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Medu Vada: Savory Lentil Fritters

 

medu-vada- savory lentil fritters

 

While the wind howled and screeched outside one day, whistling into our home through the fireplace and window panes, we stayed home  munching on these crispy, golden Vadas.

 

 

The winter is in no hurry to leave. I am still wrapping my coat around me and trying to snuggle my toes in those fuzzy socks when I get to stay home. We had been hoping for an early spring this year. I thought the groundhog had promised. The spring buds decided to overlook the chill and the near frosty weather and started to bloom.

Only it does not feel like spring.

 

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On that blustery afternoon, some Vadas were dunked in Sambar, while the rest of them vanished as I took them out of the wok. We had no chutney and it was sorely missed; for us, the favorite way to have these Vadas is with some freshly ground coconut chutney.

 

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It is an Indian custom to celebrate the rainy days or the cold days with good humor, close company & something deep fried ; sinful and indulgent. So we did; taking comfort and beating the cold with the crunchy but pillow soft Vadas.

 

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Medu Vadas are the traditional lentil fritters from the southern regions of India, gone wildly popular all over India. Breakfast, snack, party food, festival food, street food, or anytime food – they qualify for everything.

 

Medu Vada Diptych 1

 

They are quite skilfully shaped like a doughnut and then deep fried.

The shape of the doughnut does not come very easily for me, especially with a creamy, fluffy batter. But it worked this time. The batter was perfect and I thank my Blendtec for it. It is indeed after many years of struggling with many blenders that I had the batter just as it should be.

 

Urad-Dal-Raw-White-Lentils-1.jpg

  Husked and Split Urad Dal/White Lentils

 

However, it is perfectly alright to make these Vadas not shaped exactly like doughnuts. I have at times just scooped out little globs with a spoon and fried them. It is quicker and less frustrating than trying to be artistic. If you are just using little scoops, just make sure that they are not really big, or less there is a chance that the inside might stay uncooked.

I do not remember very many times when the Medu Vada used to be made in our home. At least not as frequently as it is done in the southern parts of India. Bengal has its own version of lentils fritters/cakes which are consumed as side dishes with the main meal, while some are saved for evening (or rainy day) snacks with a cup of tea. So this took a back seat when it came to making them at home.

 

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When we had Medu Vada, it was mostly cooked up by our good friends or we ate them on the streets or restaurants. We looked forward and to it and ate with vigorous enthusiasm.

 

And we still do….

 

medu-vada-1- savory lentil fritters

Medu Vada: Savory Lentil Fritters

Ingredients:  (makes about 25 vadas. number will vary with the size of the Vada)

  1. 1.5 cups urad dal/skinned/husk removed split or whole black gram
  2. 3/4 tablespoon fresh ginger, very finely chopped 
  3. 4 hot green chili peppers – like Thai bird , (or to taste) finely chopped
  4. 3-4 tablespoon curry leaves, chopped
  5. 1 onion, very finely chopped (optional)
  6. freshly ground black peppercorns
  7. salt to taste
  8. oil for deep frying
  9. some water if needed to make the batter (try to use as little as possible)
  10. Optional: other things that may be added are fresh coriander leaves (chopped) and also little pieces/scraps of fresh coconut

{Note}: While nothing other than salt and the lentils are needed to make the Vada, I always use fresh ginger, black pepper, hot green chili peppers and curry leaves when I make mine. Coconut, onion, and fresh coriander are good too.

 

 

Method:

Wash the lentils well and soak them overnight or for 3-5 hours. It is best that the batter is made right before you are ready to fry the Vadas. The longer the batter is allowed to sit, it is said that the Vadas will soak up more oil when fried. So try to make the batter right before you are ready to fry.

Blend the soaked lentils with as little water as possible, adding water in tiny splashes as required. It helps here to have a good grinder or food processor, as the everyday blenders heat up and you would need to use more water. I used Blendtec and the batter was perfect. The consistency should be like a creamy & fluffy paste. When the batter is scooped, it should not slide off the palm of your hand when you move your hands. The batter should also be whipped well and fluffed, with a lot of air incorporated in it. To test it, spoon out a scant teaspoon of batter in a bowl of water. If the batter is still floating, it is well whipped.

If you think the batter was not whipped enough during grinding, you can use the palm of your hands to whip the batter to incorporate air.

Note: A couple of things that may be done is the batter gets runny: add a couple of tablespoons of rice flour. This sort of works, but the more rice flour you add, the Vadas get less fluffy. Another way would be to leave the batter in the refrigerator uncovered for a while to tighten the batter. 

Once the batter is made, add whatever else (ginger, curry leaves, black pepper, onion, chili pepper, etc) you want to add in the batter, and whip it all together. Get ready to fry them right away.

The shape of the Vadas (like a doughnut) is the traditional shape and it would need a lot of practice and some skill to make them. The most important thing here is the consistency of the batter. If you have a runny batter, you can forget about trying to give them this shape and just spoon them in little quantities straight in the oil to make them.

If you are not shaping them like doughnuts, make sure to make small Vadas as there are chances that the inside will remain uncooked. The hole in the middle of the doughnut shape makes the inside of the Vadas cook well and completely.

Heat oil in a wok/kadai. Set aside a small bowl of water. You will need this to dip your fingers in to shape Vadas and make the hole in the middle.

(If you are trying making these for the first time, it helps to use a parchment paper or a sheet or a ziploc bag.)

 

The way I do it:

Wet the palm of one hand. With the other hand scoop out couple of tablespoon of batter and mound it on the wet palm of your hand. Flatten/pat the mound slightly and dip one finger and make a hole in the middle. If needed, wet your fingers again and give it a smooth edge/shape around on the sides.

If you are using the parchment/sheet/ziploc, wipe the surface with a wet kitchen towel or wet hands, just enough to make a thin invisible film of water. Place a scoop of batter on the surface and flatten it.  Dip your finger in water and make a hole in the center and then again wet the fingers to even out the sides.

(If you do not want to shape them like a doughnut, scoop about a tablespoon or less of the batter and fry in oil until golden brown).


When the oil in the wok/kadai is hot, carefully slide out the Vada in the hot oil. The Vadas are to be shaped one at a time, but about four Vadas may be fried at one time (the number will depend on the size of the wok and how much oil you have in there). Do not over-crowd.  Let them cook over medium flame. (Adjust heat as you watch them closely. Too much heat will turn them brown before the inside cooks ).

As it cooks, in less than a minute you will see the Vadas rise to the top. Turn them over after a couple of minutes once you see they are turning golden.

Once they are golden brown, remove them and drain on paper towels.

Serve with them piping hot with coconut chutney or sambar (spiced soupy lentils and vegetables cooked together).

 

Preparation Time: 4- 6 hours (soaking time included)
Cooking Time: 30-45 minutes
Difficulty Level: Intermediate
Serves: 4 (makes about 25 Vadas/fritters

 

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