I am from South of India, the land of idlis, sambar and … the MEDHU VADAI. There is really nothing like it. Its a deep fried fritter whose crispy exterior dances a medley with soft interior in your mouth. Called by many names, ulundhu vadai (Tamil), uddina vade (Karnataka), minapa vada (Telugu) and uzhunnu vada (Kerala), it is a ubiquitous entry in any South Indian restaurant especially in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka cuisines. It is popular all over India and has travelled the world and is surprisingly (for me), a favorite in Singapore and China too.
I remember the numerous occasions when I have devoured this vadai – elaborate three course South Indian wedding feast, festival times (we have so many of them!), as a snack and for breakfast. Breakfast? Fried food for breakfast? Come on! We are not the first culture to have deep fried, scrumptious delicacies for breakfast!
In fact this delicious, melt in your mouth vadai first made its appearance as a breakfast dish. And it is still eaten as such, along with idli (steamed rice dumplings) or dosai (a savory crepe made with rice and urad dal batter) with different types chutneys (coconut, tomato, mint) and sambar.
Though I would love to claim the fame of this dish to Tamil Nadu (thats where I am from), it was invented in Karnataka, particularly in the town of Maddur. According to K.T.Achaya, the author of Indian Food: A Historical Companion, the ancient Indian text Dharmasutras (800 to 300 BCE) and Manasollāsa (12th century Sanskrit encyclopedia), refers to the vadai as “vataka” and mentions it to be a popular snack during that time.
Traditionally, Urad Dal or Ullundhu (Vigna Mungo – with its skin removed) is soaked for five hours or fermented overnight and pounded into a thick white paste (batter) in a wet grinder (commonly used in Indian cuisine to make batters). To this batter, salt, whole black peppercorns, green chilies, ginger and curry leaves are mixed. The batter is shaped like a doughnut and deep fried in oil. The result? Crunchy on the outside and pillowy soft on the inside. Mouthwatering and so yummy!
Usually vegetarian, today there are many variations to this simple dish. Street vendors are mixing in prawns, shrimp, fish, eggs and a host of other meat to spice up the palette. The batter gives you a clean slate to mix it up and make it your own. Make it spicy with lots of green chillies and lots of onion, the way my family likes it. Dunk it in sambar to make sambar vadai or immerse it spiced yogurt to make “thayir” vadai. Make it small and eat 10 at a time or make it big and have it with chutney.
This basic recipe of the Medhu Vadai that I am posting is my grandmother’s, handed down from my mother. I add raw rice and roasted gram dal (pottukadalai) to the urad dal when soaking, for a beautifully crunchy exterior.
Warning! This deceptively simple lentil fritter takes quite a bit practice to perfect.
Note: I have made the batter, grinding it in a Vitamix Vitamix 5200 Blender, Black but the vadais come out a bit hard. Wet grinder is the way to make this.
What do we need – Ingredients
- 2 Cups Urad Dal or Ullundhu (whole, without the skin)
- 1 Tablespoon Roasted Gram Dal (Pottukadalai)
- 1 Tablespoon Raw Rice (Sona Masoori or Basmati)
- 2 Teaspoons Salt
- Oil for deep frying
- 2 Green Chillies (or more per your spice level. I don’t add them for the kids vadais)
- 1/2 Medium Onion finely chopped
- 1 Tablespoon Cilantro, finely chopped
- 1 Tablespoon Curry Leaves, finely chopped
- Wet Grinder Ultra Dura+ Table Top 1.25L Wet Grinder with Atta Kneader, 110-volt
- Gallon size Ziplock bag for shaping
Now lets make this – Procedure
- Place urad dal, roasted gram dal and raw rice in a container/vessel that can hold 3 times the volume of the ingredients. Add water to more than half the vessel and let it ferment for 5 hours or overnight. The grains will swell up to almost double in volume.
- Drain and rinse the dal. Grind it to a smooth thick batter with little water in the wet grinder (use manufacturers instructions). It should be airy and thick or you cannot shape them. Add salt to the last stages before transferring to a container. This ensure even distribution of salt in the batter.
- Now you can add your flavorings – green chili, cilantro, curry leaves and onion.
- Heat oil in the fryer or deep heat proof vessel to 350 F.
- Wet your hands and brush it across one side of the ziplock bag facing you. Place a lemon size or small ladle of the batter on the ziplock and flatten it slightly with your fingers. Make a hole in the middle to give the classic doughnut shape.
- Now comes the tricky part. Transfer the shaped batter to your hands and slip it into the hot oil. This takes practice like i said. You can also make small vadais by shaping the batter direct on your wet fingers and dropping them into the oil. Thats how I started making them.
- Deep fry till golden on both sides and delicious. You can usually fry 3 or 4 vadais at the same time depending on the size of vadai and the fryer. Eat it by itself or with Sambar (I love Arachuvita Vengaya Sambar) and Chutney (Coconut chutney is my personal favorite).