Recipe for how to make this tasty, South Indian fried lentil snack called vada or vadai.
A few days ago, Nate and I were walking in Kuching’s version of a strip mall (more like a row of shop lots) looking for Christmas presents for our kids and we bumped into an Indian lady selling snacks outside a store. She spoke to me in Hokkien (a Chinese dialect) which surprised me. I guess she must have lived here a good long time and have interacted with enough Chinese here to pick up the language. I bet her Hokkien is better than mine!
Anyway, she was selling vadai and some steamed chickpeas. Nate had been craving vadai for a long time so we happily snapped up some to munch on as we walked around shopping. Though they were tasty, they lacked the curry leaves that Nate loves dearly and they just didn’t have any heat to them. That is one problem with living here in Kuching—people don’t enjoy their food too spicy. My heat tolerance has probably gone down a lot since getting here. And being that this lady was local to Kuching, she has also tempered her food to match the local tastebuds.
Feeling somewhat deprived of good vadai, I decided it was time to try to make some of my own. I’ve had a Southern Indian cookbook that I bought many years ago that I’ve never gotten around to cooking from and I decided that it was time to look at the recipes again. True enough, there was a section on snacks and there was not just one recipe for vadai but several recipes.
Crispy and Crumbly
See, there are many different types of vadai but I’ve only ever had one type before, so I didn’t know about the others until I got to San Jose and tried others. Anyway, some are pillowy soft, others are served with yogurt and some contain shrimp, spinach, or other ingredients besides the dhall lentil.
The one I only knew of before that was made with channa dhall and was crispy, not pillowy soft. And that was the one I enjoyed best. I loved it because of the play of textures and the fragrance from the ingredients.
When you first bite into this masala vadai, you will encounter the crispy fried lentils followed by the crumbly softer inner parts. Then your mouth will be flooded with the aroma and flavors coming from the lentils, shallots, curry leaves, fennel and other spices, with just a small amount of heat to make it exciting; all the savoury salty goodness that will make you continue eating not just one patty but several.
So armed with a recipe, I got myself to the market to get all the ingredients—some channa / mung dhal, green chillies, curry leaves, and cilantro. All the other ingredients I already had at home.
It was pretty easy to make, even for someone who doesn’t like to deep fry. This was not oily, splattery deep frying. This was small bubbling deep frying. Not difficult at all.
The hardest part was that your hands would get messy shaping the patties and it helps to have a partner to focus on the deep frying part (Nate, in this case). The patties weren’t too difficult to form—just be careful to slide them into the oil gently. Once in, they hold their shape really well.
Masala Vadai Recipe
adapted from “Banana Leaf Temptations” by Devagi Sanmugam
250g channa dhall, soaked for 6 hours
2-4 shallots (depending on the size of your shallots, mine were small so I used 4), sliced thin
2 cm piece ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 large green chillies, diced
1 tsp fennel, coarsely pounded
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground chilli powder
a few cilantro leaves, chopped
a few sprigs curry leaves, chopped
1 tsp and bit more salt
oil for deep frying
1. Drain dhall that has been soaking and blend it coarsely (if a few lentils are left somewhat whole, that’s fine, but if too many are whole, they are harder to form into patties). If it’s hard to blend the lentils without water, use some water to blend but squeeze it dry after blending.
2. Scrape out blended dhall into a large mixing bowl.
3. Add in the rest of the ingredients, except the oil and mix well.
4. Heat a wok or pan with frying oil (make sure your oil is of 1 1/2 inch depth).
5. Shape the dough into flat patties (UFO shaped patties), and deep fry till golden brown, 3-4 minutes. Remove from oil and drain on a rack covered with paper on the bottom.
6. Makes about 16 patties.
Once we had them fried up, it was not difficult at all for both Nate and I to find a safe place for them. I think we couldn’t eat dinner after because we greedily munched on almost all the vadai that afternoon. Try this recipe out and see if you don’t enjoy them as much as we did.
Try not to eat them all at once! ^_^ Enjoy!