About a year and a half ago, I went to the doctor for a yearly routine checkup and discovered that I had gone from a perfectly normal level of sugar to an astronomical level on my A1C of over 10. Needless to say, this caused me to make a radical change in my diet and I began testing my sugar levels every day for a year. In doing this, I became very cognizant of which foods were capable of causing a daily spike in my levels. For several months, I avoided Indian food as I had a weakness for certain sweets on the buffet (like gulab jamun and rice pudding), and, of course, there were all the starchy foods—rice, potatoes, chick peas, etc. During this period, Jess and Alex discovered a wonderful vegetarian Southern Indian restaurant in Cherry Hill—Rajbhog Café. When we were in town for Sami’s bat mitzvah, I threw caution to the wind, and feasted with the family twice on their food within a period of three days. I ate lots of food and indulged in dessert. Afterwards, I feared what my numbers would look like when we tested my blood. Both Saul and I were shocked to discover that my number was far lower after feasting than it had been since I began monitoring. We were so shocked, that I endured being stabbed twice to make sure the test was accurate. When I made a comment about the situation, Jess and Alex’s friend, Liz, whose family was staying with them for the festivities, said that it must be a result of all the herbs and spices in the food. She mentioned specifically the turmeric, cumin, coriander and cinnamon. This was the first time I learned of the sugar-lowering properties of certain spices. At the second feast on Rajbhog’s food, I really pigged out to see if the low numbers had been an aberration, but for the second time, my daily number was as low as it had ever been, in fact, under 100, when typically it ran between 120 and 160.
Ever since then, I have been a big fan of southern Indian vegetarian cuisine. When I lamented to a food-savvy, vegetarian friend, Yellena, that I missed being able to find a place like Rajbhog in central Florida, she introduced us to Woodlands Restaurant in Orlando, which has a wonderful buffet lunch that features freshly-made aloo masala dosas delivered to the table as they finish making them in the kitchen. Dosas, which are a mainstay of specifically southern Indian cuisine, quickly became an obsession for me. I had to make the almost 20-mile trek to Woodlands every week or I would crave them for days. Then, Saveur magazine did an entire issue last year devoted to all the regional cuisines of India. I began to play with their recipe for dosas so that I could emulate the ones I loved so much from Rajbhog and Woodlands. In addition to Woodlands, Yellena also introduced us to a market, International Food Club, in Orlando, that is one of the most remarkable food markets I have ever encountered because it carries a huge variety of hard-to-find ethnic foods from countries all over the world. One whole room, for example, is devoted to products from England, Scotland, and Germany. There, I was able to find the various dals (legumes) needed to make the delicate crepes labeled with the proper Indian names so that I was sure I was getting exactly the ones for which the recipe calls. I bought ghee (clarified butter) there, but I was also able to get it at Trader Joe’s. By trial and error, I discovered that the batter for the crepes freezes well, so I am able to store individual cups of it for future use. It lasts a few days in the refrigerator, once defrosted. The delicious potato filling becomes watery and bitter from the spices if frozen, so I make that when I am ready to fill the crepes and eat them. They are every bit as delicious as the professional ones, although about a third the size, because I make the crepes in a ten-inch nonstick skillet. Now, I rarely make the trek to Woodlands when the craving strikes. I just go out and buy some potatoes.
Aloo Masala Dosas (South Indian Fermented Lentil and Rice Crepes)
(makes about 24 dosas)
- 3 cups long grain white Basmati rice
- 1-1/4 cups skinned split black lentils (urad dal)
- 1/2 cup yellow split peas (chana dal)
- 2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 tsp. sugar
- melted ghee
- masala potatoes (recipe follows)
- coconut chutney (optional)
- tamarind chutney (optional)
Rinse rice and dals in a sieve under running water until the water runs clear. Place in a large bowl and cover with 8 cups of cold water. Let sit for 3 hours.
Strain mixture through a sieve and transfer to a blender or food processor.
Add 3-1/2 cups of cold water and purée until smooth (about 5 to 10 minutes) to produce a slightly thick and grainy batter. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 6 to 12 hours to ferment.
Blend 3 cups cold water into the batter along with the salt and sugar. At this point, it is ready to use and can be used immediately, or divided into individual quantities and frozen for use at a later date (which I recommend doing unless you are serving lots of people).
Heat a 10-12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Brush lightly with ghee.
Make sure the skillet is sizzling hot before making the first crepe. Using an appropriately-sized ladle, quickly pour approximately 1/3 to 1/2 cup of batter into the center of the pan. Tilt pan immediately with a circular motion so that the batter spreads from the center to the edges of the pan, creating a thin crepe. Return pan to heat as soon as the circle is complete. Continue to cook until the crepe is golden and can be loosened from the pan easily with a spatula.
Spread approximately 1/2 cup of the masala potatoes over half the crepe and fold the other half over the top as you would fold an omelet. Slide out of skillet onto a serving plate and serve warm with chutneys, if desired. Repeat with remaining batter, brushing the skillet with ghee between dosas.
Aloo Masala (South Indian Masala Potatoes)2 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp. asafoetida (optional)
1/2 tsp. fenugreek seeds
4 medium-sized cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp. Sambal Oelek
1 large onion, chopped
1-1/2 Tbsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1 (2-inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
kosher salt to taste
1/3 cup chopped cilantro (optional)
Cook potatoes in boiling water until just tender, 25-30 minutes; drain, peel and cut into 2-inch pieces.
Heat oil in a 6-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Add mustard seeds and fry until they pop, 1-2 minutes. Add asafoetida and fenugreek seeds and continue to cook 1 minute. Add garlic and onion and cook until golden, 8-10 minutes.
Add potatoes, sambal, coriander, turmeric, ginger, salt, and a half cup cold water. Cook mixture until it is bubbling. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, covered, until potatoes are tender, 8-10 minutes.
Uncover and stir, mashing lightly. Continue to cook until slightly dry, 4-5 minutes. Stir in cilantro if desired.