Lessons From the Griddle
A South Indian cook imparts her secrets to perfectly re-creating the region’s signature potato dosa at home
it’s never surprised me that, in India, there are restaurants dedicated to dosas. One of the country’s most flavorful, sustaining, and comforting foods, these thin, sometimes massive crêpes made from a fermented batter of ground rice and dal (dried, split beans) are typically filled with spiced vegetables and served with refreshing chutneys. Though they originated in South India as a breakfast food, dosas have become so popular that they’re served at all times of day throughout the country.
Unlike French crêpes or American pancakes, which are cakey throughout, the ideal dosa is crisp and golden on the outside, with a slightly spongy interior. The best ones glisten without being greasy, and, by way of a wellfermented batter, have all the flavor of an exceptionally funky sourdough. Growing up in Dallas, when I craved a dosa that checked all the boxes, I’d pay a visit to Guna Raj, a close friend of my mother’s—whom I affectionately refer to as Guna Aunty. She learned to make dosa growing up in Karnataka. Guna taught me her secrets, and though assembling them just like she does has taken a little practice, they have become a regular staple in my kitchen.
“Dosa is really just a vehicle for eating chutney and potatoes,” Guna Raj says, reassuring that the crêpemaking part need not be intimidating. You can fill and roll dosas into airy cylinders, or for ease, fold the cooked wrappers in thirds like a letter and serve the fillings on the side. One of the most widely loved versions in India is the masala dosa, which features a fluffy, turmeric-tinged potato
sabzi (filling) and fiery gunpowder chile paste. At Guna Raj’s house and elsewhere, it is almost always served with a side of lightly sweet, bright coconut chutney. The whole thing is a meal so matchless, it’s worth keeping your griddle at the ready.
1. Shredded unsweetened coconut: The star of dosa’s most popular companion, coconut chutney. The sweetness and spice are a perfect partner for dosa’s sourness.2. Turmeric: Adds color and earthy flavor to fillings.3. Urad dal: The natural yeasts present in this Indian lentil, also called black gram, kick-start fermentation, which is key to the dosa’s spongy interior and sour flavor.4. Chana dal: This nutty-tasting dal adds crunch to fluffy potato sabzi. 5. Gunpowder chilepaste: Smear this onto a dosa before layering on toppings.6. Rice: Soaked and ground, it helps produce the crisp,lacy dosa texture. Rice-to-lentil ratios vary among cooks, but Raj opts for 3-to-1. 7. Roasted chanadal: Roasting gives dal a puffed texture, easier to pound into chutney. 8. Black mustardseeds: Raj recommends black over yellow or brown mustard seeds for the strongest flavor and a pop of texture in the fillings. 8 6 7