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 medu vadai are dehusked 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 then 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. We also like it dunked in curd but the typically Keralite method would be to grind a little fresh coconut and green chillies, mix it with thick curd and then submerge the fritters. Seventh Heaven!
This dish is naturally vegan and is available in most 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.
Recipe: Ullundu Vadai, Uzhunu Vada or Medu Vada, with Coconut Chutney
(Tambrahm style recipe)
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 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 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 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 change in colour, If the colour changes it indicates that the oil is too hot. If it does not rise immediately it indicates that the oil is not hot enough.
Take a clean plastic sheet or washed and wiped square of banana leaf. 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 along the side of the pan, but not allowing it to stick to the sides.
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.
Grate one fresh coconut.
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.
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.