What is vadai?
Vadai – Gluten-free, deep-fried, lentil fritters. The lentils used for medu vadai are skinned black gram lentils. Medu vadai is also known as ullundu vadai in Tamil, in Kerala it is known as uzhunnu vadai, and in most other parts of India it has acquired the distorted name of ‘mendu vadai’. In Punjab it is made as deep-fried balls called bhalle, which are dunked in thick, whipped, plain yogurt. In South India vadai is preferred either with coconut chutney on the side or dunked in spicy rasam water.
This dish is naturally vegan and is available in all Indian restaurants as a snack. If you are vegan or on a grain-free diet, this is a perfect choice for snacks. Just remember it is deep-fried.
This year Pongal became an opportunity for a long deferred get-together with my ‘society friends’. I got up at 5:00a.m. with an aim to finish off the cooking by 9 O’Clock but frequent power cuts came in the way. It is no good if my kitchen is enveloped in darkness, as I do not have enough natural light streaming in. We are having a somewhat cold winter this year at Mumbai. I curled up on the sofa with a hot cuppa and decided to take it easy, tucking my feet, as I waited for the power to turn on.
The tradition is to get up really early, take an oil bath, pray and then start preparing the sweets and savouries. Pongal ‘naivedyam’ [offerings] includes sugar cane, vennpongal, chakrapongal, vadai and chutney.
We also exchanged a lot of til guls (Sesame seed laddoos) as is the Maharashtrian custom.
Recipe: Ullundu, Uzhunu or Medu Vadai and Chutney
Vadai is a crisp, deep fried dumpling from South India, shaped like a doughnut. It is made as a snack in the evening, a special breakfast, or during festivals like Pongal, Vinayaka Chaturthi, and Krishna Jayanti
Yield: 45 to 50, about 2 inches in diameter
Whole or split, dehusked urad dal (Black gram) – 2 1/4 cups
(Soaked for 3 hours in double the amount of water)
Black pepper (Kali miri) – 10 to 15
Ginger (Adrak) – An inch (Optional) – diced into very small pieces
Green chillies (Hari Mirchi) – 2 – cut into 1/2 cm pieces
Wash lentils thoroughly three or four times and drain the water through a sieve.
Grind adding very little water (For 2 and 1/4 cups I required about 1 cup of water approximately).
Grind till the batter is soft, light and fluffy. It should be light to hold and a little lumpy. Add salt as per your taste, a tsp. of chopped ginger and curry leaves (Optional), a tsp. of whole black peppers (Optional), and a tsp. of small pieces of coconut(Optional) and mix the batter well in clockwise motion. A teaspoon of hot oil added to the batter is said to help make crisp vadas,
Heat oil in a deep heavy bottomed karahi or pan till it is hot. Check by dropping a drop of batter in the oil. It should immediately make a sizzling sound and rise to the surface without changing colour.
Take a clean plastic sheet. Wet it and hold it in your left palm. Take a small lump of batter and pat it on the sheet. Dip a finger in water and make a small hole in the centre, widening it a little. Slip the vadai from the sheet onto your right hand and drop it immediately in the medium hot oil from the side of the pan.
Fry on slow fire turning over after some time till both sides are done and the colour changes to golden brown. Drain with a slotted ladle onto a tissue paper. Serve hot with chutney.
If the shaping turns out difficult, just wet your fingers, pick up blobs of batter and drop it into the oil. The taste will be the same, but you will have to turn the fritters often for even frying.
Grate one fresh coconut and grind coarsely with 2 tsps. of chutney dal (roasted gram, pottukadalai in Tamil, or bhuja hua chana in Hindi) and 3 green chillies adding a little water.
Check and add water if it is too thick and grind till the paste is well mixed but not completely homogeneous. The consistency should be neither too thick nor runny. Add salt to taste and season(As shown in the serving).
Seasoning for chutney:
Heat a tsp. of coconut oil and add mustard seeds(Or ‘rai’). When they splutter add a few curry leaves and then pour it over the chutney. Mix well.