I was always fascinated by the huge tyre like Medhu vadais that they serve in Udupi hotels for morning tiffin. Idli-vadai, Pongal-vadai or just vadai are popular breakfast orders in hotels in TamilNadu. The Vadai is the hero here – mighty, perfectly round, golden, crispy things that beautifully complement the soft steamed idlis and smooth pongal. These are served with sambar and an assorted array of chutnies – usually white coconut chutney, an orange onion/tomato chutney and a green coriander chutney. You can’t ask for a better combination. During my B-school hostel days, this was my menu order whenever I visited home – Idli – vadai- sambar-chutney and my mom would diligently make these everytime.
I never learnt how to make vadais during those times. I was happy to eat vadai after vadai watching TV. After roti-rajma-jeera rice every day I’d yearn for the familiar Idli-vadai-chutney. I’ve never been thin in my life, the slimmest I ever was, was during those hostel days, deprived of vadai, biryani and urundai kuzhambu.
Making this vadai is quite straight-forward. Just make sure to grind the batter to the right consistency – thick, smooth and light. You should be able to shape the batter with your hands. It’ll be sticky, so wet your hands each time you shape a vadai. Alternately, you can use a banana leaf or empty milk packets to shape your vadais on. You can add little pieces of chopped coconut, curry leaves or coriander leaves to the vadai batter, we usually don’t. We keep it very minimal – cumin, whole black peppercorns and salt. Adding semolina/rava to the batter gives a nice, crunchy exterior. If your batter is too thin and the vadais are drinking up too much oil, you can add semolina/rava to thicken the batter. Made these vadais today for Aadi krithigai. Aadi anything is special.
Prep time: 5 mins
Soaking time: 2 hours
Cooking time: 20 mins (includes grinding time)
Makes: 20-25 vadais
Whole Black gram/Urad dal/Ullundu – 1-1/2 cups washed and soaked for 2-3 hours
Sooji/Rava/Semolina – 3-4 tbsp
Whole black pepper corns – 2 tsp
Jeera/Cumin seeds – 2 tsp
Salt to taste
Water as necessary
Oil for deep frying – about ¾ cup or so
1. Rinse urad dal in 2-3 changes of water till the water runs clear. Soak in water for 2-3 hours.
2. Drain the soaked water and keep aside. Throw the soaked and strained urad dal in a wet grinder or mixer/mixie and grind adding the drained water little by little to get the grinder moving. Grind to a fine paste adding only as little water as necessary. The vadai batter should be light and fluffy but not runny. When the vadai batter is the right consistency, add the cumin seeds, salt and whole black pepper corns to the batter while the grinder is still running and let grind coarsely for just a minute more. Switch off. Transfer the batter to a bowl, scraping the sides and bottom of the grinder/mixer jar.
3. Add the semolina to the batter and mix well. Taste and adjust salt.
4. Heat oil in a kadai/skillet. Have a bowl with water handy.
5. When the oil is hot but not smoking, wet your left palm (for right handers) with water, take a large lemon sized ball of the batter and pat on the wetted palm into a round not too flat disc. Use your index finger to put a hole in the centre of the disc. Now gently pick up the vadai with your right hand (preserving the shape of the vadai) and slide into the hot oil. Repeat with the remaining batter. Fry 4-5 vadais in a batch and deep fry till golden. Flip mid-way and fry till golden on all sides. Remove onto absorbent paper.
6. Serve hot with coconut chutney.
1. If the batter is not thick enough, the vadais tend to absorb too much oil. To correct this, add rava/semolina till you get the right consistency of batter.
2. Always fry vadais on medium-high. Frying on too low heat can also result in oily vadais.