Onion Skillet Breads (Pesarattu)

These skillet breads from Andhra Pradesh are like a lot of breads from southern India. Whether they are made from rice, or rice and dal (such as dosas or idlis; see pages 112 and 120), or from only dal, as these are, the breads tend to be tender and soft, and are generally best eaten hot. They’re more like pancakes than like bread, because they most often start with a batter, not a dough.

We first came across these in the south, in Andhra Pradesh. Naomi later saw a man making very similar breads on the street in Varanasi, in northern India (see page 56). When they talked, she learned that he was from Andhra Pradesh, not a local. Many of his customers were pilgrims from Andhra Pradesh, hungry for a taste of home. In Andhra, the bread is called pesarattu.


  • 1¼ cups urad dal
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon minced green cayenne chile
  • 1 teaspoon minced ginger or ginger mashed to a paste
  • About 3 tablespoons raw sesame oil or vegetable oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion or shallots
  • ½ teaspoon finely ground cumin
  • About 1 cup loosely packed coriander leaves


  1. Wash the dal, and put it in a bowl with 4 cups of water to soak for 2 to 3 hours.
  2. Drain the dal, put it into a food processor with the 1 cup water, salt, chile, and ginger, and process until well pulverized.
  3. The batter will feel a little gritty, but process it long enough to break the dal down as much as possible.
  4. Put a griddle or large skillet over medium-high heat (or use two griddles or skillets and cook the breads two at a time).
  5. Add 1 teaspoon of oil to the skillet and tilt to coat the pan.
  6. When it is hot, pour ⅓ cup of the dal mixture into the skillet.
  7. Using a rubber spatula, quickly spread the mixture out into a circle about 7 inches in diameter.
  8. Immediately sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the chopped onions, a pinch of ground cumin, and about 1 tablespoon chopped coriander leaves over the batter.
  9. Cook the bread on this first side for 3 minutes; after a minute or two, loosen the bread around the edges with a spatula.
  10. Flip the bread over and continue to cook for another 3 minutes. (It may seem like a long time, but the bread needs this time to cook through.)
  11. Turn the bread out onto a plate and serve immediately, or cover to keep warm.
  12. Repeat with the remaining batter and toppings, adding 1 teaspoon of oil to the skillet before making each bread.
  13. As with all pancake sorts of bread, the first one might seem tricky and awkward, but as you adjust for a perfect heat, and as the skillet gets seasoned, the cooking will go quite easily.
    Serve hot.


These are great as part of a meal, served with a sambhar (see pages 186 and 187), but they also make a good snack or breakfast served with a simple chutney such as Tomato Chutney (page 44) or Andhra Spiced Eggplant (page 49).


Mangoes & Curry Leaves: Culinary Travels Through the Great Subcontinent


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Onion Skillet Breads (Pesarattu)