Desem dosas

Yesterday, I took the cut away desem and made desem dosas. I had never made dosas with desem that was so young before, it but it still came out great.

Dosas are thin unleavened South Indian bread made traditionally from fermented rice and something called "black gram". says that gram flour, or besem is chickpea flour...but no chickpea I know of is I'm not quite sure what "black gram" is. [Edit: I stand corrected. Apparently beige is not the only color of chickpeas! See comments from Alberto.] Here is a recipe for real dosas. I haven't found black gram anywhere here in Zürich, but in the meantime the dosas made from excess desem is mighty tasty. The added benefit of desem dosas is that you're using something that you might have to throw away anyway (extra desem), so you get to feel smugly frugal too. I almost make desem just for the sake of being able to make these dosas. They are that good. And, they are so easy to make.

Desem dosas are more sour than desem breads because you let it ferment at room temperature for 3 hours or more. Actually, it tastes better when it's pretty sour. It makes a great accompaniment for curry and other spicy dishes, or even with the Breakfast fry-up with spicy potatoes, instead of having toast. (It then becomes more of a lunch than a breakfast.) It's also great used like Norwegian lefse (flat bread made with rye flour), and eaten with smoked salmon or other smoked fish, sour cream, cream cheese etc. But my absolute favorite way of eating it is with plain cottage cheese and a drizzle of honey. It's also pretty tasty just on its own, especially if you cook it until it's crispy.

Desem dosas

Note: the book gives a recipe for desem dosas, but it's curiously incomplete - for example, it doesn't say how much desem you need. Well I have the previous edition, so maybe this has been corrected in the current edition. Anyway these are the proportions I use.

  • About 1 cup worth of desem. This can be a bit "off" or over-ripened desem.
  • About 1 1/2 cup- 2 cups of water - can be tap water, unless your water is really strongly chlorinated, in which case use filtered or bottled water.
  • 1 cup of whole-wheat flour.
  • Oil for cooking - peanut oil or, to add a bit more taste olive oil.

Dissolve the desem in the water. Younger desem will have stringy gluten in it, but mature desem will disintegrate completely in the water.

Add the flour and mix well. Cover the bowl and let it stand at room temperature for at least 3 hours. You can also leave it for a day or so in the refrigerator, but you should let it stand at room temperature for at least an hour before cooking.

When it comes time to cook it, it may have separated, so mix it well, and add a bit more water or flour to make it into a thickish batter, about the consistency of pancake batter. At this point you can add a bit of salt if you like, though I find that the tanginess of the desem makes this unnecessary.

Heat up a non-stick frying pan. (You can make it in a regular frying pan but it will probably stick unless you add copious amounts of oil.) Heat until a drop of water sizzles in the pan, then add some oil. Add the batter. Spread it around with the back of a spoon or something, and cook until the bottom is cooked and a bit crispy. Turn over and cook briefly on the other side. It's best if the dough is firm enough to turn over comfortably. Like crepes, for some reason the first dosa comes out rather badly, but subsequent ones come out fine.

Eat while warm. If you need to reheat them you can do so in the microwave, or briefly in a frying pan.

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Desem dosas


there actually are chickpea with a few different colours. In southern Italy there are dark red and black-purple ones.
A co-worker of mine who regularly travels to India just told me that black chickpea are not that rare in some parts of the subcontinent.

Alberto | 12 December, 2003 - 10:18

Desem dosas

ah...I learn something new! Thanks Alberto! :)

maki | 13 December, 2003 - 11:51

Desem dosas

mmm...dosai's are one of my favourite things. Fortunately there several places in Melbourne which make good dosai's. Mum, whose cooking is to die for, doesn't even bother with them because there are so many places where you can get the good stuff. BTW Some of your serving suggestions (eg. honey and cottage cheese) seem quite radical to me but that's that's the beauty of fusion cooking I guess. Anyway I was curious how Desem Dosas stack up the the traditional fare?

dez | 13 December, 2003 - 13:41

Desem dosas

They both have that slightly tangy/sour taste which comes from the fermentation, though of course the desem kind have the flavor of whole wheat while the traditional ones have the rice flavor. It's hard to say which I prefer...I make the desem ones much more of course, just because getting Indian ingredients isn't that easy in Zürich. I do love all kinds of Indian flatbreads though.

Yep i guess cottage cheese and honey is pretty radical...I just discovered it one day, and the added tanginess of the cheese, with the sweetness of the honey is just a great combination.

maki | 13 December, 2003 - 17:20

Re: Desem dosas

black gram is known also as urad dal. Not even close to chickpea. or besan flour (which is made from fried gram dal). black gram is small (maybe less than half a pea) covered with black skin (therefore black gram) but mostly sold without a skin and split in two.

anon. | 6 August, 2009 - 15:30

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