In my first year of college, back when cyber cafes were still new and exciting, I wrote my mother a letter listing out all the food that I wanted to eat when I went home for my break. It wasn’t going to be a long list, I assured Amma, and then, like Mark Twain in A Tramp Abroad, made an extravagant list of some 30-odd dishes that she was to make for me during the 10 days that I would spend at home. I don’t remember much of what I listed, to be perfectly honest, but I do remember that the list was headed by adai.
In our house, adai — a dosa-adjacent lentil pancake — was never breakfast (or “tiffin”, in the South Indian sense). This was because it has to be eaten hot off the tawa, and Amma only had time to serve it to us, one by one, in the evening. And my sister and I would eat A LOT. About, six-seven apiece (yes, it’s THAT tasty and we were THAT greedy). So, clearly, not an ideal breakfast dish from the perspective of a mother who had to send her kids off to school and who herself had to rush to work by 9 am.
It wasn’t until I started cooking for myself that I turned it into a regular breakfast item. This was also when I learnt that what I had grown up eating wasn’t adai, but adai dosai. I figured this out after attempting to eat adai in South Indian restaurants that had, until that moment, never disappointed me. But the heavy, flat-on-the-palette pancake that would arrive at my table was different from what I had grown up eating and after reading up on it, I learnt that Amma had done two things differently: she had ground the batter to a fine consistency and she had allowed it to ferment. So what I had been eating all these years was something called adai dosa.
So maybe it’s my bias (unknowingly cultivated from childhood) speaking, when I say that I still far prefer adai dosa to straight-up adai. I love the tang and lightness that comes from the fermentation and I love the thin, crisp texture of the final dish. In fact, I still adore adai dosa so much that I can actually have it without any pickle or chutney whatsoever (ME!). And I recommend it over adai ( which has its fans, I know) not just for the taste and texture and because of how healthy it is, but also because the fermentation makes it easier to digest (it is mostly made of lentils, after all).
1 cup – Parboiled rice
½ cup – Hulled and split urad dal
¼ cup – Toor dal
¼ cup – Chana dal
½ tsp – Fenugreek seeds
4-5 – Dried red chillies (increase or decrease quantity depending on the heat of the chillies)
1 – Sprig of curry leaves
A pinch of asafoetida
Salt, to taste
Wash and rinse the rice, lentils and methi seeds and immerse them together in about 4 cups of water. Throw in the chillies and curry leaves and allow to soak for 5-6 hours. Once done, grind it together into a batter that is only slightly coarser than dosa batter and just as thin in consistency. Leave it outside and allow it to ferment. The batter should rise about half an inch. At this point, mix in salt and asafoetida and then put it away in the fridge or it will get too sour.
When you want to fry the adai dosa, take the batter out of the fridge and let it sit till it’s room temperature. Then, heat the dosa tawa, spread the batter like you would dosa batter and sprinkle a little bit of oil. Make sure the flame is high for the first side of the dosa. The edges will start to get brown and will start to leave the surface of the pan and that’s when you should lower the flame and flip the dosa to cook the other side. About a minute later, you’ll have your crisp, golden, delicious adai dosa.
Serve hot with pickle or chutney or sambar. Or just have it as is. Many people enjoy adai with some white butter and jaggery; they go well with adai dosa as well, so give it a shot.
If you want to make adai and not adai dosa. Just grind all the ingredients into a coarse batter and put away in the fridge without letting it ferment. However, it is recommended that you let the batter rest for an hour or two before you put it away, so as to ensure a better texture. And when you’re frying the adai, do add some chopped Madras onions, coriander leaves, green chillies and ginger to the batter for additional flavour. A classic side to this adai is avial.
[The Back Burner is a biweekly blog that will talk about all things food (with recipes, of course)]
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