Of Idli, Dosa and Uttapam.

I don’t claim to know very much about food from the Indian subcontinent – but I don’t think I have eaten much that I did not enjoy. As a long-time resident in the UK I was happy to be the beneficiary of all of the restaurants that opened on the back of the Ugandan Indian diaspora, and the colonial immigration from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Northern India. ‘Curry’ is now the English favourite food. This sumptuous and delicious range of food is mainly from the north of the Indian subcontinent, whereas in New Zealand, along with those from North India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, we can also savour the foods of the south of India and Sri Lanka, and very different these cuisines are from those of the north.

A quick search finds a listing for ‘Top 10 South Indian restaurants in Auckland‘. Another search and finds the top ten Southern Indian dishes we are absolutely recommended to try. Four of these were on my favourites list and all involved a fermentation process for the final batter – Dosa, Idli, Uttapam and Appams. This last, Appam is the odd one out since as well as a fermented element it is the only one which contains coconut milk. It is the other three which are the focus today.

One of my favourite dishes is Dosa, specifically, Masala Dosa (dosa stuffed with potatoes). I like it so much that I even took a class at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York to learn how to make these crispy pancakes. I subsequently decided that 2 days for the soaking and fermentation to produce the batter was too much for my patience and have never made them at home. So, when I was doing my spice shopping at Patel Brother’s on the North Shore the other day and came across Guru’s Stone Ground Batter I grabbed it with both hands. Who knew you could freeze a fermented batter. Yes, just what I needed to make Dosa. But even more miraculous was that this very same batter could also be used to make the South Indian Idli and Uttapam.

A Dosa is a bit like a crepe but crispy, and, stuffed with vegetables, they are served with sauces and sambars to make a quick meal. An Idli is a fluffy rice cake, usually eaten at breakfast and can be stuffed with beans, carrot, masala and steamed in purpose made moulds. Uttapams are pizza type pancakes, softer than dosas and topped with chopped tomato, onion, chillies, carrot, coconut and, again, eaten with sambar or chutney.

The ingredients Guru’s Stone Ground Batter are the same for all, Rice, Urad Dhal and Fenugreek. If you look at independent recipes for each you can see the similarities clearly, even though the outcome is very different. All use rice (or par-boiled rice), black gram (Urad dhal or whole white lentils, Vigna mungo), usually in a ratio of 3 or 4 rice:1 dal, with Idli and Dosa adding fenugreek seeds and salt. For idli the rice and dal are soaked separately, while for dosa and uttapam they are soaked together overnight. The grinding is a little different too with all being finely ground apart from the idli rice which is then coarsely ground. Rice and dhal are then combined for each dish and fermented overnight or until they double in volume. As alternatives, semolina can be substituted in order to make a wheat based batter for the idli and dosa, while yoghurt can be used to give the sour flavour to these unfermented batters. Kodo Millet is generally used with the rice and black gram as an alternative for the uttapam.

No, I won’t suggest you make these from scratch, although you can find lots of really good recipes for each of them, such as the Idli and Dosa recipe from Dhwani Metha’s Cooking Carnival (thanks also for the post image, Dhwani). Rather, there are lots of ready made packets of powdered batter which simply need mixing. Just visit your nearest spice shop and get lost in the smells, products and flavours.

This week’s recipe makes a delicious addition to a dosa dish. It is called Coconut Potatoes and is from Meera Sodhas, Fresh India.

Image from: Meera Sodha’s Fresh India

Weekly Recipe

Coconut Potaotes