I believe everyone had a wonderful Mother's Day. I wanted to post a recipe that I will always associate with my mother today and one that I know she loves too - vadai. Being a diabetic, she rarely indulges in sweetmeat and is more of a snack person. She also happens to be a vegetarian and a very picky eater but one thing she will never be able to resist is deep-fried goodness like these crispy lentil fritters (paruppu vadai) or masala vadai.
This vadai goes by many different names but is often sold as masala vadai at restaurants, probably because the word masala conjures such pleasant images to people. I tried to make these once before, in my early days of cooking, but unfortunately that attempt went bonkers and the vadai fell apart while frying. I did the mistake of not grinding the batter properly. Anyway, I have finished mourning that mishap and have been wanting to give this another try. This time the masala vadai turned out really well and I was told it tasted great too.
We don't normally add garlic to this but I was inspired to try these with garlic after seeing a recipe on Rak's Kitchen for the same. I do add ground garlic to falafel and pakoda and since the garlic adds an immense depth of flavour, especially to fried food, it got me curious. Those of you who do not wish to use garlic could substitute the garlic with a pinch of asafoetida (hing). The green chilies are optional and could be added if you prefer your masala vadai to be really hot.
1 cup yellow lentils (chana dal)
1/2-1 tsp fennel seeds (or powder)
1 1/2 tsp red chili powder
2-3 green chilies (optional)
2 garlic cloves
2 sprigs curry leaves
3/4 to 1 tsp salt (or to taste)
Oil for frying
Rinse and wash the lentils in water 4 times or so until the water becomes clear and then soak the yellow lentils for 4 hours. Finely chop the onion, garlic cloves and the green chilies (if you are adding them). I prefer to cut the curry leaves with a food scissor as well. After 4 hours the lentils should have doubled in size. Drain the lentils. Put away 1/4 of the lentils and grind the remaining with garlic. Alternatively, grind the fennel seeds as well, because they can be a little domineering in flavor as whole. The batter should be ground coarsely with a generous amount of whole lentils. The more whole lentils there are in the vadai, the crunchier the vadai will turn out. So bearing this in mind, don't grind the lentils too much - just enough so as to able to shape them. In a bowl, mix the batter with red chili powder, curry leaves, onion, fennel seeds, salt and green chilies (if you are adding these) and mix/knead well.
Heat the oil needed for frying the vadai. Prepare a plate with tissue or absorbent paper to to drain the excessive oil from the deep-fried vadai and keep aside. Pinch off some batter and shape a small ball out of it and then flatten it out little to resemble a small cookie and carefully place one vadai in the oil. Take care not to splash oil while dropping the vadai into the oil. Also, take care not to drop it from a high altitude so as to avoid splashing hot oil around you. Fry it until it looks crisp on medium heat. Once you have fried the first vadai, taste to check whether the salt level is right. Add some more salt at this stage, if needed, and knead the batter before frying the rest of the vadai. Make sure the oil is really hot when dropping the vadai to get a crispy exterior, then lower the heat to medium so that it gets evenly fried. Serve the vadai warm and crispy with chutney/dip/ketchup or enjoy them just the way they are. Good luck!