The Perfect Dosa


Nik Sharma

Hey Friends, I’m a multi-award-winning and best-selling cookbook author and photographer.

This is a bit of a lengthy post, so I apologize in advance, but making dosas for the first time can be a bit daunting, and I wanted to address everything possible that gave me problems as I learned to make them. With flour being a hard-to-find commodity due to the pandemic, this is rice’s moment. Dosas can be traditionally eaten with sambhar and condiments like coconut chutney.  I will update this post with recipes for them later this week, but I want to make sure you don’t tie yourself to thinking it must be eaten with only these dishes. Dosas are versatile; they’re a vehicle, and you can and should eat them as you would any savory bread, flatbread, or rice. (This is the updated version of my previous dosa posts now that I have a lot more experience making it at home, I felt it was time to revisit and update. I’ve titled this as “Dosa 2020” to differentiate it from Chitra’s Dosa and Sambhar).

While it does require some planning and practice, I promise you will feel the same level of elation once you conquer it. This is one of the Indian dishes that I am particularly proud to learn since my mom couldn’t make them, and we always had to go to restaurants to eat dosas; she now eats the dosas I make at home.

There are many different kinds of dosas made with different types of grains, lentils, and beans. Ratios need to be reconfigured, fermentation times might change, and in some types of dosas like the instant dosas fermentation is not employed.

Principle: Dosa, like sourdough, relies on fermentation by a combination of bacteria and yeasts derived from rice and urad beans. To optimize the fermentation and cut back on time (in the past, I would soak the seeds on day 1 and then grind and ferment them on the second day), I’ve measured time, pH, and fermentation at different temperatures and 80F/27C works best. The batter ferments within 16 to 18 hours. It should rise up like a volcano. I add a little bit of sugar at the start to give the bacteria and yeast an easy source of energy (this is the same reason why some dosa recipes will call for the addition of a little bit of cooked rice to the batter), this will help jump-start the fermentation. As the bacteria and yeast ferment the sugar and complex carbohydrates (from the seeds), acids and carbon dioxide are released, and the batter will turn thick and foamy (and a spoonful will float on water). Fermentation of the starch in the seeds also helps with gelatinization (thickening) of the starch, affecting texture. Besides fermentation, the rice and beans contain enzymes like amylase, which will act on the starch; these enzymes from the seeds are high in activity at the start and will eventually decrease as fermentation takes over.

Dosa Making Tools

  • Grinding –  A question I often receive – “Do I need an Indian blender to grind dosa and idli batters?” No, you do not, and I do not recommend going out and getting one for the sole purpose of this recipe (fewer appliances are always better) if you’re not living in India (some of them are quite heavy, and getting parts replaced or fixed can be tricky). You can get the same quality of a high smooth batter with a high-speed blender. I’ve successfully used the Vitamix and Breville high-speed blenders, and they get the job done with excellent results.
  • Start with a non-stick cooking pan. Once you get comfortable, you can migrate to a cast-iron pan.
  • Cast-iron pan – I use a Staub crepe pan. If you want to use a flat surface pan with very low sides, a crepe pan will also work great. If the sides/walls of the pan on the edge are too tall, it will interfere with the pouring and spreading of the batter.
  • I use a ladle with a wide curved bottom; it should not have a flat base. I find this to work best with spreading the batter. In India, dosa experts will use a flat-bottomed metal bowl (a katora); I find these a bit trick to work with; when you try to spread or lift the batter, there is a suction created between the batter that is spread and the batter attached to the bowl. More often than not, it will leave a big gaping hole in the dosa. If you’re starting, go with the ladle. Indian and online stores sell them.
  • Dosa Turner/Flipper – A metal flat turner or spatula with a thin edge is a good tool to flip the dosas. Insert the turner from the sides, and then slowly make your way through. A wooden one will also work, but they tend to be thicker and can damage the dosa. I like this set of tools.
  • Temperature
    • Fermentation: I have an immersion circulator/sous vide that I’ve been using more and more off late to maintain accurate water bath temperatures for fermentation because my apartment does not get enough sun, the kitchen is often too cold for fermentation. You can use a warm oven to keep things warm (my previous oven had a proof setting that went as low to 70F/21C). Keep in mind, the sous vide will maintain a constant accurate temperature while ovens and kitchen counters won’t, so your fermentation time will change a little. I don’t use an Instant Pot to ferment but it can work.
    • Cooking on Stoves:
      • The ideal temperature on my cast-iron pan for dosa making ranges between 260F to 320F/127C to 160C as measured by a surface infrared thermometer.
      • Gas stoves and electric stoves (in that order of preference) seem to work best for dosa making. For the purposes of this recipe, I cooked the dosa on my gas stove and also on a portable induction stove. Every time I cooked the dosa on the induction stove, I noticed a few things – “the dosa cooks in a circle”. I suspect this is because of the magnets and how they rotate inside. The dosa would begin to brown in the 12 o’-clock position and then proceed in an anti-clockwise fashion every time.  I didn’t notice this on my gas stove and the browning on gas was much more uniform and efficient. Induction also only heats the metal compatible surface it meets, so often the edges of my pan did not get as hot as the center did and my dosa would be softer on the edges and as you might expect my spreading was not the best in this outer edge. With electric stoves, controlling the amount of heat is a bit tricky, especially when you need to lower the amount of heat. Dosa needs low heat to cook and brown well and you need to be able to carefully adjust the heat to do this, I don’t get the same level of control with electric. Overall, gas is my favorite here.

Kitchen Notes

  • Ingredients:
    Rice to urad ratios usually vary depending on who you talk to but usually the amount of rice is greater than the amount of beans. You don’t need to soak the seeds separately, it makes no difference.
    • Rice – I use basmati rice. Often, Indian stores might also carry bags of rice or rice flour labeled “dosa or idli rice” – you can use this, it’s a special type of short grain rice that is used traditionally to make fermented rice products like dosa, uttapam, and idli. Short grain rice will work. I thought the difference in the starch types of long grain and short grain rice would have an effect but it didn’t in my hands. Skip wild rice and sticky rice. They don’t work well here.
    • Urad beans – aka udad and will most often be sold as urad/udad dal. You can purchase this preskinned where they beans will look white after the blackish green skin is removed and discarded. This is recommended for dosa making. Indian stores will also sell this dal as a flour, you can use this. If you have beans with the skin on, soak them separate from the rice but you will need to soak them for a whole extra night to let the skins soften and then scrub the skins off gently with your hands, it’s a bit of extra time and work but doable. Whole versus split urad beans, either will work here.
    • Rice and Urad dal flours – if you come across these at the Indian store or online, you can use them. Weigh them by the amounts listed in the recipe below and then proceed. You don’t need to wash these flours (it will all get lost in the water), soak, blend and ferment. It’s a quick shortcut and is a good option, if you’re blender is not strong enough.
    • Fenugreek (Methi) seeds – this is available as whole seeds or ground powder (available online or in Indian stores). Which one to use? Neither makes a big difference in my opinion. Fenugreek adds a unique flavor but it also helps with digestion. If you use seeds, soak them with whole grains (or flour) for the 4 hour time period and then blend. If you use the powder, add the powder to the blender step or whisk it directly into the blended mixture and let it ferment. If you do the latter, whisk well to prevent the formation of lumps.
    • Water – I use filtered water. I live in a city where our water is hard and contains a lot of minerals and salts which can affect fermentation and texture. Hard water tends to slow down bacteria and yeast and can affect nutrient availability to the microbes.
    • Fat – Ghee works best, with cast-iron the dosas glide off the surface very nicely. Grapeseed oil or a neutral oil will also work well. Less fat is best for dosas. You just want the minimum amount to cover the surface of the pan.
  • Fermentation – Between 70 to 80 F [21C to 27C] is best. The batter will be ready when a spoonful floats on a cup filled with tap water. The fermented batter should smell yeasty and acidic. It will taste sour (the final pH is approximately 5.12) I have a graph below for my fellow curious nerds.
  • Dosa Batter and Water – It is better to work with a thick batter than one that is too thin. Dilute the batter with water as needed. If the batter is too thin, it will not spread well. The final batter should be like a thick pancake batter with no clumps or lumps. The lumps will be a deadly hazard to the smoothness of your final dosa.
  • Do not despair, the first one or two dosas are always a disaster in my kitchen. I suspect this is due to the pan getting reaseasoned as it heats and fats polymerize on the surface. I don’t wash my pan with soap, just hot water and leave it to dry. It also takes me a few minutes to reacquaint myself with how much pressure to apply when spreading the batter.
  • Leftover dosa batter can be used to jump start a fresh batch. Unused dosa batter can be stored for up to a week in the refrigerator. Bring it out to warm up on your kitchen counter before you use it. If the amount of gas feels a bit low, I will sometimes stir in a little sugar to help fermentation. If you see the recipe instructions, I add salt to the diluted batter. Do not add salt to the whole batter, this way if you have leftover batter that is unsalted, it will last longer.
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The Perfect Dosa (2020 version)

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Dosa is not a quick recipe, and it requires a bit of preplanning. Do read the kitchen notes and then proceed with the recipe. You do not need to eat dosa with chutney or sambhars all the time; use it like flatbread; it goes well with so many different types of condiments and recipes. I often serve it at breakfast with a fried egg in the center. Serve the dosa with coconut chutney and sambhar.

  • Yield: 1/2 gallon/2 L batter/4 servings


1 1/4 cup/250 g basmati rice or idli rice (see Notes)

3/4 cup/160 g skinned urad (udad) beans/dal, whole or split

2 cups/480 ml filtered water

1 Tbsp fenugreek seeds or powder

1 Tbsp sugar

fine sea salt

1/2 cup/120 ml ghee or grapeseed oil or a neutral cooking oil for cooking the dosas


  1. Clean the rice and urad dal for any debris. Place the rice and dal together in a food-safe container or a large bowl and rinse with cold water three times. If you’re using fenugreek seeds, add them now (if you use fenugreek powder, add them in the blender step). Add the water and sugar, cover the bowl or container with a lid, and let it sit in a warm spot at 80F/27C for 6 hours, or use a sous vide immersion circulator water bath at the same temperature. After this time, the seeds will absorb water. A grain of rice or bean, when broken, will show a translucent interior, while one that is not completely soaked will have an opaque center surrounded by a translucent ring.
  2. Transfer the seeds with half the soaking water to a high-speed blender. If you’re using fenugreek powder, add it now. Start on low speed and then proceed to high, pulsing for a few seconds until you get a smooth consistency with no chunks. Add the remaining soaking water if needed. This ground batter should be very thick. Transfer the batter back into the container. Cover loosely with a lid and let it sit in a warm spot, or sous vide heated water bath at 80F/27C for 16 to 18 hours to ferment.
  3. At about 16 hours, check the batter; it should be extremely thick and foamy and a little sour to taste. If it’s not yet there, leave it for another two hours and check again. The exact time will vary depending on your incubation conditions. To check whether the batter is ready to use, take 1 Tbsp of the fermented batter and place it on the surface of a cup filled with tap water; the gas in the batter should keep it afloat.
  4. To cook the dosa, take 1 cup/240 ml of the batter in a medium bowl. Add 1 to 2 Tbsp of water to the batter with a few tiny pinches of salt to taste (about 1/4 tsp salt to every 1 cup/240 ml batter; this will depend on your taste – the batter is perfectly safe to taste). The batter should have the consistency of a thick pancake batter; if it is too thin, it will not spread well; if it is too thick, add a few more Tbsp of water.
  5. Next, prepare the pan. You will need a lid wide enough to cover the pan. Place the pan over the stove and heat over medium to low heat. Rub the surface with about 1/2 tsp ghee or oil. Take a small piece of a clean paper towel and, using a pair of kitchen tongs, spread the ghee or oil all over the surface of the pan. The melted fat or oil should cover the pan in a thin layer. Fill the ladle with about 1/2 cup/120 ml of this dosa batter and pour it over the center of the heated pan. It should sizzle very slightly, not too much. Using a circular motion, moving from the center to the outer edge, spread the batter to form a thin crepe (it doesn’t matter if it is clockwise or anticlockwise) using the ladle and applying light pressure. Cover the pan with the lid and let it cook over low heat for about 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Once the steam condenses and accumulates on the top of the lid, remove the lid and let the dosa cook uncovered. You can also leave the lid slightly open to let the steam escape as it cooks. Too much water condensation can cause the edges of the dosa to cook slower than the rest of the dosa. Continue to cook the dosa until the base turns golden brown and the edges start to release. Take a flat turner to release the dosa, carefully push through the space between the dosa, and then pan to release the dosa. If your dosa is a bit thick, flip it and cook till it releases, but if it is thin, do not. Fold the dosa in half, transfer it to a serving dish, and serve immediately. Dosas are best eaten as soon as they come off the stove.


  • Brown rice will also work here. Do not use sticky rice.

12 Responses

  1. Thanks for this recipe, Nik. Looking forward to the outcome, everything is soaking now. I was using the most SEO-optimized recipe (Swasthi) and twice I’ve had dosa-like products that don’t taste quite like what I remember from my favorite establishments. Could be our conditions here (cold house) too, but open speaking to a friend’s Auntie whose dosa I’ve had and liked, your recipe is actually closer to hers. Love all the analysis, too. Thanks for taking the time.

  2. Tried commenting before with no luck – anyway this recipe is a winner. Works great after several unsuccessful attempts with other dosa recipes which were more complex (separate soaks and grinds). NB I used sona masoori (rice) and it was perfect.

  3. How do you rate Git’s Dosa Mix? It’s widely available in London, and seems to me to be reasonably convincing. I can cope with making the sambar and chutney, but all the soaking and fermenting (especially in a cold climate) is a step to far.

    1. It probably takes less time than sourdough, that being said, I’ve only had success with Gits idli mix and only used it when I lived in India. I’ve never tried their dosa mix but it might work well. Let us know if you do try it out.

    1. Yes, you absolutely can. Once it rises in volume, that’s the peak of growth, after that things proceed more slowly and they will need more sugar to grow at the same rate.

  4. Would it be safe to assume sugar is all consumed at the end of fermentation tim e? I am assuming yes, double checking.

    1. Yes, it’s an extremely tiny amount of sugar and it’s not used for flavor here but to help give the fermentation a kickstart

  5. Any opinions on the Breville Control Freak and how helpful the temperature setting may be on there for Dosa? I have an electric stove and my biggest complaint is that it’s tough to regulate the temperature very easily/precisely.

    Also, I use a Lodge (or equivalent) cast iron pan and have gotten comfortable with it, but I recently came across a “fat free fryer skillet” by “Wagner” (from the 30s or 40s?). The top looks pretty good for a dosa – there’s almost a moat around the pan portion that makes it easy to flip/access the dosa. The bottom was not flat and it gave pause. I wondered if you’ve come across any out of the ordinary shapes to a cast iron pan that made them particularly useful?

    1. I love the Breville Control Freak and use that to make dosas (since I got it), it’s excellent at regulating the temperature. I’ve not used the Wagner skillet so I can’t speak for how it will work but a flat griddle type pan could also be useful. The circular pans, I find works best. Staub makes some excellent pans that are fantastic for dosas.

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