Soft, melt in the mouth wadas nestled close together in that bowl he held out to me. “Chaat Masala?” he asked, as he took out that little plastic bottle which held the very essence of street food. I nodded in approval as I stretched out the bowl towards him for him to sprinkle some of that Chaat Masala on the white creamy yogurt that covered those dumplings like a soft sheath of snow.
After a few long grueling classes and a travel which took more than two hours to reach my college, that bowlful seemed like my gateway to heaven. The chilled yogurt was particularly good on a hot sweltering day. The spices blended in with the sticky, sweet and sour tamarind chutney and there are no words to describe how the myriad flavors combine in this dish.
Our break time during our college years, meant we either piled down to the college cafeteria or we would walk down the street corner from the back gates of the campus to this tiny restaurant. I do not remember the name and I wonder if it still stands there. There was no place to sit down and eat. Only a counter top divided the restaurant owner and the kitchen from the customers. We either had to carry out the food to the “green benches” of St. Xavier’s, or just there and eat with the bowls on the counter top.
In a country were more than half the people are vegetarians, lentils and dairy form an integral part of the Indian cuisine. In India yogurt is usually consumed along with meals in its plain and purest form unlike all the flavored ones that we find in the plastic tubs and tubes in the western world. Some are used in cooking, drinks or desserts and a lot it become a part of the Indian snacks – the street side snacks called the Chaat.
Dahi Wada or Dahi Bhalla as it is called in the northern parts of India is the lip smacking combination of deep fried lentil dumplings topped with creamy yogurt, a chutney and spices.
A wada/vada is deep fried piece of lentil dumpling. It is fluffy and spongy like a doughnut, only not sweet.
The fried vadas are then soaked in salted water for a few hours. This process not only removes all the oil, it also softens them, making them ready to absorb the creamy yogurt.
Once the dumplings are softened, they are topped of with generous amount of whisked and chilled creamy yogurt.
On top of the yogurt goes the sweet and tart date and tamarind chutney. This would be the part where the Dahi Wadas differ from one region to another. While the north Indians will spoon out a generous amount of the chutney, the Dahi Wadas in the southern parts of India are served with a different kind of seasoning.
I grew up loving this chutney and this probably is the fun part of the Dahi Wada for me, where it infuses the just the right amount of all possible flavors to tickle each and every part of your taste buds. The explosion of flavor will take you by surprise.
Over the chutney goes a generous sprinkle of Chaat Masala and red chili powder, finished of with a fistful of fresh coriander and pomegranate arils when they are in season.
The heat of the spices is countered by the cool and creamy yogurt. Each element in the dish subtly complement one another. The soft wadas scooped out with a generous amount of cold yogurt and spices happens to create the most marvelous experience.
The street side Dahi Wada is the finest example of unalloyed culinary epiphany!
Dahi Wada: Lentil Dumplings in Yogurt with Spices
Ingredients: (serves 4-6)
- 3/4 cup dhuli urad dal/husked and split black lentils
- a pinch of asafoetida/hing
- 1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger – Optional
- salt to taste + water
- oil to deep fry
For the yogurt topping:
- 2 + 1/4 cup plain yogurt, whisked well and chilled (the yogurt needs to be of somewhat thin consistency/pourable yet be able to coat the dumplings. If you are using thick drained or Greek yogurt, whisk the yogurt with some water to make it the right consistency)
- a few tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro/coriander
- black salt/kala namak or Chaat Masala - as much as you need
- red chili powder, as much as you need
- roasted cumin powder, as much as you need
- date and tamarind chutney, as much as you need
Soak the lentils for about four hours. Wash them well. Grind the drained lentils with as little water as possible. The batter needs to be a bit grainy, thick and fluffy.
If it happens that you do not have a batter which is not like a paste, but runny, leave it overnight in the refrigerator in an uncovered container. The wadas or the dumplings are best made right after grinding them and they also require less oil when fried, but if it happens that the batter is not right, this is the next best thing to do instead of having to throw it away. Some of the extra water evaporates over the hours and tightens the batter. Bring it room temperature before frying them.
In a large bowl combine water (enough for the dumplings to be soaked in) and salt and set aside.
Add asafoetida/hing and ginger if you are using, to the batter and mix/fluff well with hands/fingers or with a whisk. It is extremely important for the batter to be fluffy and as much air incorporated in it. Heat oil in a wok.
Drop a tiny scoop in the oil to test if it is hot. The batter should rise up if the oil if ready. Apply a little water on palm. Scoop a small amount of batter and pat lightly with damp fingers to flatten it. Gently release into hot oil. Or you may wet a spoon, and scoop out with a spoon and drop them in oil. The shape really does not matter, though a round and flattened dumpling is traditionally the way it is supposed to be. Repeat with remaining batter. Fry till wadas are golden brown.
Remove the cooked wadas/dumplings with a slotted spoon and transfer them to the bowl of salted water. Allow all the wadas to soak for at least an hour. When ready to serve, squeeze out the water from the wadas between the palm of your hands, making sure they do not break. The water needs to be squeezed out well, as the wadas will need to absorb some of the yogurt.
Arrange the wadas a serving dish. If you wish you make whisk some of the chopped cilantro with the chilled yogurt. Pour chilled yogurt over wadas and serve garnished with kala namak/rock salt or Chaat Masala , red chilli powder, roasted cumin powder, sweet tamarind chutney and chopped coriander leaves.
Preparation Time: 2-4 hours<
Cooking Time: 10-15 minutes
Difficulty Level: Easy
- Aloo Vada/Fried Potato Dumplings
- Khandvi: Seasoned Chickpea Rolls
- Nimki – The Crunchy Little Diamond
- Nutty Nutella Swirls
- Onion Crackers
- Onion Pakoras/Fritters
- Indian Spiced Chicken Strips
- Indian Spiced Popcorn
- Farinata with Grilled Vegetables
- Fried Chickpeas or Ceci Frito
- Fusion Farinata
- Green Peas Stir Fry with Chaat Masala
- Grilled Corn with Lime and Chili, Basil Salt
- Grilled Vegetable and Hummus Tart
- Arbi Fry: Chickpea and Spice crusted Taro
- Asian Pancakes
- Balsamic Roasted Mushroom with Goat Cheese
- Beguni- Batter Fried Eggplants
- Cabbage and Chickpea Roulade
- Chick Pea Salad with Roasted Tomatoes
- Chickpea and Poppy Seed Batter Fried Squash Blossom
- Chinese Bhel
- Chola Mix – a ring from the past…