Cooking with Stella

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Masala Dosa

Dosas are large crepe-like flatbreads made from a fermented batter of ground dal and rice flour. They are one of the glories of South Indian cuisine. There are as many kinds of dosas as there are kitchens in South India. They are most often eaten as a light meal or snack, in late morning or mid-afternoon, at home or as street food — “Indian fast food”. Dosas are often filled with a spiced, cooked potato mixture and then they are called Masala Dosa. They are almost always served with fresh coconut chutney and a lentil stew called sambhar. Stella has been making Masala Dosa since she was a young girl in her village in Kerala; it would have been one of the first things her mother taught her to cook.


The day before you wish to make the dosas, place the dal in a bowl and add water to cover by at least an inch. Cover the dish with plastic wrap or a clean tea towel, and leave to soak overnight, or for 8 to 12 hours, at room temperature.

In a small saucepan, heat ½ cup water over low heat. Wisk in one tablespoon of the rice flour, and cook, stirring, until it begins to thicken. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Strain the soaked dal and discard the soaking water. Put the dal in a blender or food processor with 1 cup of water and grind to a smooth paste. Transfer to a large bowl. Add the salt, remaining rice flour, and 2 cups water. Add in the thickened rice paste and stir/wisk well. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 6 hours or overnight. The mixture will ferment and increase in volume. When ready, the batter should be of a thin crepe-like consistency; add a little more water if necessary.

Heat a 10-inch cast-iron frying pan or other heavy flat frying pan, over medium-high heat. When pan is hot, lightly oil the bottom of the frying pan with a well-oiled paper towel. Lower heat to medium and pour a scant half cup of dosa batter into the pan, tilting the pan to encourage it to spread. Use the back of a ladle, and moving in circles, quickly and evenly spread the mixture over the bottom of the pan. Let it cook for about two minutes. Do not flip the dosa over. When it is done it will have small bubble holes and the edges will be lifting away from the pan. The bottom side will be golden brown. Transfer to a warm plate and cover with a cotton cloth. Repeat with the remaining batter, rubbing the pan lightly with an oiled paper towel for each new dosa.

Potato Masala Mixture

Rinse the potatoes and place in a pot with cold water to just cover. Bring to the boil; simmer for 10 to 15 minutes or until just cooked. Drain, let cool, then strip off and discard peel. Coarsely chop or mash roughly with a fork. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan or a wok over medium-high heat. Add the mustard seeds and cook for about 15 seconds or until they start sputtering. Lower the heat to medium, add the onion, turmeric powder, and curry leaves, and cook for about 6 to 8 minutes, or until the onions are transparent. Add the chile, roughly mashed potatoes, and salt. Mix well, and cook for about 3 minutes until heated through. Place mixture in a bowl to cool slightly, then add the chopped coriander.

To assemble Masala Dosas:

Place 2 heaping tablespoons of warm potato masala mixture in the centre of the dosa and roll into a loose cylinder. Serve immediately, with coconut chutney and sambhar (lentil stew).

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