Tuesday, February 21, 2006

[random] Those whom the gods would destroy

*Not* what I made ...they first convince to cook Indian food. Now don't get me wrong - I love Indian cooking, and I'm usually not half bad at it. We've got a number of very good cookbooks, and relatively easy access to Indian groceries, and I'd recently had some success making a coconut-fish curry with unripe mango, so I was feeling pretty confident. I decided to make dosa. For the uninitiated, dosa is essentially an Indian crepe. Very popular in South India, this tasty treat is often made from a mildly-fermented rice and mung bean batter. Think sourdough pancakes, only made with rice. And served with potato curry. And coconut chutney. And sambar. Okay, forget sourdough pancakes. But trust me - they're delicious. Done properly, they should look something like the picture at the top of the article. What I made... well... Let's just say that it looked nothing like the picture. I should have known I was cursed from the get-go. When shopping for my ingredients, I couldn't find split, hulled mung beans. Now, I've seen recipes for dosa that simply called for urad dal (mung beans) without specifying that it must be hulled - but almost all the recipes call for it to be split. Undeterred (and not wanting to schlep over Lake Washington to the far reaches of the Eastside where there are larger Indian markets to be found), I opted to press on. Now, making dosa (at least making rice-and-mung-bean dosa) isn't exactly a spur-of-the-moment sort of decision... You need to rinse the mung beans, then soak them with the rice (and a pinch of fenugreek seeds) until they soften - about four hours. Okay, not a big deal - rinsed and soaked, and at the end of four hours or so, both the rice and beans were soft to the touch. Not squishy, more like al dente, but still definitely soft. You then need to puree the soaked rice and beans. Woo-hoo! Can you say 'immersion blender' boys and girls? I knew you could! I probably taxed our cheapo blender by using it for this task, but it held up, and I had myself some rice batter ready for fermenting. This is when I overlooked warning sign #2. The color. You see, dosa batter should be the color of your typical, boring, beige-box PC case. Think ecru or lighter - not white, but white with some degree of brown tint. Mine was the color of the snow on a slushy asphalt parking lot. Kinda white, with a light charcoal tint to it, and flecks of black mung bean hull floating in it. I had the texture right (runny pancake batter, with flecks of rice and bean that feel like granulated sugar), but that color? Wrong. Just. Plain. Wrong. M'kay. The beginnings of trepidation flicker across the back of my mind. Once again, I pushed these feelings aside. I've never made this before, I reasoned; spread this batter across a hot skillet, and it should brown up nicely. Who would ever notice the color then? As per my instructions, I covered it loosely with plastic wrap and popped it into the (cold) oven and turned on the oven light. I'd tested the oven light earlier, and it was a perfect 90°F. Fermentation away! As with most sourdoughs, the longer you can leave it, the better it is. 18 hours later, I pulled it out of the oven. It looked promising - the charcoal color was less pronounced, and it had doubled in volume. Time to thin it with a little water and heat up the griddle, right? Too bad it didn't smell promising. There was a whiff of what can only be described as the most physical kind of corruption about the oven. I stood back as I removed the plastic wrap, and a ghastly cheesy vomit smell filled the kitchen. Dumping! Into the sink! Fast! EPA be damned! Once the toxic sludge was safely out of the sink and on its way down the pipes, I followed it with a stiff chaser from the gallon of white vinegar we keep in the laundry room. In a mercifully brief moment of stench-induced delerium, I had the brilliant insight that if baking soda was a good deodorizer and vinegar was a good deodorizer, then putting both down the drain would be an excellent idea! The image of elementary school science fair volcanoes spewing lahars of thick soupy rice cheese quickly dispelled that thought. So, my moment of culinary hubris has passed... I'm definitely up for giving dosa another try (I've had the finished product before, and it's delicious - this isn't Steve, don't eat it!, after all), but next time I'm going to go out of my way to find the split, hulled dal. I don't know for sure that's what caused my mishap (it could have been airborne molds on the stainless steel bowl, for instance), but at the very least it'll fix that revolting color. That way when I throw it away next time, it'll at least be visually appealing.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beginners start with instant dosa mix.

2/22/2006 12:30:00 AM  
Blogger protected static said...

"A mix!?", he shrieked in horror. His voice rose in volume and pitch. "A mix!? A MIX!? Get out! Get out of my kitchen!"

The stranger, taken aback by the sudden outburst, backed away slowly.

*sigh* You're absolutely right, but I think you've identified the crux of the issue: varying values of 'beginner'... Beginner to Indian cooking: no. Beginner to dosa: yes. I like the challenge - I'll try it the hard way again.

And besides, the mix doesn't taste as good ;-)

2/22/2006 07:11:00 AM  
Blogger shayera said...

There there. I've been trying to make kulfi for about a year and a half without great degrees of sucess.
And technically, dosas don't get fried, they get steamed. At least that's what my Mom says.

2/23/2006 03:14:00 PM  
Blogger protected static said...

Thanks for the sympathy; I find that reassuring... ;-)

I've always found Indian desserts too sweet for my taste, so that's an entire category of stuff I've never tried. And with all due respect to your Mum (I've watched Indian matriarchs in the kitchen - they Must. Be. Obeyed.) they're so much like crepes or pancakes that I can't see how they could be steamed...

2/23/2006 03:27:00 PM  
Blogger shayera said...

See, according to Mom, first you heat the skillet with a teeeeny bit of ghee and then you wipe the skillet clean with a damp cheesecloth, and then you put the dosa batter down, which steams it.
Yeah, I don't get it either.

2/23/2006 04:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've tried the dosa mix w/out success--I think it requires lots of practice and the right kind of pan. I hate to say it, but a tradtional crepe batter works pretty well as a substitute--though a true gormand might object.

2/24/2006 07:31:00 AM  
Blogger protected static said...

When it comes to cooking, I've always been the "if you're going to go to the trouble of doing it, do it right" school of thought, so that's why I decided to skip the mix... And that taste - the texture of crepe batter would be right, but I can't imagine how the taste would compare.

I've been going back and forth on this - right now I'm leaning towards buying some of the mix just so I can practice the cooking technique. Then I can move on to trouble-shooting the homemade batter.

2/24/2006 07:58:00 AM  

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