A Step-by-Step Guide to Making the Very Best Dosa from Scratch

updated Feb 5, 2021
How to Make Dosa from Scratch

A step-by-step guide to making dosa from home, including a from-scratch dosa batter and instructions for how to cook it.

Serves6 to 8

Makesabout 18 dosas

Prep30 minutes

Cook45 minutes

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Credit: Photo by Madhumita Sathishkumar

My memories of eating dosa, a savory crepe made from a fermented batter of rice and lentils, stretch far back into my early childhood. Because my mother worked, weekends were when she gave us a window into some of the breakfast foods she grew up eating, and dosa was one of the most special. My brother and I would try to eat as many as possible, even if it meant stretching our bellies far beyond capacity, because we didn’t know when she’d make them again. To this day, my favorite way to eat dosa is with my mom’s coconut chutney and homemade yogurt.

Credit: Photo by Madhumita Sathishkumar

If you order dosa in a South Indian restaurant, you’ll likely find yourself staring face to face with a gigantic crispy dosa double the size of its plate. I’m not saying I don’t love these dosas, but it’s a very different breed than the dosa made in the home. The dosas I grew up eating were sour and soft with a crunchy surface — and no bigger than my plate. 

Traditionally, dosa is filled with buttery, bright yellow tangy potato curry and served with coconut chutney and sambar for dunking. This particular combination is often referred to as masala dosa. Here, I’ll walk you through my own dosa batter recipe, how to cook dosa at home, and how to fill and serve it.

Credit: Photo by Madhumita Sathishkumar

Homemade Dosa Ingredients

The simplest dosa batter is made with just rice and lentils. The type of rice varies across South India (my family uses long-grain), as do the proportions of rice to dal. A few other ingredients are sometimes added for appearance and texture. I add cooked rice for extra crispness, fenugreek seeds for fluffiness and to help aid in fermentation, and chana dal for a nice golden color and also for crispness. 

Once you make your first successful dosa at home, you can start experimenting with adding or subbing other grains such as brown rice, quinoa, or pearl millet. Some cooks add a little sugar to kickstart fermentation, or semolina flour to add crispness and decrease the likelihood of the dosa sticking to the skillet. My Auntie Karen likes to add blended onion and roasted fenugreek powder, while I sometimes add vegetables like shredded carrots, beets, or cut spinach to my fermented batter. I also like to melt cheese inside for a dosa quesadilla.

Credit: Photo by Madhumita Sathishkumar

Fermenting Dosa Batter

Dosa-making takes quite some time, which is why it was such a big deal when my mom made them for us. After mixing together the batter, it has to ferment in a warm place overnight. I often compare dosa-making to sourdough bread baking in that there are a lot of environmental factors, such as climate and altitude, that can affect the outcome of your batter.

The climate of South India is more favorable for dosa batter’s fermentation than the cooler temperatures in the U.S., but it’s still possible to do it — you’ll just have to try a few things to see what works for you. During winter months in New Jersey, my mom would place her batter underneath the oven light. I employ the same method, with the addition of a big bowl of hot water set below the batter. You’ll know your batter’s ready when it’s almost doubled in size and looks puffed on top. It will also have a sour, fermented smell, and when scooped with a spoon, it should be a frothy mass of bubbles.

Of course, finding success with dosa comes with just plain practice of making the batter on your own. In the recipe below, I’ve included all the tips I’ve gathered from my own years of practice, and from friends and relatives.

Credit: Photo by Madhumita Sathishkumar

Starting with Store-Bought Dosa Batter

You can, of course, start with store-bought batter, which is sold in many Indian grocery stores. Even those who are comfortable making the batter from scratch can’t deny how convenient the shortcut is — it helps get more hot, crunchy dosas on the table faster and more frequently. If you’re going the store-bought route, use this recipe for the cooking guidelines — learning how to spread the batter in the griddle, flip it, and fill it requires technique as well.

What to Do with Leftover Dosa Batter

Dosa batter is typically thicker the day after it’s made, which makes leftover batter perfect for uttapam. Uttapam is a savory, porous pancake that’s a bit crispy on the outside and soft and pillowy on the inside. It’s sometimes referred to as the South Indian pizza, and is usually cooked with finely chopped onion, tomatoes, green chili peppers and cilantro. 

Get creative and add in different vegetables of your choice like peas, corn, peppers, grated carrots, or even cheese or shredded coconut. It’s a lot easier to make than dosa since you just drop the batter in the middle of the skillet and let it expand from there.

Credit: Photo by Madhumita Sathishkumar
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Here's how to make dosa from scratch.

How to Make Dosa from Scratch

A step-by-step guide to making dosa from home, including a from-scratch dosa batter and instructions for how to cook it.

Prep time 30 minutes

Cook time 45 minutes

Makes about 18 dosas

Serves 6 to 8

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 2 cups

    uncooked long-grain white or basmati rice

  • Filtered water, for soaking

  • 1/2 cup

    skinned whole urad gota (dried whole matpe beans), or skinned urad dal (dried split matpe beans)

  • 2 tablespoons

    chana dal (dried split chickpeas)

  • 1 teaspoon

    fenugreek seeds

  • 1/4 cup

    cooked basmati rice (optional)

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    kosher salt, divided

  • Ghee or canola oil

  • 1 recipe

    Potato Palya, for filling (optional)

  • For serving: chutney and sambar, or chutney pudi and plain yogurt.

Equipment

Instructions

Make the dosa batter:

  1. Soak the rice. Place 2 cups uncooked rice in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse under cool water. Transfer to a large bowl and add enough filtered water to cover by at least 2 inches. Soak uncovered at room temperature for 6 hours or overnight. Filtered water is important in case there is a high amount of chlorine in your water, which will inhibit fermentation.

  2. Soak the urad gota, chana dal, and fenugreek seeds. Place 1/2 cup whole urad gota and 2 tablespoons chana dal in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse under cool water. Transfer to a medium bowl and add 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds. Add enough filtered water to cover by at least 2 inches. Soak uncovered at room temperature for 6 hours or overnight.

  3. Drain the urad gota, chana dal, and fenugreek seeds. Drain the soaked whole urad gota, chana dal, and fenugreek seeds through a fine-mesh strainer, reserving the soaking liquid.

  4. Blend the urad mixture. Place the urad mixture in a blender (work in batches if needed). (I use a Vitamix which does the job well. In India, the traditional method is to use a wet grinder.) With the motor running, slowly add about 1 cup of the reserved soaking liquid and blend until you get a smooth, light, and fluffy batter. Do not let the batter overheat. To check that it has been blended well, drop a little into a bowl of water. If the batter rises to the top, it has been blended enough. Pour the batter into a large bowl.

  5. Drain the rice. Drain the soaked rice through the fine-mesh strainer, reserving the soaking liquid.

  6. Blend the rice. Place the soaked rice in the now-empty blender (no need to rinse). With the motor running, slowly add about 1 cup of the reserved soaking liquid. Once blended, add in 1/4 cup cooked rice and continue blending until you have a mostly smooth batter that feels a little grainy when you rub it between two fingers.

  7. Mix the blended rice and dal. Pour the rice batter into the urad batter and add 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt. Stir together with your hand — the heat in your hand is good to kick-start the fermentation process, while also adding in more wild yeast. You should have a loose, thick batter that falls through your hands easily but also coats your fingers at the same time.

  8. Ferment the batter. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and place in a warm place (80 to 90ºF). (I usually place my batter in the oven with the light on and a large bowl of hot tap water on the rack below it. I change out the water a few times to keep the temperature warm and humid in the oven.) Let ferment 8 to 14 hours.

  9. Check that the batter has fermented. When fermented, your batter will have almost doubled and look puffed on the top. It will also have a sour, fermented smell. When scooped with a spoon, it should be a frothy mass of bubbles. Note that in colder climates, the batter may not rise as much, but if it has the frothy, bubbly look and smells fermented, you can start making dosas with it.

Cook the dosas:

  1. Stir the batter. Stir the batter a couple of times with a ladle. Ideally, you will have a thick, flowing batter with a consistency between crêpe and pancake batter. If too thick, add filtered water a tablespoon at a time to thin it out.

  2. Prepare for cooking. Before cooking the dosas, set out a little bowl with ghee or oil, a teaspoon, a spatula, a cup of water, and a few paper towels or a silicone pastry brush by the stove. I use a 1/3 measuring cup and a slightly curved large serving spoon, flat ladle, or the measuring cup to spread my dosa.

  3. Heat a skillet with ghee. Heat a large cast iron skillet, griddle, or nonstick pan over medium heat. (If you are a first timer, I suggest that you start with a nonstick pan, as it will be more forgiving than the cast iron which you can work yourself up to.) Add a couple drops of ghee or oil to the pan and lightly smear it all over with a paper towel or silicone pastry brush. If you have a sprayer for oil that will work best here. At this point, you don’t want to put too much ghee or oil, as this will make it difficult to spread the batter evenly. Sprinkle a few drops of water into the pan — if it sizzles, the pan is ready. Reduce the heat to low.

  4. Pour in batter. Pour 1/3 cup of the batter into the center of the pan. The batter should sizzle a bit.

  5. Spread the batter. Starting in the middle, swirl the batter using the bottom of a slightly curved large serving spoon, flat ladle, or measuring cup in a circular motion outwards until you have spread it out into a round dosa that is about 9 inches in diameter. It is important not to press down too hard with your spreading utensil. Spreading should happen more on the top surface than on the bottom.

  6. Add ghee to the edges and top of dosa. Increase the heat to medium. Wait a few seconds for the dosa to sizzle a little in the pan, and then drizzle about 1 teaspoon of ghee or oil around the edges of the dosa and on top.

  7. Cook the dosa. Cook until the dosa is dried out on top and you can see some browning and crisp spots appearing on the bottom, 2 to 3 minutes. When it’s ready, the dosa will peel off easily when you slide a flat spatula underneath. If you see the dosa browning but it is still sticking, just lower the heat and wait a few seconds, then probe around the edges with your spatula until you find an area that starts to give. Usually the whole dosa will unstick once you start to pull it up from that spot.

  8. Flip the dosa. Flip the dosa over and let cook for a few seconds. Flip it over again.

  9. Fold the dosa. If serving as-is, fold the dosa in half in the pan, then transfer it onto a plate for serving.

  10. Or fill and fold the dosa. To serve as masala dosa, spread a spoonful or two of potato palya on one half of the dosa. Fold the dosa in half in the pan to cover the filling, then slide it onto a plate for serving.

  11. Repeat with the remaining batter. Cool down the pan so you can easily spread your next dosa and prevent it from sticking to the pan by sprinkling in a little water. When the sizzling stops, heat the pan back up for the next dosa. Mix the dosa batter well before cooking the next one.

  12. Serve the dosas. Serve the dosas with chutney and sambar, or sprinkle with chutney pudi and serve with plain yogurt.

Recipe Notes

Fermenting tip: I usually put the bowls near my house plants as wild yeast helps to ferment the batter.

Storage: The batter can be refrigerated up to a few days. Let come to room temperature before using, and stir well to recombine. This will ensure your dosas will have a nice golden color when cooked. I personally prefer to make dosas right after the batter has fermented, as it results in the best texture and color.

Making paper dosas: To make a paper dosa, which is thinner and crunchier, you can use 1/4 cup batter and spread it thinner on the skillet. Use your spatula to flatten the batter down once you have spread it for extra crispiness.

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Chitra Agrawal’s Weeknight South Indian Cooking Guide

This recipe is part of our weeknight South Indian cooking guide, designed to bring the vibrant and colorful cuisine of South India into your kitchen. Head to the intro piece to read more from Chitra, and check out all of the recipes below.

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How to Make Dosa from Scratch
A step-by-step guide to making dosa at home, including a from-scratch dosa batter and instructions for how to cook it.
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Huli is a spicy lentil and vegetable stew served daily in Karnataka homes, usually with rice. This is a quick, one-pot version, made with baby spinach and red lentils.
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Potato Palya
This is the special potato palya or potato stir-fry that is filled into masala dosa, though it can also be eaten on its own. The potatoes are spicy and tangy and cooked with a little butter until they are soft enough to melt in your mouth.
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Cilantro Coconut Chutney
Coconut chutney is the quintessential South Indian condiment. It's usually served with idlis, dosas, or fried appetizers, but is equally delicious on a sandwich or just mixed with hot rice.
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Credit: Kitchn