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A Dosa by Any Other Name

April 9, 2014

Hand holding is a valuable thing. Yes, you can watch videos of how to cook certain dishes on the internet. You can read all kinds of books. But there is an extra burst of confidence that comes from working beside someone who has mastered a technique.

This is what happened when I learned to make baba ganoush back in the fall. And this is what happened when I went to a dosa making class last weekend.

I left the class inspired, and set out shortly thereafter to my teacher’s preferred Indian market. Wow. This blew the doors off the small little shops I’d been picking up beans, spices, and cans of mango puree for the past few months. Anyhow, I needed to get ingredients to make a coconut chutney. This was especially important because I wanted to test the adai batter I took home from the class, and it wouldn’t be the same without this classic accompaniment.

Seriously, once you have the ingredients, you won’t believe how easy this is.

The coconut chutney I was taught is a little bit different from some others I’ve had. This uses cilantro and has no black mustard seeds, but I’m fine with variety. Especially when it results in something so strikingly beautiful.

It starts off with shredded frozen coconut. You could use fresh. But this isn’t sweetened or roasted or toasted. It’s not coconut flour. It’s scrapped up coconut meat. And this frozen form is fairly convenient because you can keep it around and pull it out as needed. This serves as the base of the chutney.

Those small narrow Indian green chilis are potent. I put one small pepper, seeds and all, into a bowl full of chutney. Even though it’s small, one pepper is hot enough to let you know it is in there. That said, it wasn’t too spicy for my little girl, so have at it. This isn’t a cooling chutney, it’s one that you want to add flavor, and maybe just a wee bit of saturated fat. That’s a good thing.

Fresh curry leaves go in whole. About half a dozen or so. Seeing a pack of these in the market made me happy. There were dozens still attached to a stem, looking healthy and green. I’ve been coveting these for a while to help finish some of my Indian bean dishes. Now that they are in my refrigerator, I’m looking forward to putting these leaves to good use.

I had never even heard of chana dalia before, and I was kind of taken aback at the notion of adding dried split chickpeas to a raw chutney. Their role is to give the chutney a little more body and help everything hold together. About a dozen of these are added per batch. As it turns out they aren’t simply dried chickpeas. They are roasted. That makes a lot more sense. My teacher also advised that these be kept in the fridge so they don’t go rancid. Done and done.

Finally, the recipe calls for a small handful of cilantro. This isn’t a fussy recipe. You can use the stems and all.

That’s it. All of these go into a blender, chopper, or food processor and go. Thin out the chutney with water until it resembles a creamy dosa topping. Add salt and lemon juice to taste and you are done. Just don’t make this in quantity, the fresh coconut doesn’t stay fresh very long.

But I don’t have that problem. I love this stuff and could eat any leftovers with a spoon.

Now that I know about adai, I’m going to keep my eyes out for versions of this dish everywhere. I’m really curious to taste more examples of the form. Mostly because it’s even easier than the chutney, and unlike the traditional rice dosa this doesn’t call for an electric stone grinder.

The guidelines for this are pretty simple. Get some lentils (moong dal, masoor dal, chana dal, tuvar dal, udad dal, and/or surti val – if you can find it). You can use one of these, or any of them in combination. Simply rinse, then soak overnight. Reserve the soaking water.

In a blender, pulverize the softened lentils with a small piece of ginger, one or two of those hot green chilis, a teaspoon of cumin seeds, and a small handful of cilantro. Use as little of the reserved soaking water as needed to turn the blender’s contents into a thick paste. Congratulations, now you have a batter.

Here’s the tricky part. Now you have to thin it down with water. I have no good way to describe how wet it should be. You want the batter to be thin enough that it can easily spread around the non-stick surface of a hot well-seasoned cast iron skillet. But you don’t want it to be so thin that you’re just cooking with lentil water. Before cooking, taste the batter and add enough salt to make the batter better.

The only real difference between cooking adai and a standard rice dosa is that adai get cooked on both sides. I was also told that they aren’t stuffed, but my experience with this dish is super limited. There is a lot more research to be done. Tasty, tasty research. I can’t wait.

Meanwhile, if you are so inspired, this tasty snack is worth a try.

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