Chennai Journal
Sunday, September 11, 2005
Idli and Dosa...

I haven't written much about the food here, and it's probably high time that I did. A month of vegetarian cuisine, punctuated by an occasional meal with fish, is about to come to an end as the Carnivore (otherwise known as Marty) returns to Madras tomorrow morning from a month in the States. He made one last run to Costco to stock up on packaged corned beef, but alas--they were out.

The two staples of South Indian cuisine are dosa--rice and lentil (dal) pancakes-- and idli, which are made from similar mix but are thicker dumplings or cakes. South Indians eat them for breakfast, lunch or dinner, but I confess I haven't progressed to eating anything other than fruit and yogurt for breakfast. Leela (who's back ---I'll write about that in a separate post) makes both of these often. Above, you can see what a dosa looks like. Idli are steamed in a special pot with little depressions that you put the idli mix in. They're a bit more healthy than dosa, which are lightly fried. Dosa are eaten with the hands---you tear off a bit of the pancake, and roll it or dip in the sauces and vegetables that accompany it.

The sauces and vegetables (and yes, you can get meat as well) for both dosa and idli come in myriad varieties. Sambar is a spicy lentil sauce (it's the orange stuff in the yellow bowl above) , and dosa can also be served with various fillings such as mashed potatoes. In restaurants, dosa may be brought to you in a huge roll-- the ones served at the Madras Club (for 55 rupees, which is on the high side) are a good one and half feet long.

To make dosa and idli from scratch, it's best to have something called a wet grinder, which pulverizes the rice and lentil mixture that you've soaked. But many cooks, including Leela, buy a ready made mix that's available in any grocery store. There are also mixes for the sambar and other sauces, but Leela makes these herself using various spices, vegetables and lentils. As lentils are the main protein for vegetarians here, they're used in a variety of cuisine and come in many colors and shapes.

Personally, I prefer dosa to idli, though I like both of them. Usually, you'll see idli listed first (idli-dosa not dosa-idli). I'm not sure why that is, but it clearly isn't alphabetical!

If you're interested in trying your hand at either of these, see the link below for some recipes. Of course you can also just "Google" idli dosa recipes and it will bring up a number of other recipes as well.



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