Jon Singer (jonsinger) wrote,
Jon Singer

DIY Dosas // Also, "Stop me before I make another Fakelele!" (Well, not really.)

I really like dosas. It is easy to get commercial dosa batter in many places, but with Persons of My Stripe there is always something of a “How does this actually work?” issue, so I trust it will come as no surprise that I decided to see what it takes to do it yourself.

One of the things it often takes to make dosa batter is a dedicated grinder. I was not about to go that route (they’re a bit pricy, and I haven’t seen any at thrift stores), so I used a blender.

Ordinary sada dosas are customarily made from urad dal and rice. (We will not be doing rava dosas here until I cease to be allergic to gluten.) Here is a [slightly loose] method that seems to have worked for me; no guarantee on it, as I’ve only done it once successfully so far, but that’s life.

0: It is probably a good idea to avoid using chlorinated tap water for this, as it may interfere with the souring of the urad. I used [bottled] spring water.

1: In a suitable container (I used a translucent plastic quart container of the sort that restaurants often provide if you want to take home some soup), put 2 or 3 Tbs of split hulled urad. If there are any small stones or other unwanted items, remove them. Rinse the urad.

2: Add enough water to cover them and provide 1/4" to perhaps 3/8" [roughly 6-9 mm] of water on top of them. They will absorb some of this, expanding somewhat in the process, and you want them to be covered after they do that.

2A: Add some salt. (I believe I used a little less than 1 tsp, and that seems to have been about right.) Stir until you are reasonably certain that all of the salt has dissolved.

3: I had some commercial dosa batter on hand, and I added a very small amount of it as an inoculant. This probably isn’t necessary, but having already had one failure I was not looking to have another one. (I actually think the first failure was an issue of insufficient salt. That batch of batter became foamy and yeasty.)

4: Allow the urad to sour at room temperature for a day or so. (I actually ignored them for about 3 days, and the resulting batter produces dosas that are somewhat more sour than the ones I’ve had in restaurants. That’s fine with me, but I suspect that most people would want them milder.)

5: Because I don’t have a dedicated grinder, I opted for poha instead of plain rice. [If you are not already familiar with it, poha is rice that has been squashed flat. I don’t think it has been cooked, just rolled.] You apparently want 3 to perhaps 4 times as much poha as urad. This may be partly a matter of taste. (I must confess that I don’t know for certain, because I haven’t researched the subject as fully as I probably should have.) I used thick poha, but I presume that thin poha will work just as well. Sort through the poha, and remove any you don’t like the look of. Put the poha in a suitable container, and add a fair amount of water.

5A: Ignore the poha for perhaps an hour while you get out your blender, clean it, make sure that the impeller rotates freely, and perform Step 6:

6: Grind the urad in the blender until it is a smooth paste. If you need to add a little water, that’s fine, but don’t make it soupy.

7: Add the poha and just enough water to allow you to continue; grind until the batter is smooth and creamy. (I had to add water several times in order to do this, because I didn’t put enough into the poha when I soaked them. That, however, is probably better than having too much water.)

8: Return the batter to a container of suitable size. Assuming that it makes dosas that taste the way you like them, keep it refrigerated. Again, I will confess that I am new enough to this that I don’t really know whether it’s okay to leave it out for any length of time; I have avoided doing that.

Now a word about making dosas, from an amateur dosa maker: I find that I need to have the pan oiled well enough that the dosa doesn’t stick to it [I am not using a nonstick pan]. On my mom’s electric stove, I set the large burner to 6. (Her stove does not go to 11. Ahem.) I pour the batter in, using a circular motion, and let it bubble until the bottom is golden. Then I flip it and let it go until it is done. This does not (not) produce a dosa of the sort you would get in a restaurant, but it is certainly close enough for folk music of an unpractised DIY sort, and the flavor of my current batch is more than satisfactory.

I have, btw, vaguely looked for a wider pan so I can make larger dosas, but it would have to have a very good heat spreader on it in order to work well. I&rsqsuo;m thinking about a DIY approach to that, as well, but it will be a while if I can do it at all.


Fakelele #5

Although I have been enjoying #4 [see previous posting], it is not without its faults. There is also the fact that I seem to be on a roll at the moment. When I encountered this —

— at a thrift store for $14.99, I was happy to nab it. The reason for the low price was obvious, as the instrument was out of the box when I found it:

(Some poor fool had put heavy guitar strings on it. This is not viable.) The damage was, of course, a huge advantage for me: it greatly simplified the process of drilling the two new holes in the bridge. (I used a very short piece of wire coathanger, and the entire process couldn’t have taken as long as 5 minutes, perhaps 10 if you include preparing the “drill”.) OTOH, the nut at the top of the fingerboard was firmly attached, and the two new slots I made in it are wider than they really should be. Eventually I will do something about that, but for now they’ll do.

This instrument is of higher quality than the previous one. It has a curved fretboard, and it is fancier in other ways, though many of them are decorative rather than substantial. In addition, it has not been banged around anywhere near as much.

The bridge was glued and screwed into place when the guitar was made; here is the area of the front plate where it had been located:

I sanded that area a little, sanded the underside of the bridge, glued pieces of toothpick into the holes so that the screws would have something to bite into and so that the bridge would be approximately in its original location, and put it back together. Unfortunately, both ends of the bridge are warped upward. Here’s a look at one of them:

This decrease in glued area did not allow the bridge to pull out again, but I put more glue under the ends anyway, partly so they wouldn’t buzz. Something else, however, does buzz, intermittently. (Grrr! Intermittents are hell.) In an effort to see what was causing the problem, I constructed a rude periscope by chopping up a little plastic mirror and gluing pieces to part of a wire coathanger:

That allowed me to view the screws on the underside of the front plate, and to notice that they do not go into the adjacent cross-brace, the way I would have expected them to. I have no idea whether that’s deliberate, or a manufacturing (or design) defect. I was not, however, able to see what is buzzing. From other evidence I have concluded that the cross-brace was probably torn loose during the cataclysm, and I am going to try getting some glue into that area. I will add a report if there is anything worth noting, most particularly if the buzzing is eliminated by this maneuver. (See below.)

Meanwhile, buzzing aside, the tone of #5 is rather different from the tone of #4. This is expectable, though some of the details are not. For one thing, #4 is significantly louder. For another, #4 is more forgiving. I can’t get as sloppy with #5. Here it is, before I adjusted the intonation:

The initial intonation adjustment was fairly minimal:

The piece of toothpick is not glued down, but it seems to stay in place.

Note, added late that night [24 April, 2014]: I diluted some wood glue about half-and-half with water, used a piece of polyethylene tubing from the hardware store (it comes off the spool with appropriate curvature) as a straw to suck up some of the diluted glue, cautiously put the end of the tubing into the soundhole between the strings, flipped the instrument over so the soundhole was facing down, and deposited the glue between the apparently-detached truss and the foot of the box. (This maneuver was somewhat fraught because the diameter of the tubing is a bit too large [it was what they had], and I knew, having tested with water, that the glue would fall out as soon as the end pointed down instead of up.)

Then I pulled the straw out, tilted the head end down to get at least some of the glue over to the stiffening bar that supports the bridge, and pressed on the faceplate a number of times, hoping to get the glue into the space where I presumed that the bar had detached from the front plate. It continued to make a tiny click every time I pressed on it [I had first noted this sound during the afternoon, and found it a helpful diagnostic point, albeit somewhat unnerving], and I was worried that I might have misdiagnosed and/or mistreated the problem, but at that point alea jacta erat... (I don’t remember the Latin for “had been”, so I think we’ll stick with “was”, assuming I’ve remembered even that form correctly. Latin was not my forte in high school, and I’m afraid it has been rather a while since then.)

I put it face down on the carpet, put a weight on the back, and let the glue set for about three hours. (The label instructions state that the pieces should be clamped for one hour, but these were unusual circumstances.) Upon initial [gentle] testing it doesn’t buzz, and there is no longer any clicking when I press on the front plate next to the bridge, so I think we’ve won this one. I just hope it proves to be stable.

There does seem to be an intonation issue with one of the two low strings, but I should be able to deal with that. I am more concerned with the fact that one of the frets appears to be slightly mispositioned. This is an issue that is far less easily ameliorated, and I’m thinking about ways to deal with it. I don't really want to buy fret wire, attempt to remove the existing fret, move the slot a fraction of a millimeter, and put a new fret in... that would be far too large a project, and it is also an easy way to damage the fretboard, making the project even larger. OTOH, attaching some wire of appropriate composition (bronze?) to the edge of the existing fret and doing some filing to move the peak is, itself, nontrivial. WSSWWSS. [“We Shall See What We Shall See,” as my father would have said.]
Tags: cooking, dosas, fakelele, food, musical instruments
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