Growing up, thosai and idli with chutney, thuvaiyals (thick stoneground chutneys) or sambhar was a breakfast staple. I’d never seen a cereal box until I was a school-going, 7 year old girl! In the 80s, my maternal grandparents sold thosais and chutneys. So, everything was made-from-scratch because it was cost effective and practical as the spice mill wasn’t far from where we lived in Joo Chiat. It wasn’t until I became an adult and temporarily moved to Auckland for a year that I started missing and craving for traditional South Indian dishes such as thosais accompanied by good coconut chutney, my grandma’s spicy tomato chutney and homemade idli podi (lentil and spice powder). It was also when I started delving into the art and science of thosai making and fermentation. It takes some practice, skill and some traditional tools to make the batter from scratch, ferment it and achieve a uniformly golden brown thosai. However, if you’re a beginner and want to try your hand at the art of thosai making, I’ve got just the solution for you – a ‘No Grind Thosai’ made from store-bought urud and unroasted rice flours, and a homemade starter made with any cooked rice that gives very similar results in terms of taste and texture.
Here’s a recipe in photos and videos that will help you kickstart your thosai fermentation journey.
Here’s what you’ll need:
For the batter:
- Large mixing bowl
- 1 cup cooked rice (any rice will do)
- 1 cup filtered/ tap water + 2-3 cups filtered/tap water
- 1 cup store-bought urud/ urad flour
- 2 cups store-bought, unroasted rice flour
- 1-2 tsps fine salt (to be added after fermentation)
For cooking the thosai:
- a flat pan , preferably one with low sides like a crepe pan
- a thin-edged turner (I use a fish turner)
- a pouring ladle
- some cooking oil – gingerly/sesame oil, ghee ,butter
First, take 1 cup of cooked rice and blend with another cup of water until very smooth. Use distilled/ filtered water if your tap water is hard water.
Then, in a large mixing bowl, whisk 1 cup of urud flour, 2 cups of unfrosted rice flour, the blended cooked rice mixture with 2 more cups of water until very smooth. Add 1 more cup of water if the batter is too thick to whisk. If you have many lumps, you can use a blender and give it a few pulses. Add the least amount of water that results in a thick and smooth batter. You could use a high-powered blender to speed up the process but careful not to add too much water.
Pour thosai batter back into mixing bowl. Using your hands, mix the batter thoroughly for at least 5 minutes to incorporate some air and check for consistency.
Loosely cover the mixing bowl with a lid or kitchen towel. Leave in a warm, dark place to ferment for about 8-12 hours. After 8 hours, check that the batter has doubled and has a cracked, puffy surface, like in the video below. Continue to ferment if the batter hasn’t doubled. Check every other hour after that. It should taste mildly sour. If your batter has yellowish patches on the surface, discard it and start again. Ferment for lesser time the next round.
Tips to ensure the best fermentation:
- Buy the freshest urud and unroasted rice flours. Check the manufacturing date (usually at the back of the packet) and ensure that it was manufactured less than six months before your date of purchase. The freshest flours will ensure the best fermentation result and taste.
- Use as little water as possible to mix the batter. The thicker the batter is, the better the fermentation and rise. If you’ve added too much water, add a little more rice flour or start again if it’s too runny.
- Keep in a warm, draft free place. The best place is in your oven that’s switched off as it is humid and dark.
- Loosely cover the bowl your batter is in. This allows the batter to ‘breathe’.
- Mark the level of batter you start with. I use a piece of masking tape and draw a line.
- Once the surface has some bubbles that have popped and some lines or cracks are visible, the batter is ready. The volume of your batter would also have almost doubled. Taste to check for a mildly sour flavour.
Once the batter has fully fermented, add 2 tsp fine sea salt and give it a good mix from the bottom of the bowl to the top. If you’re not using the batter, tightly cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Bring to room temperature before using.
You’re now ready to make your thosai!
You can use any flat-bottomed pan. The best ones are cast iron pans followed by non-stick crepe pans that have short sides so that it’s easier to remove the thosai once it’s cooked. That said, with some practice, any flat-bottomed pan can be used.
In a medium bowl, thin out a 3-4 scoops of thosai batter with 1-2 scoops of water. Thin out the batter till it’s slightly thin and pourable, like shown below. If you want a thicker thosai, then use less water.
Over medium flame, heat the pan for 2-3 minutes. Once hot enough, add a few drops of oil, wipe excess with clean kitchen paper. You only need a very thin coating of oil. Then add a spoonful of thosai batter in the middle of the pan. When the pan is too hot, the batter will start to buckle and be difficult to spread smoothly. If that happens, reduce flame and splash a little water to reduce temperature. Restart. Using the underside of the ladle, swirl and gently push the batter to create large spirals. Cover with lid and let it steam for a few seconds. Remove lid once thosai starts browning. Add some oil, butter or ghee and let the thosai cook for a few more seconds. Touch the middle of the thosai- if batter is still wet and sticks to your fingers, it needs to cook a little longer. Cook till it’s evenly browned. Using your spatula/turner, gently lift the thosai from the outside or where the thosai has started to come away from the pan. Fold and remove the thosai. Serve immediately while warm and crisp.
Your first thosai that’s been fermented at home by you is ready!
I left my batter to ferment overnight in my switched off oven, with the oven door slightly open. The temperature inside the oven is about 28-29 degree celcius and it’s the perfect temperature (26-30deg celcius) for thosai batter fermentation. The blended cooked rice will help speed up the process and add some ‘freshness’ to the batter. This recipe makes thosai that tastes very similar to those made from soaked, ground grains and traditionally fermented batter and is a great alternative that you can quickly whip up in 15 minutes.
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If you’ve found this post useful or have tried any of my recipes, please tag me to a photo of your cooked dishes on Instagram. Looking forward to seeing your creations.