Adai was one of the first foods I tasted in my Tamil mom-in-law's kitchen. It became an instant favorite.
Unlike its simpler but yummy counterpart, the plain old dosa, an Adai is a star, hiding complex flavors beneath its lovely, golden skin.
It is also, in my opinion, a little more fun to cook because it lets you play around quite a bit with the ingredients so you can make your own special version suited to your own special tastes.
Cooking Indian food can appear intimidating, especially if you're not used to it, but foods like an Adai, although exotic-appearing even to some Indians, couldn't be easier to make. All you need to do is begin.
I hope you will, and if you do, I'd love to hear!
Why you'll love this adai
- It's delicious.
- It's extremely healthy. The base ingredients for adai are rice and lentils and you get to add all sorts of herbs and veggies to this recipe.
- It's easy. Really. The only part of making an adai that could require some practice is spreading out the dosa on a hot griddle, because there's a specific, although simple, technique involved. And it's okay if your adai doesn't look perfect the first few times, it will still taste great.
- It's super kid-friendly. Jay can snack on a stack of adais on their own, although he loves them best when I serve them with drumstick sambar (drumsticks are long, stick-like pods of the nourishing moringa tree that are used in Indian cooking).
- It's versatile. You can add veggies to your adai, or leave them out. You can turn your batter probiotic, like you would a regular dosa batter, or eat as is. There is no end to the customizations you can make to your base adai batter.
Ingredients for adai
- Brown or White Rice. I use brown rice, to make my adai more nutritious, although white rice works just as well. There are all kinds of medium-grain and parboiled rice varieties you can buy and use specifically to make dosa, and Indian stores sell an "idli rice" that can be used to make dosa and adai. However, unless you already have all these different kinds of rice sitting around (I never do), just go with whatever rice you have around. It all works and your adai will turn out beautifully. I use brown basmati, which I usually have on hand.
- Lentils: Unlike a dosa, where you'd use two lentils, urad dal (black gram lentils) and chana dal (bengal gram lentils), you can add more lentils to your adai, making it healthier. I add four: in addition to chana and urad I add moong dal (split mung lentils) and tuvar dal (split pigeon peas). But if you don't have all of these lentils sitting around, that's fine, use just the urad dal and and any other lentil you have. Try and keep the ratio of rice to lentils 1:1.
- Ginger: Ginger adds lots of flavor to an adai and is terrific in here, and it is, of course, a very healthy addition.
- Turmeric: For color and more healthfulness.
- Asafetida (hing): Asafetida is a resin, usually sold as a powder, that you can buy at Indian stores or online. It might smell odd to an unfamiliar nose, but it adds delicious and irreplaceable flavor to many Indian dishes, especially dals. You can leave it out of this adai recipe if you can't find it.
- Green chili peppers: Any kind you can source are fine. I used the tiny green chili peppers I buy at the Indian store this time, but I've used jalapeno and serrano peppers at other times and they work just as well.
- Dry red chili pepper: This is optional if you are using the green chile peppers, but the quantities I use in the recipe do not add much heat. You can also use red pepper flakes if that's what you have on hand.
- Curry leaves: Curry leaves add tremendous flavor to the adai. Again, this is tweakable and if you can't find curry leaves leave them out.
- Cilantro: I add cilantro to the adai, and I love it in here. You can leave it out, and just use another leafy veggie.
- Veggies: I didn't add any veggies to my adai this time, but cabbage, spinach and onions are all good additions. You will need to process them with the batter until they are broken down, but not pureed, to ensure you can spread out the adai on the griddle efficiently.
You can. Fermenting the batter makes it probiotic and consequently even healthier for you. Most cooks I know in my Tamil family don't ferment adai, however there's no reason not to do so. If you do decide to ferment your adai batter do so before adding in the veggies. Add half a teaspoon of fenugreek seeds to the lentils and rice when you soak them. Then place the blended lentil and rice batter, covered, in a warm spot overnight. The next day process the herbs and veggies separately until quite fine but not pureed, then stir them into the adai batter before making the crepes.
An adai is traditionally meant to be thick, thicker than a dosa definitely, and almost like a pancake. However, years ago, when I first posted this recipe in 2008, at a time when there barely any adai recipes on the Internet, I think I started a trend: I made my adais very thin and crepe-like because, as I wrote at the time, Desi, my Tamil husband, loves all dosa crepes thin and crispy. Today, I find most Indian bloggers recommending making thin adais as well, which is both amusing and gratifying. Many of my Tamil relatives tell me that they have begun making thin adais too. I definitely continue to recommend making your adais thin and lacy because they turn out more crispy that way.
How to make adai
Soak the rice and lentils with water to cover by two inches and leave alone for at least three hours. You can even soak them overnight, if that works better for you. If you plan to ferment your adai batter add half a teaspoon of fenugreek seeds to the batter.
Drain the water and blend the rice and lentils with water in a high-powered blender until smooth but still very slightly grainy. What this means is you should be able to feel very fine (not large) particles of the rice when you rub the batter between your finger and thumb. This is critical to the texture of the cooked adai: if you blend the batter too smooth, the adai will be soft rather than crispy. If you make it too grainy, you can't really shape it into a round on the griddle. This might be a little difficult to nail down at the first try but you'll get the hang of it in time.
Add the veggies and herbs and spices and process. Make sure you chop the ginger and cilantro so everything breaks down evenly. You don't want to puree the herbs, you just want them to break down until specks of the herbs are still visible in the batter but they are not in large pieces. The batter, in the end, should have a pourable consistency but should be slightly thinner than, say, a pancake batter, but it should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. A thicker batter would make thicker dosas. Add water, a little at a time, to the batter, if needed, until you get the right consistency. The batter should be thin enough that you can pour it on the griddle and shape it quickly into a larger round.
Heat a griddle. Your griddle should always be really hot before you add the dosa batter to it. Use a well-seasoned cast iron griddle, as I do, or a nonstick skillet. The reason your griddle needs to be hot is that you cannot and should not oil the griddle before you add the batter to it, the way you would do if you were making a pancake. If your griddle is not adequately hot when you add the batter to it, the batter will stick to it. Oiling the griddle might seem like an easy solution but it would be impossible to spread the dosa into a crepe on an oiled surface, and the batter would just clump together. A good rule of thumb is to heat the griddle, then sprinkle a few drops of water on it (carefully). If the water sizzles and evaporates immediately, your griddle is at the right temperature and you can add the batter to it.
Make the adai dosa. Use a rounded steel ladle to scoop out the batter and pour it on the hot griddle. Quickly, using the bottom of the ladle, spread the dosa into a bigger round in circular motions moving outward. This takes a little practice and if you don't get it exactly right don't fret. I've attached a short video in the recipe card that shows you how to do this, and you will get better as you practice. You can also just make the adais smaller until you get better at shaping them.
Serve the adai hot: Adai should always be eaten hot because that's when it's at its crispiest best. You can store any unused batter in the refrigerator and use it as needed. It will keep for about three days.
More vegan dosa recipes
- 1 cup rice (any long grain or medium grain white or brown rice is fine. I used brown basmati rice)
- ¼ cup chana dal (bengal gram dal)
- ¼ cup urad dal (black gram dal)
- ¼ cup tuvar dal (split pigeon peas)
- ¼ cup moong dal (split mung lentils)
- 1 inch knob ginger (chopped)
- 15 curry leaves
- 2 small green chili peppers (use Indian chili peppers or jalapeno or serrano peppers. Use more or less depending on how much heat you can tolerate. The amounts I used just disappear into the adai and don't make it spicy).
- 1 dry red chili pepper (optional, break into smaller pieces if using)
- ½ tsp turmeric
- ¼ tsp asafetida (hing, optional)
- ¼ cup cilantro (optional)
- Salt to taste
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil (or cooking spray, for making the adai)
- Soak the rice and the dals in water for at least 3 hours.
- Drain out all the water. Place the rice and lentils in a high-powered blender and blend with 2 cups water into a fairly smooth paste. When you rub the batter between your thumb and forefinger you should feel a slight graininess, which will help make your adai crispier.
- Add to the blender the ginger, onion, green chili peppers, red chili pepper, curry leaves, turmeric, asafetida and cilantro, if using, and salt. Process for about a minute or so until the herbs have broken down into small but still discernible specks. The batter should have a runny consistency, slightly thinner than a regular pancake batter, but thick enough to coat a spoon. Add more water if needed and mix it in well.
- Heat a griddle (well-seasoned cast-iron or non-stick) over medium high heat. To test if the griddle is hot enough, sprinkle drops of water on the surface. If they sizzle immediately and evaporate, the griddle is perfectly hot.
- Use a ladle with a rounded bottom (like a soup ladle) to scoop out the batter. Pour the batter into the center of the hot griddle, then, quickly, spread the batter into a round as thinly as you can with the bottom of the ladle, using a spiral motion moving outward. Don’t worry if you don't get it right or if there's a gap--you can pour on some batter to fill it.
- Pour a few drops of oil around the edges which will help crisp up the adai further. You can also just spray some cooking spray around the edges, carefully, if you'd rather not use the oil.
- You will know when the adai is ready to be flipped when the top of the adai is completely dry and the underside and edges turn golden brown. Flip and cook for a few more seconds on the other side.
- Serve immediately.