Though the Vazhaipoo Vadai is not a new recipe, it came into prominence in cookery demonstrations after it was mentioned in the Tamil film Kandukonden Kandukonden (which was based on Sense and Sensibility though that story did not feature Vazhaipoo Vadai). There are several versions of this recipe. My mother even had a version with ground coconut added along with cumin and garlic but I never relished it (maybe because the garlic made it very pungent). I experimented with most of them and arrived at the method below as it is very simple.
Serving vazhaipoo vadai as a side dish for lunch or dinner is considered an honour to the guest. In Tamil lore the banana flower is credited with magical powers at curing ulcers of the mouth, stomach, and uterus. However this is not borne out by any systematic scientific research. Its vitamins, minerals, energy, fat, protein, and carbohydrate content is almost insignificant, but as this dish is deep fried and contains different flours it contributes a lot of energy from both fat and carbohydrate.
For preparing the banana flowers
- 2 Banana Flowers
- ¼ C Curds/Unsweetened Yoghurt
- ½ tsp Salt
- ¼ C Water
For the partial cooking of the banana flowers
- 1 large Onion, diced
- 3 sprigs Curry Leaves, chopped
- 2 tsp Kashmiri Chilli Powder
- ¼ tsp Turmeric Powder
- 1 tsp Cumin Powder
- 1 tsp Sombu (Aniseed Powder)
- 1 T Vegetable Oil
- ½ tsp Salt
For the batter
- 1 C Bengal Gram Dhal Flour
- ½ C Black Gram Dhal Flour
- ½ C Rice Flour
- 1 tsp Salt, or to taste
For deep frying
- 2 C Vegetable Oil
Preparing the banana flowers
- Remove the red, tough outer layer (bract) and separate the flowers. There will be multiple layers of bract and flowers in each banana flower. The innermost bract layers are white and tender. The flowers cannot be separated from the bract in these portions, and are used unseperated.
- Each flower has a hard pistil and a semitransparent scale. These must be removed because they give a bitter taste and they cannot be digested.
- Dice the flowers and the unseperated white and tender portion.
- Mix curds, water, and salt, and add to the banana flowers. Cover and leave aside for 30 minutes.
Partial cooking of the banana flower
- Heat the oil in a large, non-stick skillet. Add the onions and fry till translucent.
- Squeeze the soaked flowers to remove the liquid; add to the onion and fry till almost dry.
- Add the chilli, turmeric, cumin, sombu powders and salt, and blend. Add the curry leaves and fry till the mix is dry.
Preparing the batter
- Blend bengal gram dhal, black gram dhal, and rice flour together with salt.
- Add a few tablespoons of water and make a push batter.
- Add the banana flower mix to this; blend well and adjust salt.
- Divide the mix into lemon-sized balls, and shape into flat patties.
- Heat the oil for deep frying in a kadai or wok. When sufficiently hot, add a few patties at a time, and fry.
- Remove when golden brown. Drain on paper towels.
- When the bract is removed a thick sap will ooze out that will leave a very dark stain on your fingers. You can rub your fingers with oil to prevent them getting stained. Take care not to get the sap on your clothes; the stain is permanent.
- Removing, cleaning, and dicing the bract and flowers is very time consuming. I suggest doing this the previous day and storing the diced flowers in the refrigerator.
- Soaking the diced flowers in curds removes the bitterness from the flavour.