Sunday, April 7, 2013

Mamma's Parippu Vada (Yellow Split Pea fritters)

Now, for the ones who are still wondering what the big deal is a Parippu vada, its nothing but soaked yellow split peas/ channa dal ground coarsely and mixed with spices, shallots and salt and deep fried. But its not as simple as it sounds. Every Indian state makes it with a variation and every one defends their version. Housewives are silent when it comes to their secret ingredient, and no two women makes their vada, the same way.
There are soft and chewy versions, and some of these soft-and-chewies have fillings (think onions, curry leaves etc) added for texture. Some just grind it coarse and leave it chunky with the fillings ground in for a mysterious flavor. Then there is my honest version where all the ingredients are thrown in a rustic mix, and you can actually see what you bit into and hence no surprises.
When I hear the term Parippu vada, I just subconsciously get transported into a hot, fast moving, express train and am sitting cross legged on a top berth, with a wrapped paper parcel in front of me. Inches from my head is an electric fan enclosed in a dusty, metal cage, whirring away top speed, and still managing to only circulate the hot air further, instead of cooling.
I peel away the paper, to reveal a banana leaf wrap inside, separating my eager fingers from the mysterious goodies inside. And with mounting glee, I peel open the steaming banana leaf, only to unleash a cloud of aroma bursting forth from piping hot, delicious parippu vadas, that are inside. Despite the heat, I grab a hot vada that is as big as my palm, crispy on the edges, and softer in the center, and take a greedy bite. I chew it fast before it gets to burn my mouth, and savor the aroma of fennel seeds filling up my nose and the savory salty goodness of the vada sending my taste buds into pure rapture. Dad repeats the question from down somewhere in earth, "I asked, Will you have a tea with it?" And I nod blissfully, taking another bite of that blessed piece of food, and getting a spicy hot green chili piece, in my mouth, instantly setting my moth on a fire, making me crave the hot-and cooling effect of sweet, milky tea, that appears in front of me- the timing just perfect! Thanks to the Pantry Car and roaming Tea-Sellers in our train!
That, as unique as that sounds, happens to be the same experience almost every other Mumbaiite Mallu kid had at least once in their Summer train trip to Kerala.
My Dad, an ardent fan of Parippu Vadas, never missed a chance to treat us kids to it, whenever he found a good specimen. I have loved the Railway Stall offerings, but never figured out how much until I moved away from home. At home, Mom always made them chewy but never crunchy, with all the right amount of spices and flavors.
When I started making them on my own at first, I made them just like my Mom made them, but it took an accidental mishap (my food processor broke down halfway into the grinding) to discover how I liked my vadas, and finally lead me to my original recipe here. The original recipe was also majorly influenced by one of my sweetest friends Amitha, who to-this-day makes the best Parippu vadas in the history of mankind, and I have to admit, no matter how much I try, I might never attain the perfection that she achieves in her creation.
I have always preferred my snacks crunchy, so my Vadas are no different. I don't like them overly spicy, so I have avoided the red chilies that are present in the traditional ones. But I do add more green chilies to the mix to make them hot enough to be cooled down with a hot cup of tea, kinda like fighting fire with fire.
Since its purely vegetarian, and very simple to make, I suggest everyone give this recipe a try and let me know how you like my version.

Makes about 24-36 mini Vadas or 12-16 palm sized ones.

Ingredients:- 2 cups yellow split peas, soaked for 4-5 hours,then rinsed and drained
1 medium onion or 1 cup shallots, finely chopped
2 tbsp roasted fennel seeds
1 tsp ground fennel seeds
1 tsp red chili powder ( optional)
5-6 coarsely chopped green chilies
2 sprigs of curry leaves (chopped coarsely, if they are large; else leave them whole)
salt (as needed)
1/2 tsp sugar

Oil-to deep fry

Preparation:-In a food processor, take about 2/3 the soaked split peas and pulse it until fine, without adding water.
In a big bowl, mix together the pulsed peas, onions, fennel seeds, chili powder, green chilies, curry leaves, salt and sugar.
Lastly fold in the remaining soaked peas. These will provide crunchiness and texture to the vadas once they are fried.
Heat oil. Insert the narrow end of a wooden spoon into the oil. If you see bubbles rising up from the dipped end of the spoon, the vadas are ready to go in.
Make a small ball from the mixture and gently flatten it in your palms. Make sure the center is not too thick or else your vadas may not cook uniformly on the inside.
Lower the flattened ball, gently and carefully into the hot oil, and deep fry it for a couple minutes on medium low heat, turning over once- as necessary, until it turns a golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels.
Repeat with the remaining mixture until, all used up.
Serve with a nice hot Chai!

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