South Indian Food and Food Allergies



About 5 years ago, I was quietly working away in my business as a music lesson instructor and I started to think that maybe I needed to explore more of the world or change something in my life. I really wanted to have a child and I wasn't quite ready to consider being a single mom. But, I felt as I got older, finding the right partner was more and more difficult. I knew that if I wanted different results than the ones I was getting, I needed to make some changes in my life. So, I took a big leap and one day, searched online for music jobs in different countries. I ended up applying and getting a job at Kodaikanal International School in Southern India.


This impacted my life in a great many ways. It opened me up to a new culture and people and pushed me out of my comfort zone when traveling halfway around the world by myself. I met warm-hearted people and found I loved wearing bright colored clothes. But, one of the big changes I felt as I settled into living in the small town, high up on the mountainside, was the effect the food had on me. I have had auto-immune problems for many years, but it took a lot of detective work to really find out what was causing all of that. But, food allergies became a major concern when my immune system was under attack.


I found that eating diets with a small portion of meat and lots of vegetables and rice and lentils was so nourishing to me. It was the only place I have lived where I largely felt able to eat nearly all the food that was offered and it made me feel so welcomed and at home. Food can be a big struggle when you are trying to make changes in your diet because we do so many social things related to food. You have parties and Christmas and family dinners and birthdays. Most all of them center around food and sharing at the table. Since I like to be social and want to fit in, I have often found myself eating tons of food that isn't good for my body simply because I didn't want to make an extra request of the host. Or sometimes simply because my childhood foods conditioned me to think that I need to have sweet or bread-like foods because they will make me happy.


So, it was a nice surprise in Southern India to find a diet that hardly included wheat at all or any of the other grains outside of rice. One of the things I have always enjoyed is pancakes. My favorite food, while living in Kodai, turned out to be Dosa. This is a fermented dough made from lentils and rice, that is made into a type of pancake/crepe. There are many variations to this, but typically it is served with various sauces for dipping and a soup called Sambar. Truly a taste you must try!

When I moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area in the US, I found that I was surrounded by people from India due to new immigration following all the tech companies. I discovered one south Indian restaurant after another and could buy a pre-packaged mix to make dosas. But, when my next move brought me to Sweden, I was without dosa mixes! The only Indian shops here are mostly run by people from the north of India and Bangladesh. So, when I had been in Sweden for at least a year or so and I was home on parental leave and doing more cooking - I had a strong craving to eat dosa again. That led me to do an internet search for how to make it from scratch. And I was so glad that I did. The dough that you make is incredibly tasty and it's much better than the mix. It includes good probiotics when you ferment the dough and very simple ingredients. I have now cut out all grains except for rice and so I have been experimenting with different recipes using rice and lentil flour. It's quite a good combination actually! And my body does really well with it. So, if you are interested in trying to make some dosa of your own, here's an example recipe in this link. But, there are many variations out there if you look for them.

I have learned some things when working with dosa in a cold climate as we have most of the year in Stockholm, Sweden. When you are trying to ferment the batter, you can encourage the start to the fermentation by putting the bowl in the oven with just the oven light on or with the oven on the lowest heat setting. I use par-boiled rice when a recipe calls for idly rice. I also discovered that my basic blender was not powerful enough to handle grinding the rice. So, I upped my kitchen game by buying a Vitamix. If you have a high-powered blender like that, then you should be good. Otherwise, you will have to take breaks and blend in small batches to not overheat the blender.


I hope you enjoy this introduction to the magic of rice and lentils combined!