Some of the best food in Kerala is eaten for breakfast or as a snack. Dosa, idli, idiyappam, or vada are part of breakfast or a light meal. These light meals are referred to as “tiffin” meaning snack. The climate in Kerala is always hot and humid, and certain food – like the fermented batter for dosa and idli – depends on those conditions. During my Kerala restaurant days, I experimented with dosa batter to get it right in cooler climate.
The key to proper fermentation is to keep the batter at 70 to 75 F. This is effortless in tropical Kerala, but it has taken me years to perfect in Atlanta. Here is my foolproof method that should work regardless of where you live. Note that you must begin soaking ingredient a full day in advance.
Total Time: 16 to 20 hour
Preparation Time: 16 to 19 hour
Active Cooking Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 18 Dosas
Recipe may be prepared in advance through step 5 and batter can be kept in fridge for up to one week
Nonstick griddle (I prefer my Lodge Cast Iron Round Griddle for making Dosa)
Blender (for making Dosa/Idli batter, a Osterizer, 16 Speed Blender, 450 Watts or grinder from India works)
Large stainless-steel bowl
Liquid measuring cup
1 cup Split Urad Dhal (available at Indian grocery stores)
2 cups of Idli or Long-Grain Rice (do not use Basmati Rice and Idli Rice is available at Indian grocery stores)
1 teaspoon fenugreek (Methi) Seeds
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking Soda
Indian Sesame (Gingelly) Oil or Vegetable Oil for frying (Gingelly oil is a golden- colored Indian Sesame Oil with an unassertive flavor. In Kerala it is used for frying dosa and uthappam, and for making pickles. Do not use non-Indian versions of Sesame Oil)
Note: ratio for Dosa batter is 2:1… that is for 2 cups of Idli Rice, you use 1 cup of Split Urad Dhal
Place the Urad dhal in a large bowl and rinse with many changes of water until the water no longer appears cloudy. Darin.
In a large bowl combine the drained Urad dhal with rice, Fenugreek Seeds, and 3 cups water. Soak the ingredients together for 4 to 6 hours at room temperature, until the dhal and rice expand and soften. When a grain of rice just breaks under the pressure of your fingernail, the ingredients have soaked long enough.
Drain the Urad Dhal and rice, reserving the liquid. Place roughly half of the solids and half the liquid in a blender and grind them long enough to get a smooth consistency with some graininess remaining (1 ½ to 2 minutes). Test by rubbing a little batter between your fingers. The largest grains should be the size of granulated sugar. Pour the mixture into a large bowl. Repeat the process with the remaining solids and liquid, and add the mixture to the bowl. Stir in the salt. The mixture should be thick like consistency of pancake batter. If the mixture is too thick then you can thin it with approximately ¼ cup water.
Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap and place in an oven, kept warm to a temperature of 70 to 75 F for 12 to 15 hours. This can be achieved with the help of a floodlight fitted with a 25 watt bulb. Plug the power cord into an outlet close enough to the oven so that the bulb can rest on a rack in the oven. Turn on the light and prop open the door about 1 inch with the handle of a wooden spoon. Check the temperature periodically to be sure it stays between 70 to 75 F. During warm summer months it may not be necessary to use the light bulb. The batter should nearly double in volume and smell a little sour.
Remove the bowl from the oven and stir the contents. The batter will be thick and foamy. If you choose not to fry the dosas immediately, refrigerate the batter at this point. Remove it from refrigerator half an hour before frying.
When ready to fry the dosas, check the consistency of the batter: it should pour smoothly like pancake batter. Add the baking soda, and little more water if needed.
Heat a nonstick griddle or frying pan over medium-low heat. Spread about ¼ teaspoon oil evenly over the griddle. Ladle ¼ cup of the batter into center of the hot griddle, and immediately, using the back of the ladle, gently but steadily spread the batter in a circular motion from the center out, creating a thin pancake. If the batter does not spread easily into a thin layer, thin it with little more water.
As dosa cooks, small holes will form on the surface. Sprinkle a few drops of oil on top, to help make it crisp. When the bottom turns a golden color (about 1 minute) turn it over and fry the other side 30 seconds or until lightly browned. Fold the dosa in half, golden side out, and place it on a platter. Keep the fried dosas warn as you repeat the process, oiling the griddle each time. Serve immediately.