When celebrity chef Gordan Ramsay made an impolite comment about medu vada on Twitter earlier this year, the Indian Twitterati were up in arms, determined to educate the multi-Michelin-starred chef about the goodness of the doughnut-shaped South Indian snack. Crunchy on the outside and spongy inside, medu vadas, along with idlis and dosas, complete the famous South Indian breakfast trinity. From Udupi restaurants and street stalls to five-star eateries and offerings to gods, medu vada finds a place on every coveted menu in the country. Yet, the savoury fare is not that commonly made in most Indian households. Too messy, time-consuming, challenging… these are some of the most common excuses we hear. What a pity to be deprived of the joy of munching on some home-cooked crispy vadas!
Back in time
Did you know that medu vada derives its name from its place of origin? Maddur is a small town in Karnataka. The next time you are on the Bangalore-Mysore Highway, do watch out! Kannadigas will tell you that ‘medu’ means ‘soft’. So, medu vada literally means soft fritter. There’s ancient literature to prove that these vadas were popular among Tamilians also, many, many centuries ago. In fact, Sri Lankan Tamil cuisines, till date, zestfully carry forward the vada tradition. Also known as uddina vade in Kannada, ulundhu vadai in Tamil, minapa vada or garelu in Telugu, and uzhunnu vada in Malayalam, the much-loved vadas have evolved over the years. From being made of de-skinned green beans paste to green gram, chickpea and even pigeon pea batter, today medu vadas are mostly made from black lentils (urad dal) batter. In Andhra Pradesh, they like to eat their vadas with chicken curry, while in Karnataka, there are folks who prefer to dunk their vadas in curd (mosaru vade). Rasam fans in Tamil Nadu, on the other hand, swear by rasa vadai (vada immersed in spicy rasam). How do you like to dig into your vadas?
Contrary to popular perception, medu vadas are not very difficult to make. The recipe entails soaking the black lentils in water for two-three hours, and then, grinding it to a thick paste without adding much water. Finally, you need to fry the vadas in oil until they are golden brown. The only challenge, arguably, is making the hole in the vada. While our ancestors may have done it without much fuss, for lesser mortals, more adept at handling smartphones, getting that signature doughnut shape can be the biggest deterrent to making vadas at home. It takes the right batter consistency and ample dexterity to ensure that the vadas don’t turn into a shapeless mess. Today, thanks to technology, it’s possible to create smart packaging that solves the hole-in-the-vada problem effortlessly and efficiently. And the best part is that you don’t need to compromise on the quality of ingredients or add baking soda to the seasoning (as they do in most restaurants) to get that fluffy vada right at home.
There’s no denying that vadas are super delicious, but did you know that they have a healthy side, too? Look beyond their deep-fried facade and you’ll see a world of nutritional goodness. Black lentils, the main ingredient of medu vadas, are a rich source of protein, Vitamin B, iron, folic acid, calcium, magnesium and potassium. Besides, when you make them at home, you eliminate the harmful trans-fat and cut down on the saturated fat content. Not to forget, the way a good home-made vada makes you feel! Relishing a plate of medu vadas with some sambhar and coconut chutney is a soul-satisfying experience. It’s the finest recipe to drive away the blues. You must try it.
Getting it right
• Be generous with the amount of oil you heat in a thick-bottomed pan for frying the vadas. You can remove the excess oil by placing the savouries on a tissue paper before serving them.
• To get vadas that are crisp on the outside, but soft inside, ensure that you get the oil temperature right. If the oil is too hot, the vadas will be undercooked inside. On the other hand, if the oil isn’t hot enough, the vadas will drink a lot more oil.
• Before you start frying the vadas, drop a blob of batter into the oil to check its temperature. If the batter quickly rises above the oil, you know that the oil is ready for frying the vadas.
• The secret to those crunchy vadas is rice flour. Add some to the black lentils batter to see the difference. You can also get experimental and add other ingredients, such as asafoetida, fenugreek, ginger, cumin seeds, black pepper, curry leaves or chillies to augment the flavour.
• Vadas taste the best right after they are made. So, always have them piping hot. Never refry them.
(The author is director, co-founder & head of new product development, iD Fresh Food)