Rava (semolina or suji) is one of those ingredients that I always have in my pantry, but which I didn’t really know how to use properly until fairly recently. Given how widely it is used around the world – different kinds of semolina are used to make staples like pasta and couscous – this seems odd, even to me. I think it comes down to the fact that most dishes that I’ve seen rava being used in are simply very unappealing in texture, such as upma, suji ka halwa and kesari baath. Not that I dislike these dishes; they were simply never exciting enough for me to try making them at home. Which is why, I mostly ended up using rava as a coating for fried stuff like cutlets. (You know how perfect rava is for this purpose if you’ve ever had rava fried fish of any kind.)
The one dish that I tried to make over and over was rava dosa. Sometimes, I would get it exactly right, and sometimes it would be a miserable flop, sticky and falling apart on the tawa when I tried to flip it. It took me a while to understand that the perfect rava dosa comes down to three things: how thin your batter is, how long you let it stand and how hot your tawa is.
The key to a good rava dosa is how lace-like you can make it, while making sure that it’s cooked all the way through and is crisp. The best rava dosa is as full of holes as Swiss cheese, because this is what keeps it from being a flat, uninteresting sheet of cooked batter. It gets these holes, like regular dosa, from the water vapour that escapes from the batter as it is being cooked (the fermentation process is what makes regular dosa spongy at the same time). So the more water in the rava dosa batter, the bigger and more numerous the holes – although, of course, you need to know where to draw the line and not make it too watery. Just make sure it’s as runny as full fat milk.
You also need to make sure that the batter rests for at least 20-30 minutes before you cook it, so that the rava has had time to soften. And the tawa needs to be hot enough that if you sprinkle a few drops of water, they immediately sizzle. This is critical, because you want the holes to start forming, as soon as you pour the batter.
Here’s my recipe for Onion Rava Dosa. It’s something I resort to whenever I need a quick breakfast and I haven’t had time to make and ferment regular dosa batter.
1 cup unroasted rava – the finer, the better
1 cup rice flour
¼ cup maida
Salt, to taste
1 onion, sliced thin
2 green chillies, minced
½ inch of ginger, minced
½ tsp cumin seeds
6-7 curry leaves, roughly torn
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh coriander leaves (optional)
Mix all the ingredients with water to create a batter that is the consistency of full fat milk. Let it stand for at least 20-30 minutes. When ready, heat the dosa tawa. The tawa is hot enough when you sprinkle some water on it and it immediately sizzles. At this point, pour the batter. You will need to stir the batter thoroughly each time before pouring because the rava will keep settling down at the bottom. And when you ladle out the batter, start from edges and work your way towards the centre. The holes will form as soon as the batter meets the hot pan (but don’t let the pan get too hot. You don’t want burnt dosas). Be careful not to pour more batter over the areas of the pan that have already been covered. Sprinkle a teaspoon of oil and let the batter cook on medium flame. When dosa starts to crisp up, carefully work a spatula around the edges of the dosa, working it free of the pan and then slide it underneath to lift and flip. Let the other side crisp up slightly and serve with sambar and/or your chutney of choice.
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