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Leda Scheintaub and Nash Patel are the co-owners of Dosa Kitchen in Brattleboro.

Food and Drink

Dosa Kitchen tries a different approach to Indian cuisine

BRATTLEBORO—“We make our food at Dosa Kitchen the way we want to eat,” explains Leda Scheintaub, co-owner of Brattleboro’s new — and only — South Indian eatery.

Scheintaub, along with her husband and business partner, Nash Patel, says they avoid “factory meat,” choosing to eat only free-range or organic meats, and adhere to the locavore culinary ethos.

They opened their food truck, at the end of the alley between the Hooker-Dunham building and the River Garden on Main Street in Brattleboro, “so we can share that farm-to-table philosophy,” Scheintaub says.

They say they also longed for South Indian food.

Patel grew up in Hyderabad, the capital city of Andhra Pradesh, and moved to the United States in 2005. While working as a waiter at a South Indian restaurant in New York City, he and Scheintaub met, and a few years later moved to Brattleboro.

According to the couple, most Indian restaurants in the United States serve Indian cuisine typical to the northern regions of the country. They say that finding South Indian food in Brattleboro was impossible, and not likely sourced elsewhere in New England. Scheintaub now reports happy visitors from Boston, surprised to find South Indian food here.

Oil makes the difference

Patel describes some of the characteristics that set his homeland’s culinary traditions apart from those of northern India.

Coconut and curry leaves abound, he says, but it’s the oil that makes the difference.

He says cooking oil is tempered before use: “You bring the oil to a very high temperature and add mustard seeds, dried red chiles, and curry leaves. This isn’t used to cook the food, but to flavor and finish the dishes.”

If Dosa Kitchen’s food truly represents Southern Indian cuisine, then freshness is crucial. Whereas most domestic-made Indian food tends toward intensely flavored dishes with thick sauces — sometimes overpowering the flavor of the individual ingredients, especially the vegetables — Dosa Kitchen’s food is simpler and fresher.

This isn’t to say it’s bland, but the seasoning is not aggressive enough to mask, say, the nutty flavor of chickpeas or the sweetness of vegetal greens.

What sets Dosa Kitchen’s food apart from most other area restaurants’ offerings, regardless of cuisine, is the focus on fermented foods. This is no coincidence. In mid-September, Scheintaub’s new book, Cultured Foods For Your Kitchen, was published by Rizzoli Publications International.

Cultured Foods contains 100 recipes featuring the bold flavors of fermentation, the book’s cover promises.

Vibrant, well-styled photographs by William Brinson illustrate recipes, tips, suggestions, historical culinary background on fermented foods, and personal anecdotes.

While some of the more involved dishes would impress even jaded gourmands, many of the recipes are simple and instruct readers on the art of making better, cleaner, and fermented versions of common kitchen staples such as prepared mustard and hot sauce.

The latter sits in jars, awaiting hungry diners at Dosa Kitchen. According to the couple, it’s a popular condiment.

Scheintaub’s “Live and Kickin’ Hot Sauce,” made only of fresh chili peppers, salt, and either pickle juice or sauerkraut brine (both of which have their own easy recipes in Cultured Foods), offers variants with and without fresh garlic and cane sugar.

The salt and pickle juice are the only preservatives, harking back to a time when fermentation was one of the few methods used to preserve food and draw out extra nutrients.

Food foundation

But health isn’t the only concern for Scheintaub, a food editor and recipe tester in addition to Patel’s partner in Dosa Kitchen and all else.

Scheintaub says she’s always looking for new ways to make recipes exciting. “Fermented foods add a whole new world of flavor,” she says.

Case in point: the dosa.

“We created a food truck dedicated to our favorite ferment[ed food],” Scheintaub says. Dosas — the South Indian version of crêpes or pancakes — are made of fermented, ground rice and lentils, and provide the foundation for most of Dosa Kitchen’s menu items.

(Cultured Foods contains a recipe for dosas that’s about as simple as making pancakes, with just a few extra steps.)

Diners can also choose rice instead of a dosa, or an uttapam — basically a thicker dosa.

Dosa Kitchen’s outdoor season may be over by the time you read this: they plan to staff their food truck for as long as the weather permits.

But operations will be moving just a few feet away, to the Robert H. Gibson River Garden, where Dosa Kitchen will serve its South Indian cuisine Saturdays at the indoor Brattleboro Winter Farmers’ Market.

Scheintaub and Patel say they will return to their patio at the end of the alley in the spring.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #279 (Wednesday, November 5, 2014). This story appeared on page C1.

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