Thursday, January 5, 2012

Dal Vada: Simply the best way to eat Lentils

Dal Vada aka Parippu Vada: Deep fried Fritters made from crushed, soaked split grams, (chana dal) and studded with sweet onions, green chilies and curry leaves, and some very Indian spices. These babies are crispy and chewy on the outside and melt in the mouth from the inside when made perfectly. And needless to say, it just makes your life when you enjoy a handful of these with a cup of Tea.
Traditionally, these deep fried goodies used to be tea-shop staples, found in every such small stall in the South. There are many versions to it, depending on whick part in Southern India you buy them from. The tea-shop ones are usually as large as your palm and come with a spongy chewy center and lacy-crisp edges.
I even had one with bits of potatoes sticking from it once! The ones my Mom used to make were delicious, light and soft , but crispy only when hot. I like her version too, but I prefer the rustic chunkiness of my recipe better.
And always make these more than you need, because leftover vadas soaked in Rasam ( a spicy temperd consomme made from Tamarind pulp) is worth dying for. (Thats an entirely different topic, I need to cover sometime!)
When I was growing up, my parents were obsessed about Dal vadas. Mom would make these at home of course, but Dad never missed any chance to buy those hot from vendors either, if he reached them before these hot crispy delicacies sold out. I was a kid and stayed away religiously from any kind of chili and so obviously never understood what the big deal about dal vada was!
To get it, I had to grow up. I truly started appreciating good spicy food, somewhat after my twenties. Before that, I guess I got plenty of chances to have my load of bland foods, and eventually realized without a decent dose of chilies, no Indian meal is worth it. You might as well as go eat spaghetti or a burger!!!
And thats when I started making authentic Indian dishes, for myself. But the problems were too many....there were limited ingredients available at the Indian grocery stores and were still expensive to us fresh-imports, who still converted all our dollar expenses into rupees, and cried over the inflation on a regular basis. And to add to the woes, the heavy duty mixer-grinders mandatory in every Indian kitchen, were sorely absent in the American markets. The only blender that we could find was an Oster which could grind up pretty much every grain if soaked for 12 hours and watered down heavily. It was as if the blenders had just one purpose: to make opposed to Indian blenders which could make chutneys, powder grains and batter soaked pulses in less than 20 minutes.
My recipes weren't independent yet, too. All my culinary advice and troubleshooting came from my Mom on the other side of the planet over 30 minutes worth of calling cards, and cross connections aplenty. After all the hurdles, when my vadas finally turned up too fine (thanks to the Oster), and was still kind of raw inside, we still had to chug it down with tea, though we craved the ones made by our Moms in no time.
Evolution was slow, but then I met an amazing girl, who though a born Keralite was brought up in Chennai and hence used to the Tamilian style of cooking. She made these mini dal vadas for me one evening, which were the best I had ever eaten. I closely analyzed her style and mine and got the answers from her why mine were such disasters. And that was when I created my current Dal-Vada aka Parippuvada recipe.
It still doesnt hold a candle to the vadas that my friend Amitha makes but I love this version better than the ones I have tasted when I was younger.
So here is my recipe for dal Vadas:-

2 cups of split gram soaked overnight in water and drained
3-4 green chilies, chopped finely
1 medium onion chopped finely
2-3 sprigs of curry leaves, washed
1/2 tsp asafoetida powder
salt as needed
1/2 tsp of powdered fennel seeds
1/4 tsp red chili powder

Oil- to deep fry

Using the chop function of your food processor, crush the grams, reserving 2 tbsp of un-crushed grams for later. Try to not use any water. The drier it is, the lesser oil it will absorb. Do it in batches if needed.
In a big bowl, mix by hand, all the ingredients, including the reserved grams.  Check the salt and add more if needed.
Make small marble sized balls or golf ball sized ones, as per your choice, Flatten the balls into patties and slowly slide them into hot oil. Cook them in moderate-low heat, in order to cook it from the inside. Watch out, if it browns too fast, take the heat down a notch. Cook until it turns uniformly reddish brown all over, and the onions get a caramelized look.
Drain on paper towels. Serve hot with tea,

Alternately, you can also add chopped spinach leaves into the batter to increase nutritive values. Enjoy!!

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