Masala dosa is a traditional South Indian savory pancake with a spiced potato filling. Light and crisp, they’re a delicious snack or lunch (or as traditionally eaten, for breakfast/brunch).
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I mentioned when I shared the brinjal pickle recipe not long ago that I was lucky to grow up trying some pretty good Indian food, but dosas (a kind of Indian pancake) were not part of that. I think there are a couple reasons.
Firstly, dosas are generally considered more of a breakfast/lunch dish and more traditionally served by street vendors or more cafe/fast food outlets than a restaurant. We didn’t really have those. Secondly, they are from South India and I think very few from that region made it to Scotland – in general people from warmer climates don’t tend to make it home for understandable reasons.
In any event, it wasn’t until after we moved here that I tried a masala dosa and I really enjoyed it so knew I needed to make one myself at some point. A pancake-themed Foodie Extravaganza, that I’m hosting, seemed like the perfect excuse to make this potato-filled deliciousness.
I actually bought the ingredients I was missing to make masala dosa many months ago now but somehow it didn’t quite happen. I think the fact it’s a bit of a longer process than your average pancake put me off a little, but having now made them once I will certainly make them again as they were so tasty.
Yes, these are a little more involved than some dishes, and yes, your first pancake might not come out perfectly but already by my second or third I felt I was getting good enough at least to serve others even if not perfect.
The result is worth the effort. They’re a fairly light savory pancake that’s slightly crisp on the outside, a flavorful potato filling that while a bit carb-heavy is otherwise pretty healthy and both vegetarian and gluten free.
Think of them as kind of the South Indian equivalent of the Ethiopian injera and tikkel gomen I shared where the result is so much better than the ingredients list may suggest. I’ve drawn on this recipe, as well as others, with a few adaptations in making them and really enjoyed the result
You can do a number of steps in making these ahead of time – in fact you have to do some of it ahead of time. The dosa ingredients need to soak then ferment, though each of these steps is relatively quick. When you come to cook them, that, too, doesn’t take long.
We had a couple of these (I made them relatively small as it’s easier to cook that way) for lunch, along with some leftover brinjal pickle and it was delicious. Before anyone tells me otherwise, yes I know that’s a thoroughly non-traditional accompaniment as it’s from a different region. Instead I should have had sambar alongside, but that’s what I had and it was still delicious.
Given there are regional variations on the masala dosa theme anyway, I am letting myself off, and I am in no ways proclaiming to be an expert.
Tips to make masala dosa
A couple of things I found in making these that may be helpful to bear in mind:
- Don’t, as I accidentally did, buy whole urud dal (black lentils) – they should be husked lentils, sometimes described as split, or else you end up having to husk them all (believe me not a fun project);
- If you’re not sure if you ground the rice or dal enough, grind them a little more, it can’t hurt. The same goes for leaving the mixture to ferment – if you’re not sure, leave it a little longer;
- You can boil the potatoes ahead of time and keep in the fridge and also make up the filling a day or two ahead. The pancake batter will keep in the fridge a few days as well so there’s very little to do when you go to make them up;
- Do make sure you spread the dosa mixture around in the pan quickly, as it will start to cook as soon as it gets a little heat and then won’t spread. Use the back of a rounded spoon or ladle;
- The batter is a bit thicker than your ‘average’ pancake mixture but you can also thin it to suit as you try cooking them.
Masala dosa might not be the first thing you think of when you think of pancakes, but they are a fantastic savory option that are full of flavor. They make a great lunch and have the added bonus of being gluten free.
Don’t be put off by the fact they take a little more time, they are definitely worth trying. I’m definitely looking forward to making them again (although this time with the right dal). Their crisp shell and slightly spicy filling make them almost addictively good.
Try these other international brunch ideas:
- Huevos rancheros
- Menemen (Turkish scrambled eggs)
- Shakshuka with meat
- Plus get more brunch recipes and Indian recipes in the archives.
- 3/4 cup rice (white, short grain or basmati best)
- 1/4 cup urud dal/black lentils husked/split
- 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
- 3/4 lb potatoes 340g
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
- 1/2 onion
- 2 cloves garlic , crushed or grated
- 1 tsp ginger , grated (approx 1/2in/1cm piece)
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
The day before
- The day before you plan to have these, rinse the rice then leave it to soak in 1 1/2cups/360ml of water. Rinse the lentils and fenugreek and cover them with water in a separate bowl. Leave both to soak for approx 3-4 hours.
- After soaking, drain and rinse the rice then put it in a food processor or blender with 1/3cup/80ml water and grind until smooth. Transfer to a bowl then rinse the lentils and fenugreek and grind them until smooth with 1tbsp water as well. Mix the two together, cover with a cloth and leave for 8hours/ overnight to ferment. After it has fermented, if you don't need/want to use it straight away, you can store in the fridge, covered, for around 5 days. You may need to thin the mixture slightly before cooking.
- Peel and dice the potatoes into bite-sized pieces and boil until tender. Drain and set aside (this can also be done ahead).
As you are ready to cook
- Warm the oil in a skillet/frying pan and add the cumin and mustard seeds. Cook them a minute until they start to pop. Meanwhile, finely dice the onion then add it to the pan. Cook for approx 5min until starting to soften.
- Add the garlic, ginger, turmeric and red pepper flakes. Stir and cook a minute then add the potatoes. Cook for another minute or two, adding a little more oil if needed if it's sticking, then set aside.
- To cook the dosas, warm a little oil in a medium-large skillet or griddle and ensure the oil covers the pan. Drop approx 1/4cup/60ml of the mixture into the pan and quickly spread it out into a thin layer with the back of a spoon/ladle - it's often easier in a circular motion - trying to avoid having thick areas. Cook until the dosa is starting to brown around the edges.
- Loosen the dosa with a spatula from the bottom of the pan and spoon a couple spoonfuls of the potato mixture in the middle of the dosa, fold in the sides and warm a minute then serve. Repeat with the remaining mixture.
See some of my favorite cooking tools and ingredients in the Caroline’s Cooking Amazon store.
See more pancake ideas for this month’s Foodie Extravaganza below:
- Blueberry Oatmeal Pancakes by Cooking With Carlee
- Buckwheat Pancakes by A Day in the Life on the Farm
- Caramel Apple Pancakes by The Freshman Cook
- Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Pancakes by Sew You Think You Can Cook
- Churro Pancakes by Cookaholic Wife
- Heath Bar and Banana Pancakes by Our Good Life
- Panqueques con Dulce de Leche (Argentinian Dulce de Leche Crepes) by Tara’s Multicultural Table
- Peanut Butter and Jelly Pancakes by Making Miracles
- Silver Dollar Chocolate Chip Pancakes by Hardly A Goddess
- Spring Onion Pancakes with Spicy Dipping Sauce by Food Lust People Love
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