An ode to the South Indian staple

Chandra Padmanabhan is in her element in her organised little kitchen.

She has the batter for a traditional Tamil Nadu  adai prepared, and quickly readies an old-fashioned  tava that looks out of place on the modern stovetop. “It’s a thandavalam tava, and it was given to me by my mother-in-law. I use it only to make  dosais and  adais,” says the cookbook author who recently launched her fifth book,  Dosai, dedicated to the favourite South Indian tiffin item.

“Apart from small booklets, no one has written a comprehensive book on  dosais which caters to a wide variety of people,” says Chandra.

What bothers her more is that the fact that this traditional breakfast food is considered “uncool” nowadays. “A lot of people are going in for the westernised practice of packaged foods. What they don’t realise is that while it might suit them but it might not suit our physiology. It’s best to eat something nutritious and balanced, and something that we grew up eating.”

The common excuse is that there is not enough time to prepare the batter, wait for it to ferment and then stand over the stove in the morning to prepare breakfast.

“I worked for 36 years. In all that time, I have never had a maid or a cook; I managed to run the household with just a little bit of planning. It all boils down to what you want for your family — their health is of importance, and you have to allocate time to ensure that you can provide wholesome food,” says Chandra, adding that one cannot let emergency foods like cornflakes or instant oats become a regular breakfast.

The book covers a little over 100 different types of dosais  and  adais from the four Southern states and also includes the various accompaniments that go with them.

Every recipe has a note at the bottom with the nutritional content. There are also suggestions to add more variety to the recipe, and it encourages the reader to try out their own variations.

Research, writing and personally testing every recipe and figuring out the exact measurements took Chandra about a year: “Whatever I have talked about in the book, I have tried out in my kitchen. I sat with people from various communities from Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka to discuss the varieties of dosais . Tulu and Mangalore especially had some interesting varieties using vegetables — it’s a good way of getting kids to eat them without fussing.”

Dosai  batter is treated as a versatile ingredient in the book. “There’s so much you can do with it! Dosais  with nuts provide protein content for the day as well. Then there’s  makki (maize)  dosai. Ragi or other millets can also be added to ramp up the nutritive content,” says Chandra.  

A lot of research also went into the making of  adais as every community in Tamil Nadu makes it differently. “If I had done some more research, I could have probably increased the number of recipes in the book to 150, but that makes it too big. Perhaps I can write a second volume with more healthy and interesting dosais,” she says with a laugh.

As she serves the crisp and extremely delicious  adais with coconut chutney and jaggery,  Chandra says, “I’m harping on the health factor because we ought to go back to the basics as far as our food is concerned. It was definitely healthier and suited us. Everyone in the older generation in my family used to eat traditional food, and no one ever had diabetes or high blood pressure. I’m 71 and not diabetic. What we eat nowadays might be convenient since work is hectic and it’s important to earn well. But when that affects your health to the point where you can’t enjoy what you worked so hard for, is the few minutes of planning it takes to prepare healthy food not worth it?”

Dosai is published by Westland Books. The book is priced at Rs 495.

For the perfect dosai

- Ingredients should be fresh; use homemade batter as far as possible

- Have a good tava which you use only to make dosai

- Smear a thin layer of oil on the tava and then heat it. Sprinkle a few droplets of water — if it sizzles, your tava is ready.

Wipe off excess oil and lower the heat before spreading the batter

- Wipe the tava with a damp cloth in between dosais so that it doesn’t get overheated

- Plan the accompaniments: chutney, podi or sambhar. They are what makes the dosai a perfectly balanced meal

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Printable version | May 8, 2021 8:57:07 PM |

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