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Sourdough Surprises: Flatbreads - Thosai

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Thosai (also spelled tosai and dosa) is an Indian crepe-like bread I grew up eating. It's one of the staple dishes served in south Indian restaurants in Malaysia, especially at breakfast time, quite often on a banana leaf. The bread is so popular that there are instant mixes that you just add water to, but really, it's not difficult to make from scratch.
The Sourdough Surprises challenge for this month is flatbreads which is defined as "a soft, pliable bread that is cooked on a griddle or stovetop". One of the flatbreads I usually make with my sourdough discard is the Indian chapati, made with a soft wheat flour called atta.
Thosai doesn't actually contain sourdough starter (made with wheat/rye flour), so perhaps it doesn't fulfil the requirements of the challenge. But the batter Рmade with raw and cooked rice and black gram lentils Рis left to ferment overnight, and the whole thing is basically a sourdough. It even has a naturally sour taste and will rise slightly. Some recipes call for rice flour instead of raw rice. It does simplify the process, especially if you don't have a blender strong enough to make a smooth purée.
Thosai is often served plain with a selection of dhall curries and chutneys – coconut chutney is a must, and that is the only condiment I like with my thosai. But thosai can also be filled, usually with spicy mashed potatoes, turning it into masala thosai.
The thosai that I have made here is soft and spongy. For a crisper thosai, the batter is spread very thinly, and is about 45cm (18 inches) in diameter or more! It's usually only found in restaurants with huge griddle plates on the burners. The thosai is then rolled up like a large cigar or a cone shape. It's called "paper thosai".
I have posted a day late because I just wasn't able to get to the shops for grated fresh coconut to make my favourite coconut chutney. In the end, I didn't make it, after all. I do, however, have a tomato chutney and spinach with dhall as side dishes.
In restaurants, the server may bring along a spoon and fork with the order, but the best way to eat thosai is with the fingers!
Makes 6 medium thosai

½ cup raw white rice
¼ cup skinless black gram lentils (ulunthu)
Large pinch fenugreek seeds
2 tbsp cooked white rice
½ tsp salt, or to taste
Vegetable oil

Wash the raw rice, dhall and fenugreek seeds and soak them separately in water for about six hours (overnight is fine).
Drain and rinse the soaked ingredients. Blend them together until very smooth with enough water to turn the blades of the blender. Transfer to a large bowl. Blend the cooked rice with a little water and stir into the bowl. The batter will be fluid but quite thick (pic 1). Cover and set aside at room temperature, preferably overnight, to ferment.
Thosai batter: before and after overnight fermentation
When fermented, the batter will have domed slightly with tiny bubbles on the surface (pic 2). Stir in salt. The batter should have the consistency of pancake batter so if it too thick, add a little water.
Heat a tava or crepe pan or large non-stick frying pan. Dip a crumpled up piece of kitchen paper into some oil and rub it on the surface of the pan.
Use a metal ladle or similar implement (a metal measuring cup, for example) to scoop up about ¼ cup of batter and pour it onto the pan. Using the bottom of the ladle/cup, quickly spread out the batter into a thin circle but with slightly raised "ripples" (pic 3). Turn down the heat.
The first thosai never turns out well! This one stuck to the pan.
For crisper edges, dribble a little oil around the thosai.
Bubbles will form all over the surface like a pancake. The thosai is not flipped so leave it until the top is no longer wet and the bottom is a light brown, about 30 seconds. Fold the thosai in half and serve.
(For crisper thosai, spread the batter thinner and more evenly. The thosai is then usually rolled up like a large cigar or even into a cone shape. It's called "paper thosai".)
Make only as many thosai as will be eaten. Store uncooked batter in an air-tight container in the fridge. It can be used straight from the fridge.


  1. Wow, awesome job! I like that you took this in a different route! I have made dosas before, but mine did not look nearly as amazing as yours do! Great job! :)

  2. Very cool! I've never heard of thosai but I made Ethiopian injera this month, which looks to be similar (different ingredients, but same idea/method). Too bad you didn't get a chance to make the coconut chutney, it sounds tasty!

  3. We always learn something new doing our sourdough challenge. Interesting looking meal. I've not had much Indian food but would give it a try.

  4. My sons always wondered why I ordered this instead of roti reason being it's healthier and another reason is I like the sourish taste of thosai! yum! will give this a try:D

  5. Your thosai look yummy! I've never had them, thanks for the introduction.

  6. I've never heard of thosai, but they sure look good! I love crepes of any kind and those sound delicious. i'm glad you thought my puri looked ok, I really wasn't sure what I was doing!


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