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Looking beyond masala dosa, through Amma's lens

How my mother and grandmother made me discover jaggery, coconut and cucumber dosas

Dosas can't to be tied to one type, their variety is as expansive as our love for them. (PxHere)

By Aisiri Amin

LAST PUBLISHED 28.02.2023  |  03:00 PM IST

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There is a constant debate that I often grapple with, especially in the quiet moments between doom-scrolling: should I quit social media? Last week, as the fear of missing out (or FOMO) wrestled with the joy of quiet existence, within seconds my screen was back on and suddenly, an Instagram reel of horror played, without warning and trust me, this definitely needed one. ‘Would you try this ice-cream dosa?’ the caption read. The wrestling stopped, and FOMO went into hibernation.

These revolting experiments of age-old recipes come as a reminder of the comfort zone that the world navigates in. Rather than exploring the poetic, less-travelled paths to understand different cuisines, the world seems to be hell-bent on botching up recipes. If someone wants to look beyond the masala dosa, ruining it is not the only option. There are abundant choices that come with a sense of novelty and presumably the ‘kick’ that one seems to be so desperately seeking.

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Even though I am Mangalorean, who spent most summers in Udupi, I didn’t really grow up with the famed masala dosa.  While crispy dosas made a frequent appearance on my plate, the potato filling was deemed unhealthy and limited to a rare cameo. Without the fun part, it didn’t take long for a young child to huff and puff at the sight of dosas. So, my mother went on a scavenger hunt, digging up old recipe books, and finding treasures that were tightly wrapped in nostalgia. And with this began our journey of re-discovering dosas from her childhood.

Kayi dosa (coconut dosa)

Amma grew up in Udupi surrounded by coconut trees, a typical childhood snapshot in coastal areas of  Karnataka. Without having to worry about the price, my grandmother would use coconuts extensively in everything she made, unconsciously binding it with the memories of home. One of them was Kayi dosas (coconut dosas) served with coconut chutney. 

Kayi dosas always remind me of clouds, the fluffiness at the centre was the texture that is bound to linger. They are thicker, softer, and have a distinctive taste of coconut, generously used to make the batter. The love for these spongy dosas ties together three generations, Dodda, Amma, and I. Two decades ago, Amma served her treasure for the first time and it quickly became a way to describe happiness

To make these dosas, grind one cup each of soaked raw dosa rice, grated coconut and flattened rice. Add water as required, salt as needed and blend into a smooth paste. Ferment for about eight hours or overnight. Use a heavy-bottomed tawa, preferably, to make the dosas and serve with coconut chutney. 

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Bella menthe dosa (jaggery and fenugreek seeds dosas)

Dosas are mostly limited to the savoury side of the menu. Sweetness is not an attribute that one would associate with them. But Amma’s sweet tooth doesn’t give up easily. In her cookbooks, she found a newspaper cutting of a recipe, Bella Menthe (or Metthe) dosa (jaggery and fenugreek seeds dosas) and remembered Dodda calling it ‘sweet dosa’.  In this recipe, fenugreek seeds don’t stand out, they elevate the experience but without flirting with the palate. They are the perfect wingperson.

The batter is made by grinding one cup of soaked raw rice, one and a half teaspoons of fenugreek seeds, and half cup of jaggery. Ferment for about four hours and add salt to taste. Cook the dosas with coconut or sunflower oil. These tend to burn easily, at least in my experience, so be vigilant, like watching over boiling milk. My family tends to enjoy this with ghee. Some add grated coconut and flattened rice to the recipe. 

Southekayi dosa (cucumber dosas)

Another recipe that still comes in handy when the temperature rises, is dosas filled with cucumbers. They are one of those foods that you can use to trick yourself into taking some greens (I sure did). These are made by blending one cup of soaked raw rice, one grated cucumber and half cup of grated coconut into a smooth paste. Ferment for about four to six hours, add salt to taste and relish with coconut chutney. 

You might have heard people describe dosas as an emotion, a comparison I wholeheartedly nod along to because it’s the stories that make flavours unforgettable, that tug at heart strings, and prod you to go beyond mainstream recipes. Also, if you take a trip to semi-urban and rural areas near Mangalore, you might be surprised by how common these dosas are in many households while masala dosa tends to make a shy appearance every once in a while. The thing with dosas is that they can't be reduced to one type, their variety is as expansive as our love for them. 

Also read: How a dosa sparked off memories of home during the pandemic