Do you really have to use idli rice to make dosa? This deep dive experiment looks at different rice varieties to see which one yeilds the best dosa.
- A Good Dosa Starts With A Good Dosa Batter
- Do you really have to use idli rice to make dosa?
- Setting up the Experiment
- Step 1: Soak and Grind the Dosa Batter
- Step 2: Ferment the Dosa Batter
- Step 3: Griddling the Dosa
- The worst and best rice varieties for dosa batter
- Why did Idli Rice Beat the other Rice Varieties?
A Good Dosa Starts With A Good Dosa Batter
I’m on a quest to make the best Dosa. For those who don’t know, dosa is a fermented lentil and rice crepe popular in South India. Crafting the perfect dosa is as complex as creating your ideal sourdough bread. It’s made from simple ingredients but time and technique make all the difference. My ideal dosa is….
- Crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside. - It has an exterior crispy enough to hear an audible crunch but is still soft and fluffy in the center so it can soak up warm sambar and scoop up delicious chutneys.
- Flavorful - It has a distinct nutty, slightly sour, and complex taste that comes from fermenting the dal and rice.
- Golden - It has a glistening golden exterior that makes me salivate on sight by indicating proper caramelization.
The journey to perfecting a good dosa starts with perfecting the batter. I’ve seen many dosa recipes from Indian aunties, each auntie claiming that they have the BEST one. Each auntie swears by a certain proportion of rice to dal, with some sticking to certain rice types, and others adding special ingredients to help with browning and fermentation.
In developing the recipe for my perfect dosa recipe, I want to test the different variables myself to truly develop the same intuition that Indian aunties have while also diving deeper into the science myself. I won’t be providing a recipe at the end of this experiment but rather lessons I’ve learned on my quest which will eventually lead to my dosa recipe. I hope you join me on the journey and, if you are so inclined, test out this experiment yourself. So without further ado, let’s get into the first question that I have about making a good dosa.
Do you really have to use idli rice to make dosa?
I wanted to just dip my feet into the dosa batter experiments. At its most simplest form, dosa batter is composed of rice and dal, so I decided to start by answering a simple question: “What rice makes the best dosa batter”? I wanted to test this parameter in particular because the rice that most Indian aunties use is dli rice. I always wondered why a rice named after idli, another South Indian rice and lentil dish prized for its pillowy softness, would be used for its crispy cousin the dosa. Idli rice is also a very specific type of rice that is only found in Indian stores and I wanted to see if the trip to the Indian grocery store for this rice is really worth it or if an alternative can be used in a pinch.
Setting up the Experiment
|Question:||Which Rice Variety Yields The Best Dosa?|
|Independent Variable:||Rice Varieties|
|Independent Variable Options||Basmati Rice |
2) Jasmine Rice
3) Ponni Rice
4) Idli Rice
|Dependent Variable||The best dosa as judged on the following (highly subjective) criteria:|
1) Texture - Has an audible crunch while remaining pillow-y soft on the interior
2) Flavor - A toasty/nutty and slightly sour flavor
3) Appearance - A visual even golden hue on the exterior of the dosa
|Constants: (Things that were kept the same)||Soaking and Grinding :|
1) Type of dal used - urad dal
2) Proportion of rice to dal
3) Soak time of rice and dal
1) Fermentation time
2) Fermentation temperature
1) Pan used to make dosa
2)Dosa griddling temperature
Rice Types Chosen
I wanted to run my first experiment in my home kitchen where the only variable that I would change would be the type of rice - everything else would be kept constant. I picked a total of four different rice varieties for my test. I chose jasmine rice and basmati rice because they are commonly found in households in the United States. These two varieties coincidentally happened to be my two long grain varieties. I selected the other two varieties, ponni rice and idli rice, because they are traditional South Indian rice varieties commonly used to make dosa. They were my two medium/short grain varieties.
Step 1: Soak and Grind the Dosa Batter
What proportion of rice to dal did I use?:
Measurements: I ground ½ cup of urad dal with ½ cup water and divided amongst the 4 rice batters (2Tbs of urad dal batter for each batch).I ground up ½ cup of each variety of rice with ¾ cup of water andI added ½ teaspoon of kosher sal and urad dal mixture to each dosa batter.
I kept the dosa batter proportioned as 1 part dal to 4 parts rice. Why? That was the ratio my mom said she uses so I figured it was a good baseline for this first experiment. But I’ll definitely be experimenting with this ratio in the future.
I soaked the dal and rice varieties overnight (~8 hours) in room temperature water. I soaked the dal and rice separately because it is common to grind them separately. We grind them separately so that the dal can be fluffy and smooth while the rice can be a bit more gritty. (Testing different grinding methods is something I will doin the future)
(Observation) What was the texture of the batters?:
After I ground the rice varieties and before I mixed it with the dal, I wrote down my observations):
- Basmati - Felt the thickest, creamiest, and least grainy
- Jasmine - Felt watery and ultra fine, with a rough texture
- Idli Rice - Second thickest, and felt the most sandy of the four varieties
- Ponni Rice - Had granular bits of rice that were smaller than the idli rice but bigger than jasmine. It was creamy like the jasmine rice
Step 2: Ferment the Dosa Batter
How long did you ferment the dosa batter?
I fermented the dosa batter in the oven for 24 hours. I placed all the batters in the oven during the Seattle winter when the house temperature ranges between 65 and 70F. The relatively cool temperature is why the dosa batter took so long to ferment and fluff up. In the future, I plan on experimenting with fermentation temperature and time as well.
Why does dosa batter need to be fermented?
It is important for dosa batters to ferment and fluff up to get a spongy center that is ideal for scooping up sambar and chutney. The fermentation process also adds a more complex, slightly sour flavor to the dosa, much like fermenting sourdough bread. In addition, research has shown that the fermentation process helps release additional nutrients that the body can readily consume.
(Observation) Which dosa batter fermented the best?
In order to test the fermentation, I measured how high each of the dosa batters rose. Here are the batters ordered by height from most to least:
Step 3: Griddling the Dosa
What tawa did you use to griddle the dosa?
There is much debate on what type of tawa or skillet to use to make dosa. For this first experiment, I used a non-stick 12” skillet for ease of use. Others swear by using cast iron to get even browning - but that just means that the kind of tawa is another experiment I’ll need to run.
How did you griddle the dosa?
Griddling Method: I added ~1 teaspoon of vegetable oil to the skillet between every dosa I griddled and checked the temperature of the pan before spreading the dosa batter on the griddle to keep the heat between 260F-270F. If the pan became too hot, I sprinkled water on it to get it back to the right temperature.
(Observations) Which dosa batter was the easiest to spread?
The way that I spread dosa is by pouring into either a measuring cup or a metal cup and making outward circular motions to create the dosa. The dosa batters were easy to spread with the exception of the basmati rice. Since the basmati rice batter was so fine, the metal cup often stuck to the batter on the pan, whereas the batters that had a bit more grit ensured that the batter and the cup didn’t suction together.
The worst and best rice varieties for dosa batter
4th Place - Basmati Rice
The basmati rice yielded a dosa that was ultra soft and oily and didn’t get much color on it. The redeeming quality was that it did have a mild and pleasant taste. However, because this rice variety was also hard to spread, it landed in the 4th spot.
3rd Place - Ponni Rice
The ponni rice had the right amount of crispness but got spots of dark browning and spots that were pale.. The taste was really pungent, like raw lentils, which was really off-putting and landed it in the 3rd spot.
2nd Place - Jasmine Rice
The jasmine rice was the crunchiest, which I thought would be good. But shockingly, it was too crunchy and almost cracker-like. It had a really nice floral taste and an even browning. If the jasmine rice had a little bit more fluff and fermented a bit more it would have nabbed the 1st spot. This would be the rice I would recommend for those who are in a bind and can’t make the trip to the Indian store.
The Best Rice To Make Dosas - Idli Rice
Idli rice had the right amount of crisp while also having a fluffy center and a bit of browning. It had a very balanced and toasty taste that had me reaching for more. That is why I would recommend idli Rice for the next dosa that you make. But if you do not have idli rice, I would substitute jasmine rice.
Why did Idli Rice Beat the other Rice Varieties?
|Jasmine||Basmati||Ponni Rice||Idli Rice (Parboiled)|
|Short or Long?||Long||Long||Short||Short|
|Viscosity||Viscosity: 4th Thickest|
Grainy?: Ultra Fine grains
|Viscosity: 1st Thickest Thickest|
Grainy?: No grain, smooth
|Viscosity: 3rd Thickest|
Grainy?: Yes, medium sized grains
|Viscosity: 2nd Thickest|
Grainy?: Yes, Most grainy and sandy feeling batter
|Batter Texture||Ultra fine grains||No grains||Medium-fine sized grains||Medium grains|
|Ease of Spreading||Easiest||Hard||Medium||Medium|
|Final Evaluation||Texture: Too crunchy|
Taste: Floral and delicious
Appearance: Some browning but mostly pale
|Texture: Too soft and oily|
Taste: Subtle and balanced taste
|Texture: Right amount of crunch and pillowy-ness|
Taste: Pungent, off putting taste
|Texture: Perfect crunch and pillow-y interior|
Taste: Balanced butty and toasty taste
Appearance: Some browning but mostly pale
- Idli Rice is parboiled - Idli Rice was the only rice in our lineup that was parboiled rice, which means that it was partially steamed and then commercially dried before it was packaged for sale. This process of parboiling the rice improves the fermentation process, which was why this rice variety rose the highest and had an ideal pillowy center.
- Idli Rice batter was grainy - The idli rice batter had a grainy texture with a bit of grit to it which allowed it to crisp up and get that crunch that we so desire in a dosa.
What should I test out next in my quest to make the best dosa? If you have suggestions or enjoyed or learned something from this blog post, please leave a comment below – I would LOVE to hear from you!