Neer Dosa and the cast iron trophy

Neer dosa ~ Soyi polo ~ Paan polo

(I am not sure whether you can style a dosa really! It never seems to stay long enough on the plate so that it can be piled, styled or whatever!)

While dosa mania was hitting North India, one silent, tasty polo (not the game) made a quite entry in South Indian restaurants, created a flutter but remained unexploited despite its pristine taste. Even now neer dosa is not very popular or known beyond Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra. Maybe Udipi restaurateurs have not established as many hotels in other States! Neer dosa is also known as paan polo or soyi polo in the Konkan region of India. I feel that Konkani cuisine has gone vastly unappreciated and neglected though it offers some of the best dishes in the South. I cannot fathom any other reason why this delicacy has not become popular in North India. Can you? If I am mistaken and you have had neer dosas in any other State please leave a line telling me which restaurant you ate it in.

In Mumbai, amongst restaurants the best neer dosas are said to be served by Mahesh Lunch Home (the Fort branch) – according to P. I ate it once and it was the last time. I do not eat at Mahesh because I cannot stand the stench of fish and other sea food that permeates the air there! Agreed that the neer dosas were indeed soft, lacy, thin and had enough holes, but I could not enjoy them. I can vouch that these were prepared on non-stick pans. If you have had the ones prepared on cast iron skillets your impression regarding the best neer dosas will change forever!

My own experience of ‘neer dosa’ ['neer' meaning water, 'dosa' meaning pancake] began after entering a Mangalorean household. My sister-in-law used to make neer dosa for breakfast at least twice a week. When I had these for the first time, I kept asking for more unabashedly, until I ate five or six with a generous helping of coconut chutney. I tried my hand at it but after two failures, I gave up. Yes, it requires some experience! I did not fret over it much because Sarala, P’s sister, would gladly prepare them for me.

It was only after setting up a house independently that I realized how much I missed the breakfast that had become a part of my weekly routine for nearly three years. I made up for it by preparing dosa. Then, my children happened to taste it at their aunt’s place and it became a constant complaint that, “Mummy, why do you not make neer dosa like Sharu Aunty does?” “They are so soft and tasty.” Sometimes it takes a hard nudge to spur me, and my son managed to deliver that.

I purchased a non-stick pan with slightly raised rims specially for these dosas, and after five or six trials these became easy. Once you learn a dish (or html tag for that matter!) you tend to overuse it, don’t you? I did too.

A year back when P’s mom visited Mangalore and finding that I had mastered neer dosa making, presented me with a cast iron skillet. You know what that means? Believe me, when mom-in-law presents you a cast iron skillet it means you have received a trophy and that you must go on to do better! I received it, full of reverence, like a samurai receiving his code! Just take a deep breath, and you will be alright, but, never ever forget to season your pan! If not? Well, nothing much, but it is a sort of hara kiri. Read on why…..

Preparing cast iron pan for neer dosas/Seasoning the skillet:
Once you have had the dosas prepared on cast iron skillets you will never go back to the pristine white ones (unless forced to!). The cast iron griddle however calls for some preparation. Wash the skillet with soapy water and dry well. Do not use the steel gauze for cleaning. If there is any rust see that is completely washed off. Try using warm soapy water. Once dry, pour sesame oil (not mandatory) till it reaches half the brim. Spread the oil all over the pan generously and leave the pan overnight or 4-5 hours undisturbed. You may cover it like I do, if you intend to use the oil. Next day or after 4-5 hours drain the oil completely. This can be reused. Using a cloth clean the pan so that excess oil is absorbed. Now the pan is ready for preparation of neer dosa. You can see the type of pan used in the picture.

In Mangalore cast iron pans are seasoned by storing ‘kanji’ [water from cooked rice] in it for a night, and then boiling it the next day.  It is repeated twice or thrice and the pan is ready to use.  The first time oil is needed to cook but with time it can be used even without oil.

If you skip the seasoning ritual you will find that the batter will stick all over the pan and the wasted muscle power in trying to remove the batter, added to stress will give you a horrendous time! It is my advice not to skip the step!

Neer dosa

Dish: Neer Dosa ~ Paan polo ~ Soyi polo
Allergy information: Gluten free, nut free, soy free. Excellent for breakfast.
Makes: About 30-40 pancakes, depending on thickness
Requires some practice, but if you make French pancakes this should be easy

Ingredients:
Raw white rice – 3 cups
Water – 3 to 3.5 cups
Salt to taste
Grated coconut – 1 cup

Method to prepare batter:
Soak rice overnight or at least 3-4 hours.

Drain completely. Grind with fresh water, adding one cup at a time in a mixer or grinder, along with coconut till fine. Add more water while grinding, only if needed.

Once the batter is made, pour into a bow. Add more water to clean out the mixer and add to the bowl. Mix well. The consistency should be just a little thicker than water. It should be like buttermilk or freshly squeezed coconut milk. I did not measure the exact amount of water added but I think it was definitely not more than 4 cups. Adjust salt.

Making pancakes:

Heat skillet till uniformly hot, not smoking hot. Hold one ear with a pair of tongs. With the other hand pour a ladleful of watery batter over the skillet and swirl the skillet immediately so that batter spreads all over the skillet. If any large areas are left uncovered, pour very little batter and tilt so that it spreads.

Cover the pan with a lid. Let cook for about half a minute. Insert a pancake turner around the edges and carefully fold the pancake in half and again in half to form a triangle. Remove and store on a plate that has holes such as a flat sieve or a cane plate etc. This helps the steam escape from the bottom. If not your pancake will stick to the plate as it the heat reduces.

Do not place the prepared pancakes on top of another pancake. They should be laid separately as they tend to stick.

Always cook only one side of the pancake. Do not turn and cook the other side.

In a non-stick pan, pancakes will come out pristine white but not in a cast iron skillet. The pancake will take on a light brown hue. Do not go by the colour.

Pancakes made on cast iron pan have even holes because it distributes and retains heat better than any other pan. The taste is definitely so much better than on a non-stick pan.

Variations:
Coconut in batter can be omitted but the pancakes will dry out very soon in that case.
You can add coconut milk towards the end instead of grinding grated coconut.
I make a sweet variation that I once posted in Beyond Curries. Check out the recipe here.

Tips:

  • If you have just started keep the batter a little thick, to the consistency of milk. As you get comfortable you can increase the fluidity.
  • Do not keep the pancakes over a plate, always keep on a sieve to let the steam escape.
  • To prevent sticking, do not pile pancakes on top of one another.
  • Once again do not forget to season your pan.

Recently I saw Soma’s post on patishapta, a pancake from Bengal. When I read Soma’s post, I discussed it with my friend, Sandeepa. Sandeepa is a Bong too. I asked her about the etymology of ‘patishapta’ because it such a beautiful sounding word. Sandeepa tells me that her mother always made patishapta with only freshly ground rice, without adding coconut in it. They would make the batter into thin crepes on a cast iron pan and serve it rolled in a mixture of jaggery and coconut. Just like Soma said. Only, Soma made these with all purpose flour (maida). I find food such an intriguing topic! How does a delicacy travel from one region to another, get served in similar fashion and yet the places in between have no hint of the delicacy? Do you know that neer dosa is also served with a mixture of fresh coconut shavings with jaggery? Only, it is served on the side. We also have chutney to go with it. Molagapodi does not taste very nice with this dish.

Serving:
The typical chutney served with neer dosa:
1/2 a coconut, grated
Salt to taste
2 green chillies

Add a little water and grind till fine. Adjust water to bring it to chutney consistency. Adjust salt. Do not season or add oil.

Storage: Best eaten immediately. If carrying for lunch, pack in an air tight box, or wrap in coconut palm. Do not store beyond 4 or 5 hours. It might dry out and break.

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Comments

Have your say

  1. Looks delicious … And lovely clicks …

  2. Sunshine And Smile

    neer dosa with spicy chicken curry! That's one of my fav fav meal :) I never used cast iron and planning to buy one. Do we need to so that oil thingy you said all the time ? or only for neer dosa ?
    http://www.sunshineandsmile.com

  3. blog.vegetariandelicacies@gmail.com

    And I thought I was the only one who wondered why/how these authentic recipes haven't reached many kitchens ! Really, so many recipes from Malnad and Mangalore regions of Karnataka aren't explored yet !
    My mouth is already watering looking at the pic :)

  4. Priya (Yallapantula) Mitharwal

    wow, never knew you had to prepare cast iron pan that much, but then again I never cooked on it. It always intimidates me.

  5. These dosas are my favourite breakfast dish. I make the sweet version as well. And yes, I think we both have the same cast iron trophy;)

  6. Thanks Kalyani:)

    Kankana, yes. Irrespective of what you prepare in it, this is how a cast iron pan is seasoned before use.

    Sarah, I am sure everyone from that belt wonders:). It has so much to offer.

    Priya, once seasoned a cast iron pan need not be oiled each time while making dosas or pancakes. It becomes as good as a non-stick pan. It is healthier too. Do try it. Nothing intimidating here.

    PS, Oh wow! We are winners:D.

  7. dosa looks wonderfully delicious

  8. this is awesome! I have never tasted it but heard abt it so much from my south cananra friends! This is bookmarked and will try it this weekend!

  9. my fav- will taste awesome with kurma or sodhi- yum

  10. I use cast iron skillet for my regular dosa too. I wanted to get this neer dosa right. Earlier I had tried once but it wasn't perfect. Following your tips, one can't go wrong. I loved the details you have listed.

    A maida dosa,similar to patishapta, with coconut and sugar filliing is served in Kerala too. Its called "Churulappam"

  11. Michelle Peters - Jones

    You have made me homesick now… I come from Mangalore. I think I will go and dust my skillet now… I usually make the thicker polos and find the panpole too fiddly for everyday eating… my mum makes them for me when she comes here, and they are in so much demand from my husband and daughter.

    One nice way of having them is to make a filling of grated coconut and either jaggery or sugar, and roll them up. The taste is wonderful with some spicy red chutney… sweet and spicy at the same time… OK, I'll stop now, I have just started drooling over my keyboard :-)

  12. Making neer dosa is really an art…they look beautiful..one of my fav dosa….I love it wid spicy coconut chutney

  13. Mam ur dosas look like lace doilies to me , I feel like picking one and carefully preserve in my cupboard.I make them too but my doilies (dosas) look like sm kid ve used them to play…lol

  14. I am being so jealous of your trophy , the cast iron pan. I have 2 cast iron kadais but a flat pan i never found …

    Now coming to the neer dosa , i love this with a simple nariyal chutny and love the patishapta too . These patishaptas are made in Oriya families too but now a days some people have started making it with semolina or white flour too..
    I am sure the Thai , Taiwanese or Indonesian people have some version of this dosa too.. I once saw a Taiwanese rice cake which is very similar to a peethey bengalis make and a rice cake (or puttu i guess) of the South…

    Not only this , i found a peanut filled sweet pastry made just like our gujhia made by an Indonesian blogger …i find it very very interesting.

  15. Hi sunshine mom, I'm an ardent fan of your blog. Have been following your blog since the past 6 months. I've recently turned vegan and that's how I found you and your blog. Can't tell you how happy I'm to find all your lovely recipes. I'm also a fan of neer dosa and will try this out soon. Btw, you write extremely well and your content presentation style is very neat, precise and with lots of attention to details. Keep up the good work. Hope I can one day be an amazing cook like you :)))

  16. Sanctified Spaces

    I love neer dosa too.I tried making it once or twice but it did not come out too well.Maybe I must try your version.I had Neer dosa in Mysore from a friends tiffin box.I can never forget the taste.

  17. I have taken lot of photos of neer dosas at mahesh, Apoorva etc and know it is rather difficult…so great job

  18. Thanks everyone.

    Preeti, do let me know whether the tips worked for you:).

    Priya, I haven't heard of sodhi! Can you let me know what it is?

    Jayasree, just needs some practice and you will be fine with it. Do try. I haven't heard Mum talk about churulappam. New to me. Thanks for letting me know about a new dish.

    Michelle, what you have mentioned – the rolled dosa – is patishapta. Ummm… I want that sweet and spicy chutney you talk about!

    Jaya, what a pretty way to describe them!

    Sangeeta, thanks for the interesting info! I have seen that puttu like thing.

    Hey Wanderer, you just made my day!! Yahoo…! Thanks!

    SS, if you can't forget then it is time to make it!

    • churulappam is a popular dish in kerala. I think it is a muslim dish and is popular in muslim populated areas like kannur and kozhikode. I am from Kannur and it was a favourite evening snack. mummy used to saute coconut and dry fruits in ghee with added jaggery or sugar to make the filling. The dosas were translucent and made of maida. After rolling it is cut to finger length pieces. more ghee can be added on the dosas. In kannur it is called elangi (pronounced as aelaanji)

  19. Looks so gud n perfect..

  20. H, Lovely pan polos. I too believe that konkani cuisine is vastly unappreciated. One reason could be that there are regional variations to most of the recipes. Even there are different ways of making neer dosas. Some people go for a coconut milk version.I am familiar with your version. We also make a spicier version adding red chillies, tamarind etc and then add finely chopped greens like -fenugreek leaves,drumstick leaves,cabbage etc. It is not called soyi polo but muskat(thats the English approxmation for Konkani)or leaf dosa here in Kerala
    Even for that there are regnl variations

  21. Sweets, forgot to add ,
    MLHome was in my list of Must Visit in Mumbai. Now I am doubtful.
    Great that MIL has approved your neer dosas.

    BTW, in my previous comment, I talked about muskat. You can see a similar version at Shilpa's -http://www.aayisrecipes.com/2006/05/01/cabbage-dosa-cabbage-sanna-pole/.
    This is almost my version :)

  22. Kalyan, I forgot Apoorva. It is at Fort, isn't it? My friends often mention it a lot. Thanks, it is indeed difficult to capture a neer dosa:).

    Sweatha, thanks for the link and the info. I must try making this one sometime!

  23. My friend who is Tulu, made neer dosa for me for breakfast one weekend.. I am in eternal love with it!!! so simple and super delicious!

  24. I have to try your method of seasoning with one of my cast iron skillet that refuses to remain seasoned and needs lots of oil each time it is used. The method advocated by manufacturers of cast iron cookware here is quite different. Soapy water only the very first time, followed by liberal greasing of the surface and then about 1 hr in the oven at 400F. Repeat if the pan needs seasoning again. Ovens weren’t a standard kitchen appliance in most Indian kitchens until recently, whereas cast iron cookware has been around forever. So I have to try your method!

    Will any white rice work for these dosas?

    • I too read the seasoning methods you have mentioned, but I find that this works very well. Since I wash away all the oil each time, I also do this kind of seasoning every time I need to use the skillet. I think any white rice should work because I have used kolam rice, sona masuri and basmati and all have been good. I did not find anything special in the basmati version.

  25. Harini,

    I love these dosas (pancales) though I have never made them myself. A colleague in Mumbai used to bring a big stack of them for lunch with coconut chutney. I have to try and make them soon. (Now that I remember, I said the same thing to RC when she posted a recipe for the same.)
    I have not one but two cast iron pans. One I seasoned myself, the same way Manisha had to. The other one I just bought preseasoned. I still have to grease it once in a while but it is not much trouble. Got to make these soon.

    • I am getting a slightly bigger one this time when P goes to Mangalore. We don’t get them pre-seasoned here. I find this method pretty easy and workable.

  26. I have had these at an Udipi restaurant in Chennai and love them. The recipe is similar to verum arisi adai that we make except that the batter is much thicker for that.
    Your pic with the dosas arranged on the cast iron pan is beautiful.

  27. Congrats for the domain, Harini! Had a first bite of these delightful crepes in Bangalore last vacation. The Tulu friends of mine from Mangalore made this the first day we landed there. And from there on it was Neer Dosas for the breakfast and dinner as well for me :) Learned a lot many Tulu recipes from her..need to try them all.
    Cast iron is my favorite any time over those chemically coated non sticks. Though difficult to handle at times..the results are marvelous.
    Once again all the best for a great start in your domain!

  28. I have never made these dosas, looks beautiful and yumm. And love the first pic.

  29. This is one of my absolute favourites! And like you I can never make this or for that matter any other dosa in a non stick pan!

  30. Really a nice thing to hav in a break fast or in a lunch too.
    thanks for sharing the recipe.

  31. Hi Harini,

    Thanks for the recipe, my mom makes amazing Neer Dosa and your article reminds me of home and our childhood days eating Neer Dosa with family and friends with jaggery, chutney and pickle. Yummy Mummy!

    Cheers,
    Nivi

  32. I made neer doses yesterday for the first time… But I didn’t see ur detailed recipe before that..The first few were disastrous, thick and had no holes and then I somehow got the idea of making the batter even more watery… that worked… It was still good… But I think it could have been better if i had read ur post before… love the cast iron pan !!

  33. i loved reading this post

    ………….and this is what differentiates a good blog (not just sweet words) …… i just feel that you have written from your heart….

    ….for everyone to get it right.

    cheers,

    roshan

    • Thanks Roshan, just got back from work, and I read your comment! And I am happy. I write a blog only to connect and I am glad you liked the post. :)

  34. Thanks Sunshinemom for the lovely recipe. I cant wait to try it out. I actually landed on your blog in my quest to find good cast iron pan supplier in India as I am in the process of getting rid of all my teflon coated pans. But the cast iron pans I have come across in Bangalore and in Kerala are of very poor quality. Some are very badly rusted. And even the good ones need to be broken in. Would you happen to know a where I can get really good quality cast iron pans. I don’t mind even if they are slightly expensive as good cast iron pans are a lifelong investment.

    • Hi Reena, you will find very good cast iron pans in Mangalore as people there still prefer cast iron pans to other pans. My mother got hers from Murugan Stores in Adayar, Chennai, and she says it is good. Probably you could try in one of these places.

  35. In Kerala Ada is made with watery rice batter spread on plantain leaves with coconut and jaggery placed as a stuffing. The leaf is folded and then placed in a pan to roast. It comes out as sweet sandwiches. Ancestors everywhere ended up making the same thing

  36. Dosa is cracking and sticking to the pan why so

  37. Hello,
    This sounds really interesting. I have recently bought a pan which apparently is made of clay but coated with iron. It came pre-seasoned but after a wash with soap and water I found some rust stains on it. You’ve mentioned not to use the steel cleaner for the pan so what is the best way to remove these?

    • Hi tannaz, usually rust indicates improper seasoning. Just try applying oil and removing with a scrubber and mild soap, and then season it again. A seasoned tawa should ideally not be scrubbed with a wire scrubber, but in your case, the pan is not seasoned well.

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