nothing beats a cast iron tawa in the quality of dosa it produces. Now let’s get into the details of each step.

How to make the best dosa batter?

The ingredients are easy to get almost anywhere in India - rice, urad dal, fenugreek seeds, and flattened rice. That’s it.

  • Rice: If you are in Kerala, no need to worry at all. Get doppi rice. However, if you are outside Kerala, you might want to do a trial and error a few times to figure out which works well. Usually, boiled rice works well. Ask the storekeeper if it’s a stick variety. If yes, then ask for a less sticky variety. To balance the stickiness, you can add a part of raw rice.
  • Urad Dal: Again, if you are Kerala, no need to worry at all. Get usual uzhunnu. If you are outside Kerala, try to get whole urad dal and not split urad dal.

I’ve tried with two different ratios - by weight and by volume. For me, measuring by volume has given the best results. (Here 1 cup is 200 m.l.). The below given measurements are sufficient for approximately 25-30 medium sized dosas.

  • Rice - 2 cups
  • Dal - $\frac{1}{2}$ cup
  • Fenugreek seeds - 1 tablespoon
  • Flattened rice - $\frac{1}{4}$ cup

Steps

  1. Wash all ingredients very well.
  2. Soak them for at least 6 hours
  3. Grind all ingredients together till a smooth, thick paste is formed.
  4. Keep it aside for 8-10 hours to allow fermentation
  5. Before making dosa, add water as needed. (Okay, I give up. It’s very difficult for me to put it in words what consistency the batter should be! 😉)

Tips

  • Don’t add salt until after fermentation
  • If you want the dosa to have a slight golden colour, add a bit of jaggery mixed with water

Cast Iron Pan

One of the most important ingredients to make successful dosa is to invest in a good quality cast iron dosa tawa. For a long time I thought the tawa was made of stone because in malayalam we call it dosa kallu or dosa stone. Until recently, Chandni and I continued to make dosa in non-stick tawas with below average success. We finally decided to take the plunge and purchase one. Due to lockdown restrictions, it took more than 45 days for it to arrive here in Kanchanpur, Tripura.

Once you get it, the first thing you have to do is to season it.

How to season a cast iron tawa

  1. Wash off rust and dirt completely. This will take several attempts. Use a mixture of water, vinegar and soap to quicken the process. Make sure rust and dirt are completely gone.
  2. Wipe it with a dry cloth and allow it to dry completely.
  3. Apply oil (preferably gingelly oil, or any vegetable oil. Don’t use coconut oil) on the usable side of the tawa. Rest it for 15 minutes.
  4. Put it on medium flame. When it’s reasonable hot, scrub the tawa with a sliced onion. You can see goo being formed. Switch off the gas.
  5. Allow the tawa to cool down. Wash it properly.
  6. Repeat Steps 2, 3, 4, and 5 at least 4 times.
  7. Apply oil again and keep it overnight. It’ll be ready for use in the morning.

Congrats! Your cast iron tawa is now seasoned well.

Making Dosa

So now you have the best dosa batter and a cast iron pan. All you have to do is make crispy dosa.

  1. Put cast iron tawa on medium flame
  2. Apply gingelly oil (or any vegetable oil) and spread it with a sliced onion or a clean tissue
  3. Sprinkle water to cool down the pan (this allows us to spread the batter evenly)
  4. Pour a ladle of batter on the middle of the pan and carefully spread it in round circular motion
  5. Allow the batter to partially cook
  6. Pour a few drops of oil on the dosa (to make it crispier)
  7. Once the dosa turns golden brown and crispy, using a spatula, flip it to allow the other side to cook
  8. Take it off the tawa and enjoy your dosa!

Bring your home closer with food

This is especially true for people who live far away from their hometowns. The sure shot way to make you forget homesickness is to cook the food that you are familiar with. Since moving to Tripura, Chandni and I have been slowly upping our cooking game. Full disclosure: She does 70% of the cooking. I do 30% (mostly breakfast items, which are my specialty) and help out wherever I can. We are now confident that we can make most of the Kerala dishes here, in Tripura. A part of Kerala lives inside us through our food. 😄

Arun Sudarsan
Arun Sudarsan
Economist and Policy Researcher

Arun is an Economist, passionate about Open Data and its potential to increase state transparency and accountability. Loves teaching. Previously worked at NITI Aayog. To subscribe to this blog’s mailing list, please enter your details here. Check your spam folder if you are missing updates. Thanks for subscribing!

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