Vadai – deep-fried lentil fritters from South India
There are different types of fritters and hence many varieties of vadai. Vadai is typically made with lentils.
The lentils used for what is popularly known as medu vada are dehusked black gram lentils. It is known by different names across regions – ullundu vadai in Tamil, uzhunnu vadai in Malayalam, uddina vade in Karnataka, garelu in Andhra & Telangana, batuk in Nepal, bara in some regions and in its most distorted form it is known as ‘mendu vadai’. Medu in Tamil means soft and refers to the pillowy interiors of these fritters that contrast with the crisp exterior.
Though vadai in this shape is popular, Punjab has it’s version too called bhalla, made from a slightly wetter dough. Bhalle are shaped into golf sized spheres instead of doughnuts, deep-fried and instead of being eaten as such, they are dunked in thick, whipped, plain yogurt, after which they assume the form of dahi-bhalle. Sometimes these are served with tamarind and mint chutney, garnished with pomegranate seeds and coriander in chaat style.
In South India vadai is preferred either with coconut chutney on the side or dunked in spicy rasam water. We also like it dunked in curd and the typically Palakkad method is to grind a little fresh coconut and green chillies, beat it into thick curd and then submerge the fritters. Seventh Heaven, I say! (smacks lips here and drools). While we are here, I must say we need to eat more plants. So – go here and make your cashew curd. It makes everything taste good!
This dish is naturally vegan and is present in the menu of most Indian restaurants. If you are vegan or on a grain-free diet, this is a perfect choice for snacks. Just remember it is deep-fried.
Recipe: Ullundu Vadai, Uzhunu Vada or Medu Vada, with Coconut Chutney
Vadai is a crisp, savoury, deep fried dumpling from South India, shaped like a doughnut. It is relished as an evening snack, a special breakfast, or made as an offering 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 mirch) – 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, 1 cup approximately, for the quantity of lentils used in this recipe.
Grind till the batter is soft, light and fluffy. It should fall off the spoon in lumps and feel lightweight. I hope the photograph that follows gives an idea of how the batter ought to be.
Add salt as per your taste, a tsp. of chopped ginger and curry leaves (optional), a tsp. of whole black peppers (optional) and beat the batter well in clockwise motion. A teaspoon of hot oil added to the batter is said to help make crisp vadas,
Rest the batter for a minimum of 30 minutes or let it ferment 4-5 hours as per your liking. While fermenting the batter is good for the gut, it also absorbs more oil when fried after heavy fermentation. I usually rest anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour.
Heat oil in a karahi or pan till it is hot. Check by dropping a drop of batter in the oil. It should raise to the top immediately with a sizzle but not change colour, If the colour changes it indicates that the oil is too hot. If it does not rise immediately the oil is not hot enough.
Take a clean plastic sheet or washed and wiped piece of banana or turmeric leaf. Wet it lightly and hold it in your left palm. Take a small lump of batter and pat it on the sheet or leaf. 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 along the side of the pan, but not allowing it to stick to the sides. If you find it difficult to shape just drop in spoonfuls instead.
Fry on slow fire for a couple of minutes. Turn over and fry till both sides are done and the colour is golden brown evenly on all sides. 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. This also means that the weight of the balls will vary making it a little difficult to fry the surface evenly.
Optional additions to the batter:
Finely chopped onions or freshly coconut chopped into small pieces, when added to the batter give it crunch and add their own taste.
Coriander or dill leaves add nice flavour too.
Grate one fresh coconut.
Grind coarsely with 2 tsps. of chutney dal (roasted gram, daalia, 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.
Seasoning for chutney:
Heat a tsp. of coconut oil and add mustard seeds (‘rai’). When they splutter add a few curry leaves and then pour it over the chutney. Mix well. Some people add urad dal to the seasoning. This can lead to early spoilage of the chutney and hence not preferred.