Nash Patel, originally from the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, and Leda Scheintaub, a New York City-based food writer, are the proprietors behind the little blue trailer and book, Dosa Kitchen. They met at a South Indian restaurant in Manhattan where Nash was waiting tables and Leda was dining. Conversation and culinary sparks ignited. They started dating and soon after moved to Brattleboro, Vermont, to fulfill Leda’s dream of leaving the big city for a place where eating locally and sustainably was a way of life. In Vermont, Nash would often make dosa for Leda at home, and as he honed his craft, he left his nine-to-five job to dedicate his days to spreading his love for this South Indian iconic street food.
Dosa are light, airy, thin, crispy crepes made of rice and lentils. They are a fermented product and are naturally gluten- and dairy-free. White rice and hulled and split urad dal form the base of the batter. Nash adds a small amount of chana dal, aka gram dal/hulled or split chickpeas, which help the dosa to brown nicely. The rice and lentils are soaked overnight and then blended into a thick, pancake-like batter. Thereafter, the batter is fermented, which gives it its characteristic subtly tangy, sour flavor. The process of fermentation also makes grains and legumes more nutritious and easier to digest.
After an 8 to 12-hour ferment, it’s just a matter of ladling the batter, preferably into a cast-iron griddle pan, in a circular motion until thin and crepe-like, which facilitates browning of the dosa. As this was my first attempt at making dosa, I quickly learned that it will take practice to achieve a perfectly thin and crisp yet not over browned dosa. Nonetheless, they turned out quite well, and if you’ve ever made a crepe you can certainly make dosa.
Dosa can be enjoyed on their own or stuffed with any number of fillings: vegetarian, vegan, meat or seafood, egg, and cheese. There’s even a section of the book devoted to sweet dosa preparations. Masala dosa, Indian spiced mashed potato filling, and its spicier version, Mysore Masala, are amongst the most common dosa fillings. In fact, masala dosa was ranked number four on the Huffington Post’s list of “10 Foods Around the World to Try Before You Die” and one of CNN Travel’s “World’s 50 Best Foods.” Dosa are often served with a variety of chutneys, anything from coconut chutney to tomato, peanut, green, and red chile chutney. They complement and add layers and depth of flavor to any number of the fillings in this book.
To accompany my homemade dosa, I prepared Nash’s recipe for Coconut and Tomato Shrimp Fry Dosa. It’s quick and easy to pull together. While at first glance it may look like a long list of ingredients, the recipe is certainly manageable, especially if you have common Indian spices on hand. I substituted frozen coconut for fresh, as Nash suggests if you can’t find fresh coconut. The shrimp fry has a nice kick of heat from the green chiles, which is tempered by a hint of sweetness from the coconut and tomatoes, a touch of sourness from the tamarind, and complemented by an assortment of spices and herbs in the form of turmeric, chile powder, garam masala, fresh curry leaves and cilantro.
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Coconut and Tomato Shrimp Fry Dosa
3 tablespoons coconut oil
2 medium red onions, chopped ½ cup fresh coconut chunks (about ½ × ¼ inch)
4 teaspoons ginger-garlic paste
4 fresh green chiles, finely chopped
Large handful of fresh curry leaves
1 tablespoon tamarind puree, such as Swad
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1½ teaspoons sea salt, or to taste ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
¼ to ½ teaspoon red chile powder, to taste
1 pound peeled and deveined small shrimp (or chopped large shrimp)
¼ teaspoon garam masala
⅓ cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish
6 Classic Dosa or Dosa Wraps
TIP: You can substitute frozen coconut chunks for the fresh. You’ll find them at Indian grocers.
NOTE: Recipe for Classic Dosa can be found at DosaKitchen.com.
1. Melt the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and coconut and cook for about 15 minutes, until the onions are softened and well browned. Add the ginger-garlic paste, green chiles, and curry leaves and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes to toast the spices. Stir in the tamarind puree to incorporate.
2. Add the tomatoes and salt and stir to break up any bits that might stick to the pan. Bring to a vigorous simmer and cook for about 20 minutes, until the tomato thickens considerably, almost to a paste, and the oil starts to separate from the tomato. Add a little water if the mixture starts to stick to the bottom of the pan.
3. Add the turmeric and red chile powder and cook for 2 minutes. Add the shrimp and garam masala and cook, stirring constantly, until the shrimp is cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes.
4. Remove from the heat and stir in the cilantro. Serve alongside or stuffed into your dosa of choice with additional cilantro for garnish.
Reprinted from Dosa Kitchen. Copyright © 2018 by Nash Patel and Leda Scheintaub. Photographs copyright © 2018 by Kristen Teig. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.