Masalai Vadai or Masala Vadai or Masal Vadai is a snack popular in all the South Indian states. In Tamil Nadu it rules the snack counter, from the humble street vendor to a 5-Star hotel (though it may not have the authentic flavour). The leftover vadais are utilised to create the most mouth-watering dish Vadai Curry (but the ingredients apart from Masalai Vadais are never disclosed). It is mentioned in Tamil fables for children such as Paati Vadai Sutta Kadhai (Tale of Granny’s Vadais). It is also used as bait in rat traps because of its appetising fragrance and slightly hard texture.
My daughter, who is very fond of Masalai Vadai, has developed this simple recipe, but unlike the hard texture associated with this snack, she has given it a soft texture and the result is brilliant or awesome (depending on which generation you belong to).
- 2 C Bengal Gram Dhal (Vuluntham Paruppu)
- 2 medium Onions
- 2 Green Chillies, or to taste
- ½ C chopped Coriander Leaves
- ½ C chopped Curry Leaves
- 2 T grated Ginger
- 2 tsp Sombu (Aniseed)
- 2 tsp Salt, or to taste
- Vegetable Oil for deep frying
- Soak the Bengal Gram Dhal for 2 hours. Drain; set aside ¼ C of the soaked water.
- Place 2 handfuls of dhal in a mixie or blender, with about a tsp of salt. Pulse at speed 1 for 10 seconds. Add 1 T of soaked water and pulse again for 10 seconds each at speeds 1, 2 & 3. Remove to a large bowl. Repeat with the rest of the dhal and salt. The batter consistency should be coarse and thick.
- Dice the onions. De-seed the green chillies and dice. Add these to the batter along with the coriander leaves, curry leaves, grated ginger, and sombu. Mix well.
- Heat the oil in a wok or kadai.
- Take a ¼ C of batter, shape into a flat patty, and drop gently into the hot oil. Fry several at a time based on the capacity of wok.
- Fry on medium to low heat, turning over the vadais gently at least twice until they are a lovely golden brown on all sides.
- Remove and drain on absorbent paper.
- Salt should be added only during pulsing as it has a tendency to draw out water from the dhal, and therefore the amount of water added during pulsing has to be adjusted very carefully. If too much water is added the batter will become liquidy and unable to hold shape; too little water will make the vadai hard and dry. This step is vital to well-made Masalai Vadai.
- The batter should be thick enough to hold its shape before it is dropped in the oil.
- Take the patty close to the oil (but don’t let your fingers touch the oil) before releasing to avoid oil splash and to retain shape.
- Frying on medium to low heat will enable the vadai to be cooked evenly. If the oil temperature is too high, the outer shell will cook but the inside will remain raw. You can test the oil temperature by dropping a tiny blob of batter into the oil. At the right temperature it will sizzle and rise immediately to the surface. If it browns immediately, lower the temperature and test again after 2 minutes.
- The vadai is tasty enough by itself and does not need any accompaniments. If accompaniment is desired, either coconut chutney or sambar can be served.
- In the southern districts of Tamil Nadu, Masalai Vadai is known as Aamai Vadai (because it’s speckled appearance and hardness resembles a tortoise shell). A mixture of dhals (comprising Red Gram Dhal, Black Gram Dhal, Green Gram Dhal, and Bengal Gram Dhal) are used in different proportions, with Red Gram Dhal being the dominant Dhal.