Lentil Pancakes, Potatoes & Soup (Masala Dosa & Sambhar)

I’m sure there’s a quote of wisdom out there about not getting ahead of yourself – I just can’t help it sometimes! Often, while making something for the first time, I’ll get creative about the whole cooking process and start reinventing recipes. Sometimes the recipes work, sometimes they don’t – my theory is that cooking sort of evolved this way anyway, so why not try? Having an understanding of the contribution of each ingredient , though, is essential for this method to work. That said, I only blog the recipes that work and taste good. So here we go…

This is another all vegetarian recipe – actually it’s a vegan recipe as I did not use any dairy either. A dosa is typically a paper-thin like pancake or crepe made of a fermented batter of lentils and rice. It is usually stuffed with something, although there are versions of dosas that come without any stuffing. A masala dosa has spiced potatoes stuffed inside of the dosa. Dosas originate in South India and have regional variations – the types of rice or stuffing, etc.  Growing up, our family loved to eat masala dosas and I can remember eating them as far back as kindergarten. The skillet that is used to make dosas in a restaurant is usually massive – so the dosa that arrives at your table is gigantic, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, filled with flavored potatoes and delectable with the lentil soup (sambhar). It is also served typically with several side sauces – a white coconut chutney and some other spicy coconut related chutneys that are different colors. I tried my own variation of the dosa by using a similar batter but making a smaller pancake like version of the dosa itself, a more textured sambhar, spiced potatoes and a mint-coriander chutney. I also tried a variation in the dosa batter, the point at which you add salt in the fermentation process and making the standard dosa. I also think this recipe is better for the summer as the fermentation process goes along a lot more efficiently when the weather is warmer!

All of the ingredients can be purchased at an Indian grocery store. I have listed the locations of several Indian grocery stores in the San Francisco Bay Area under Resources. This recipe serves 6 people.

Masala Dosa

Batter Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup urad dhal with the skin removed (also known as white lentils)
  • 1 cup basmati long-grain white rice
  • 1 teaspoon methi seeds (also known as fenugreek seeds)
  • room temperature water
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt

This recipe makes enough batter for about 10-15 plate sized dosas. In a large bowl, add the urad dhal and basmati rice. Rinse the mixture with water at least three times, draining most of the water each time. Then fill the bowl with cool tap water, well past the level of the dhal and rice. Add 1 teaspoon of the methi seeds. Allow the dhal and rice to soak overnight. To shorten the soaking time, replace the cool tap water with hot tap water and soak for 4 hours. The soaking and the methi seeds make the dhal easier to digest.

After the soaking time has elapsed, drain all of the water from the bowl. Then using a food processor with a blade or a blender, grind the mixture to a fine grainy paste. Grinding the mixture is quicker in a food processor, but you will get a finer grain using a blender. The mixture will also rise more or ferment better if the paste is finer. (Before kitchen gadgets were available, this grinding was done by hand using a slick and a handstone or other similar manual method.) You may need to add about  a 1/4 cup of water to help the mixture form a paste, however, add water sparingly. If you add too much, the mixture will not grind well. Once the grinding is complete, add enough water to make it have the consistency of pancake batter – it coats a spoon that is raised out of it. Cover the bowl with saran wrap or tin foil and place in a 170 degree F oven for 5-7 hours or leave it in a warm place overnight. Often the bowl is wrapped in towels to help it retain heat for the fermentation process. The fermentation process gives the dosa it’s flavor – so it must be allowed to ferment enough that the mixture forms bubbles and becomes more airy. Aside from a slightly tart scent (it shouldn’t smell bad, just tart), the batter should also rise in the bowl. When it reaches this stage, the batter is ready.  Add two teaspoons of salt to the batter and stir. Prepare the potato stuffing and sambhar before making the dosa – the recipes are provided below.

Sambhar

Sambhar is made in two steps – first the lentils are cooked, then a combination of spices and tomatoes are cooked and added to the cooked lentils.

Cooking the lentils:

Ingredients

  • 1 cup toor dhal (also called Tuvar or Toovar dhal, it may also be called yellow split peas but there are a variety of lentils labelled ‘yellow split peas’ so your best bet is to purchase this at an Indian store or you may end up with a different lentil)
  • 1 -2 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 opo squash, peeled and chopped into 1 inch pieces (optional) (this is a pale green colored squash that adds a nice texture to the sambhar)
  • 1 teaspoon haldi (also called turmeric)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 3 cups of room temperature water

I utilized a slow cooker to cook the lentils as I can control the texture of the sambhar better. Another option is to use a pressure cooker or cook on the stove in a large enough saucepan. Whatever way you decide to cook it, the process is the same except that the time to cook it will vary. Place all of the ingredients above in the slow cooker, pressure cooker or saucepan. Stir. For the slow cooker, turn it on to the high setting and cover it. It will take 4 hours to cook through. For the pressure cooker, fill the cooker with the ingredients and seal. Then cook as you would any other lentil. Typically this requires allowing the pressure cooker to ‘whistle’ once or twice and then lowering the heat to a low setting for 10 minutes. For the stovetop saucepan, add all of the ingredients and allow the mixture to come to a boil. Lower the heat to medium low, cover, and allow to simmer for about 30 minutes or until the lentils are cooked through.

Cooking the sambhar topping:

Okay, funny story. The sambhar requires a powdered sambhar masala to be added. I inquired with a work colleague and a good friend, both from South India about how to make the sambhar masala. Both of them told me that their moms make it and send it to them. I also tried to search the internet for sambhar masala recipes and the cook for one that I found to be very thorough also stated that she has her mom send her homemade sambhar masala. So where does that leave me? Without a proper sambhar masala recipe. 🙂 I decided to break my rule of making everything from scratch and buy a powdered sambhar masala. If you decide to do this make sure the purchased sambhar masala powder contains at a minimum :some dals such as black gram, bengal gram, turmeric, fenugreek, coriander, cumin, oil.  Once I learn how to make it, I will blog it.

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 teaspoons Sambhar masala powder
  • 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 2-3 curry leaves (also known as sweet neem leaves)
  • 4 roma tomatoes, chopped into 1/4 inch cubes
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 4 teaspoons canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons tamarind pulp (either boil dried tamarind pulp in a small amount of water until it softens and extract the pulp or purchase ready-to-use tamarind pulp)

Place a saucepan on the stove on medium heat. Add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds. After the mustard seeds begin to pop, add the curry leaves, tomatoes and a pinch of salt. Lower the heat to medium, stirring frequently. When the tomatoes soften completely, add the cooked lentils to the saucepan. Then add the tamarind pulp and sambhar masala. Allow the mixture to come to a boil and then remove from the heat. Adjust the salt if necessary. The sambhar is ready.

Potato Stuffing

Ingredients:

  • 3 – 4 Idaho russet potatoes
  • 1 large white onion, peeled and finely sliced
  • 1 green chili, chopped finely (adjust to your taste)
  • 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon haldi powder (also known as turmeric powder)
  • 2-3 curry leaves
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • salt to taste (you’ll need at least 1-2 teaspoons to start with and can then adjust to you palate)

Wash the potatoes. Cut each potato in half. Wash and boil the potatoes over the stove in a pot of boiling water. When the potatoes are cooked through, drain the water. Peel the potatoes and break up the potatoes with your hand to bite-sized pieces.  Set aside. Then place a skillet on the stove and turn the stove on medium high. Add the canola oil to the skillet. When the oil is hot, test drop a few mustard seeds. If they sizzle quickly, the oil is hot enough. Add all of the mustard seeds. When they start to pop, add the curry leaves and haldi. Stir. Then add the sliced onions and stir. Cover the skillet with a lid and lower the heat to medium. Allow the onions to cook until they are transparent and soft, stirring frequently to be sure they do not burn. When the onions are cooked through add the salt and stir. Then add the crumbled potatoes and stir. Adjust the salt, if necessary. The potato stuffing is now ready.

Making and Assembling the Dosa

Standard Method of making the Dosa: Place a flat skillet on the stove and turn on the stove to high. When the skillet is hot enough (water sizzles when dropped on it), wipe it quickly with a wet papertowel, then add a few drops of oil and spread the oil. Someone in my office recommended using a partially cut onion to spread the oil. Quickly pour enough batter into the skillet so that when the batter is spread out in the skillet, it fills the entire skillet. Spread the batter out in a circular manner with the back of a large spoon. Lower the heat to medium high. The dosa should cook fairly quickly – the top surface will look cooked, not like raw batter. At this point, flip it over. Allow it to cook for 1-2 minutes, then flip it back over. The dosa can be stuffed with a 1/2 cup of the potato stuffing and served with sambhar and a mint-coriander chutney.

Mini Dosa:  Find a 3-4 inch diamater circular cookie cutter made of metal or make one using tinfoil. Place a flat skillet on the stove and turn on the stove to high. When the skillet is hot enough (water sizzles when dropped on it), spray the skillet with a little canola oil and place the circular metal cookie cutter in the middle of the skillet. Quickly pour enough batter into the cookie cutter to fill it 1/3 to 1/2. Then cover the skillet with a lid and lower the heat to medium high. After a few minutes the mini dosa will start to pull away from the cookie cutter sides. You should be able to, with a little effort, remove the cookie cutter and flip over the mini dosa. Allow it to cook on the other side. Both sides should be browned.  The mini dosa pancake is complete and can be served with sambhar, spiced potatoes and a mint coriander chutney.

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