Leda Scheintaub, co-owner of the popular Dosa Kitchen food truck in Brattleboro, VT, and co-author of Dosa Kitchen: Recipes for India's Favorite Street Food, joins us to talk about starting a food business and nailing your first foray into dosa-making.
Leda and her husband, Nash Patel, are the co-owners of the popular Dosa Kitchen food truck in Brattleboro, VT, where they share their love for the dosa and their passion for farm-to-table food. Dosas are light, crisp crepes made of rice and lentils that can be stuffed with or dipped into a variety of flavorful fillings—endlessly adaptable, inarguably delicious, and fun to eat. In the very first cookbook dedicated to this South Indian staple, Nash and Leda show readers how to make this iconic comfort food at home with a master batter, plus 50 recipes for fillings, chutneys, and even cocktails to serve alongside.
Is it OK to use tap water to make dosas?
Most tap water is chlorinated, which may inhibit fermentation of the batter. We prefer to use the same quality of water that we drink: filtered. The most economical and convenient filters are the type installed under your sink or on the tap.
How did you come up with the formula for your batter?
Many dosa recipes call for a ratio of 3:1 rice to urad dal, rather than our 2:1 ratio. We’ve found the results to be much the same, but there are two advantages to our ratio: 2 cups of rice blends easily in one shot in the blender (3 cups would mean blending in two batches), plus the additional dal makes your dosas a better source of protein.
Can I make my dosas organic?
Yes. Look for organic rice and dal options at an Indian grocery store or online. Organic white rice (but generally not dal) is readily available in natural food stores—Lundberg is a trusted brand.
Are dosas gluten-free?
Yes, but if you have an extreme gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, read labels to check if the rice or dal was processed in a facility that also processes wheat. Some people include a small amount of maida, or white flour, in their dosa batter to help with browning, but we find it makes the dosas taste less fermented, and we prefer to keep our dosas gluten-free. If you are following a fully gluten-free diet, when you go out for a dosa, ask the server at the restaurant if their dosa batter contains wheat.
What is the ideal fermentation vessel?
Glass, stainless steel, ceramic, or food-grade plastic all work well. Reactive materials, such as aluminum, do not agree with fermentation and are not recommended.
What will affect the yield of my dosa batter?
Each variety of rice will give a slightly different yield. We find idli rice gives our dosa batter the best volume, and sonamasuri (masoori) is another popular choice. The yield will also be affected by how high your dosa batter rises.
What is the perfect size for a dosa?
In Indian restaurants and at roadside stands, dosas are often served in larger than life sizes, from 21 inches up to 5 feet! At our food truck, we serve a 32-inch family-size dosa that feeds four. Most of us don’t have that kind of space at home, so here we give instructions for making up to 18-inch dosas.
Feel free to scale down more or expand to your kitchen equipment’s capacity and your comfort zone. The pancake, or thicker version of the dosa, and wrap are about 10 inches round. For smaller appetites or when you’re just starting out, try making smaller dosas. If you don’t have a large pan, you can make smaller crepe-style dosas on your 10½-inch dosa pan by using less batter. You really can’t go wrong!
How do I grease the pan?
Prepare the pan by using the paper towel or onion half method (see my book for more on this). Then add the dosa batter, and when the bottom starts to set, take a squeeze bottle filled with oil and drizzle it generously into the holes that form on the surfaceof the dosa. This crisps up the dosa and ensures that it doesn’t stick to the pan. When making subsequent dosas, if the pan starts to get too hot, dip the paper towel or onion half first in water and then in oil and rub it over the pan before making your next dosa. Over time, you’ll get a feel for how much water and oil you need and when you need it. Pro tip: At our food truck, where we make many dosas every day, we fashion an oil cloth out of clean cotton T-shirt material (which you can find in a hardware store) and wrap it up into a cylinder, then tie it with kitchen string to secure it.
What if my first dosa is a dud?
Welcome to the club. Consider your first dosa your test dosa; if it didn’t spread easily, add a little more water to the batter, and when you taste it, see if it needs a little more salt. If it stuck to the pan, scrape off any remains, and be sure to dip your paper towel in water and oil before the next dosa. Also try drizzling a little more oil into the holes of your next dosa before flipping it. Be sure your pan is hot enough—check by splashing a few droplets of water on it and seeing if they sizzle—and remember to bring your batter to room temperature before making dosas. As long as your dosa is cooked through, it’s going to taste delicious. If your dosa has areas that are thicker than others and are threatening to undercook, scrape those spots with a metal spatula to remove the excess batter. Conversely, if the dosas are starting to overbrown on the bottom before the top sets, lower the heat a little and place a lid on the pan. Even if your dosa looks more like the outline of India than a perfect oval or round, don’t be discouraged. Just remember that it’s not the shape of the dosa that matters but how it tastes!