I just saw a recipe, by an Indian cook in Australia, for an uthappam with lobster poached in butter, topped with crème fraiche and salmon roe. I liked the Japanese touch of roe, or was it a ‘Russian Tea Room’ touch, like caviar on baby blini? Whatever, it looked delicious. The chef who invented it was Punjabi and I thought he had very good instincts combining lobster with delicious and nutritious uthappam batter. What would we all do without each other, to stretch possibilities, innovate and absorb new ideas? The history of food is the history of cultural contact. At its most charming, human contact has culture sailing like a bird perched on the shoulder of commerce.
I’ve noticed that idlis, dosas and uthappam are quite cooperative in some experiments. An egg, for instance, fares very well when cracked to fry on a plain dosa, or served on the side, poached in butter with a sprinkling of pink Himalayan salt. Hold the parsley, though, and snip some chives instead into the dosa batter. Also, for brunch, set dosas take very kindly to blue cheese and finely chopped walnuts, garnished with apple. I don’t recommend asparagus dos,a unless it’s with a hint of rocket leaves and great gusts of parmesan to pull it all together.
Besides the exotic possibilities, did you know there are at least thirty kinds of desi dosas listed on foodie sources? Some are ‘traditional’ recipes, a questionable statement, perhaps, because some traditions don’t go back very far, and some recipes seem born out of sheer exuberance, like the beetroot dosa that bobs along sanguinely in a sea of subjectivity. However, unlike the prime minister of Iceland last week, who wanted pineapple outlawed as a pizza topping, an uthappam-eater may quite like a pineapple uthappam, especially if it’s lavishly crowned with long curls of crisp bacon; or with capsicum sautéed with onions, green chillies, ginger and garlic if you don’t eat bacon.
Meanwhile, one of the nicest dosas ever to be made and devoured is sort of shy, in the sense it’s a low-key jugaad recipe that you’ll never find it at commercial dosaries. This seems a pity because it’s arguably one of the friendliest and healthiest dosas ever flipped. If I ran a health food café I might try it to lure those of us who can’t see a ragi biscuit or a khichri of foxtail millet without wanting to nosedive into a tub of fried chicken or bread pakora or dabeli pao.
This secret is the ‘godhumai dosai’ or wheat dosa, that turns out crisp with a proportion of rice flour, gussied up with a tempering of asafoetida, curry leaves, cumin seeds, salt and a dash of cayenne. It’s delicious without being offensively healthy. The recipe is up on YouTube. As north-south fusion, it’s unique and I’m wondering already how onions, methi or chopped dates and cashews will taste in it.
(The views expressed are personal)