Thavalai Adai

“Sarkarai mazhai vandhudha, annikki dhaaaan…  (the day it rained sugar)” she trails off. We’re lying on the quilt sharing a pillow.

“Ammamma Ammamma, apparam yenna?”

“Sonaana, apparam.. “

She dozes off mid-story, I shake her awake, she continues from where she left off, dozes off next line, I nudge her, prompt her. We continue till the story is over, till she is asleep. I then run away to my mother.

She adjusts her 8 kallu besari nosepin and smooths her hair every now and then. I imitate her. She laughs. She makes me do it for my Appa, Babu and Athai.

thavalai adai, thavalai dosai, thavalai idli, mini thavalai adai

Ammamma sits on the thinnai talking to my athai while I plait her long hair into a mess.

She packs Arisi upma for my tiffen and tops it with lots of sugar.

She makes a huge deksa of vegetable bath for my birthday party. Guests ask to take home leftovers.

She makes Adhirasams like Adhirasams were always meant to be.

thavalai adai, thavalai dosai, thavalai idli, mini thavalai adai

The breeze is nice and cool. Athai, Babu (my chithappa/uncle) are sitting on the thinnai (bench type settee) talking. Amma is folding clothes. I am balance-walking on the walls of the little fountain in the dhalam (courtyard). The aroma of crisping dal wafts over the evening air from deep inside the kitchen to the dhalam. Shortly Ammama brings a plate of piping hot Thavalai Adai – small round oothappam sized adais, golden brown and crisp outside, soft inside.

thavalai adai, thavalai dosai, thavalai idli, mini thavalai adai

She ladles the batter into a greased kadai, drizzles oil all around it, covers the kadai, waits forever, doesn’t check in between, opens and flips the thavalai adai, the bottom is golden brown and crisp, drizzles some more oil, covers and waits again for the other side to brown, flips it on to a plate, adjusts her besari and smooths her hair and pours in another ladle of batter. She goes on one at a time, each one cooked to golden brown perfection while we eat.

thavalai adai, thavalai dosai, thavalai idli, mini thavalai adai

I recount how Hasini wakes me up when I doze off mid-story just like “Sakkarai Mazhai” times, as she lies on the hospital bed, drifting in and out. She listens, tries to adjust her besari, the IV drip pulls at her wrist, remembers after a moment, smiles, her eyes well up.

Everything I cook reminds me of her.

She was the starting point. I did not realize until now, until she was gone.

Prep time: 15 mins
Cooking time: 5 – 8 mins  per adai
Serves:  4-5

Ingredients – Batter

Kadalai Paruppu/Channa dal   1 cup (soaked in water for 2 hours)
Par-boiled Rice/Puzhungal Arisi  – 1 cup (soaked in water for 2 hours)
Fresh grated coconut – 1 cup
Salt to taste
Water – as necessary
Oil for frying

Ingredients – Tempering

Oil – 2 tbsp
Whole dry red chillies – 4 snipped into 3-4 pieces each, stalks removed
Whole black peppercorns – 1/4 tsp
Urad dal/Black gram – 1 tsp
Mustard seeds – 1 tsp
Kadalai paruppu/Channa dal – 1 tsp
Asafoetida – a large pinch
Curry leaves – 1 stem (discard stem)


1.       Rinse channa dal and rice a couple of times. Soak together in water for 2 hours or overnight if that is convenient for you.

2.       Grind them in a mixer grinder to a coarse paste adding very little water. Do not grind too fine. The texture of the batter needs to be coarse. Add salt and grated coconut and mix well.

3.       Heat a heavy, thick bottomed kadai and add 2 tbsp oil. When the oil is hot, drop in the mustard seeds. When they splutter, drop in the dry red chillies, channa dal, curry leaves and asafoetida. Fry on low heat until the channa dal turns golden and the curry leaves are slightly crisp – about a minute or so.

4.       Pour the entire tempering mixture along with the oil into the batter. Stir well to incorporate. Add as much water as necessary to make a slow dropping consistency. The batter should still be thick. Mix well.

5.       Heat the same kadai. Pour a teaspoon of oil into the kadai and use a clean rag to grease the inside of the kadai with that oil. Pour in a large ladle full of the batter into the kadai, spread slightly to make an oothappam sized thick adai. Drizzle oil all around the adai. Cover and cook on low heat till the underside is golden brown and crisp. This can take about 3-4 minutes. Flip over, drizzle some more oil around the adai, cover and cook till the other side is golden brown too – another 3 minutes or so. Serve hot as is or with coconut chutney.

6.       I am not as patient as my Ammamma. I wanted more crispy golden-ness and faster, so I poured some of the batter into my paniyaram pan and made mini-thavalai adais. These are faster and taste just as great. If you want to take the faster route, try this.

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