- Rohan Kamicheril
Bacchanga Salli Polo | Watermelon Rind Dosa
The best food always grows out of resourcefulness. I can’t say whether my mind responds positively to dishes that are the result of thrifty kitchen management and makes them taste better than they actually do, or whether there is, indeed, something in the inherent care of a cook who bothers to be resourceful that shines through in the dishes that they conjure up. Either way, I can’t help but feel a little burst of delight when I find a way to cook with something that I’d previously thought inedible.
Regional Indian food is rife with examples of this kind of cooking—from heerekayi chutney, to neem-flower rasam, to banana peel chutney.
One of my favourites of these is the bacchanga sali polo—watermelon rind dosas—it’s a great example of a delicious dish made with of an ingredient that people are so accustomed to throwing away. I got this recipe from my friend Seema’s mother, Sulata, a wonderful Konkani cook.
These dosas don’t have a drastically different flavor from regular dosas—instead, they have a fluffier texture that’s subtly different and addictive. Seema’s mom says that she sometimes adds a little bit of the pink watermelon flesh, too, which adds a little colour to the batter.
As with all dosas, I think these are a little easier to make in warm weather. If you live somewhere cold, or it’s winter where you are right now, though, I’ve included some instructions for possible workarounds so that your batter can still ferment.
Similarly, I highly recommend a cast-iron dosa tava for these. You can make them in a cast-iron skillet, too, though if your pan has raised sides this will make it much harder for you to flip the dosas. You can make them in a nonstick skillet if that’s all you have, but the surface won’t get crisp.
A NOTE ON KEEPING: I prefer to use a stone grinder (known to most south Indians as a wet grinder) to make dosa and idli batter. For this reason, I make a fairly large batch, so that the grinder can work efficiently. Because of the extra sugar from the watermelon skin, this batter doesn’t keep very well. By the second day it will be a little too sour, and the batter will cook up brittle and tend to stick to the dosa tava. For this reason, I only use half of my ground batter to make watermelon skin dosa, and keep the rest for regular dosas the next day. Do be aware that this recipe will make enough for at least twenty dosas.
A NOTE ON WET GRINDERS: I prefer to use a stone grinder because its grinding action is a little less violent and heat-producing than a blender, which seems to help with the fermentation stage of preparing the batter. It also does seem to incorporate more air into the batter, and hopefully more ambient yeast, too. I’ve had mixed results using a blender to make dosas, but many people swear by it. So if you don’t have a wet grinder, don’t let that stop you, though maybe start with a smaller batch of batter, just to be safe.
BACCHANGA SALLI POLO | WATERMELON SKIN DOSA
3 cups idli rice
1 cup urad dhal
1 cup watermelon rind (white part only), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 small green chillies
1 tsp salt
Soak the idli rice and the urad dhal in plenty of water for at least four hours.
Drain the rice and dhal and add to the bowl of a wet grinder with half a cup of their soaking water.
Grind, adding more water as needed, till it is smooth and fine. This can take up to twenty minutes, depending on your grinder. The final mixture should be quite a bit thicker than your average dosa batter since you will be thinning it out further before you make dosas with it.
Transfer to a large bowl and cover tightly with plastic (I use a clean plastic bag) and leave in a warm place, away from drafts, overnight or until the batter smells sweet and yeasty and is alive with bubbles. If it’s winter where you, are this might take a little longer, in which case you can also stir in just a quarter teaspoon of honey, jaggery, or sugar to the batter when you’re leaving it to rise.
When the dough has risen, divide it into two. Put one half of the batter in the fridge for regular dosas the next morning (remember to salt it before using), and continue with the other half by preparing the watermelon skin by placing it in a blender along with the two green chillies and blending till you have a smooth, watery purée.
Add the watermelon purée to the dosa batter along with a teaspoon of salt and stir gently, but thoroughly to combine.
Make the dosas by preheating your dosa tava to medium high till a drop of water flicked onto the surface sizzles steadily and evaporates.
Using a ladle, pour batter into the center of the pan. The amount of batter will depend on the size of your pan. For a 10-inch pan I use a ½-cup ladle. Use the bottom of the ladle to spread out the batter, moving in an outward spiral so that the dosa covers most of the pan. Your ladle should leave a distinct spiral channel drawn from the center of the dosa to its outer edge. (If you’ve never made a dosa before, Youtube is a great place to watch experts at it and get a better idea of how to spread the batter.)
Drizzle a teaspoon of ghee over the dosa, making sure to get ghee into the spiral groove where the batter is thinnest and around the edges.
Cover and cook for 3–4 minutes, or until you can see through the dosa that the bottom has turned a rich chestnut brown.
Use a dosa spatula (a large, steel offset spatula will work in a pinch) to get under one half of the dosa. With the help of the blade of the spatula, fold the dosa in half, then remove to a plate.
I highly recommending eating these dosas warm with coconut chutney, heerekayi chutney, or saaru.
(And If you do end up with more batter than you can use in one day, and you have a paniyaram pan or a takoyaki pan, add chopped cilantro and onion to the batter and turn it into paniyaram!)