This is my version of the Indian savoury snack Vadai, known by at least three other names, Vada, Vade and Wada.  It’s my version as amongst other changes, I have neither the skill or patience to shape it into its typical doughnut shape.  That has never deterred me from serving them with coconut chutney and mint chutney or a side of fresh whole green chillies.  Apart from its shape, what makes my vadais different?  Other recipes use a water base batter.  I use prawn/shrimp stock.  This gives the vadai a different taste layer, enhancing its flavour and making them less ‘beany’ tasting.

These vadais are served with green chillies. The way to eat them is to take a bite of vadai and then a bite of chilli. The savouriness of the vadai and the sweetness of the onions within goes well with the fresh tasting crisp green chillies. Be careful though as some chillies can be spicy hot! I usually stick to eating the bottom half of the chilli and then give up. It gets way too spicy for me from that point up.

For me, the best way to serve this is as pre-dinner nibbles.  The presentation and wholesome taste of these vadais will impress your guests enough that they know a delightful meal will soon follow.  The danger will be that they eat too many of them and fill up before that!  You can prepare your main course unhurried as these will keep your guests occupied and full enough till you are ready to stroll out with it.  Moreover, you will have time in between to mingle and powder your nose.  I love these kinds of recipes!

Vadai, Gluten Free Savoury Lentil Snack

Prep: 30 minutes 
Cook: 15 minutes
Inactive: 6 hours up to overnight to soak lentils/urud dal
Level: Intermediate
Serves: 6 to 8 as pre-dinner nibbles
Oil Temperature: 340F (170C)
Can recipe be doubled? Yes
Make ahead? Prawn stock can be prepared up to 2 days ahead. Batter can be frozen up 6 weeks.

Ingredients

To make prawn stock
15 medium sized (11.5 oz)(328g) prawns with shells and heads
1 Tablespoon oil
4 garlic smashed
2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
OR
Choose anyone of these quicker alternatives for stock
–3/4 cup of water + 1/2 of a prawn stock cube/1 teaspoon prawn granules*
–3/4 cup of bottled clam juice**
–3/4 cup of water + 1 teaspoon of clam/seafood granules***
–3/4 cup of water + 1 teaspoon of dashi granules*
Other ingredients
1 cup and 2 Tablespoons (9 oz)(250g) urud dal also known as black gram/lentils. Sometimes labelled as ‘white gram/lentils’** 
1 cup (4.5 oz)(130g) finely diced purple onions***
1/3 cup (1 oz)(28g) loosely packed finely cut coriander/parsley
2 long sprigs curry leaves, ~ 2.5 Tablespoons finely cut
2 large green chillies, remove seeds and finely diced
1 Tablespoon rice flour*
3/4 teaspoon cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon dashi granules**
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda***
pinch of asafoetida*
For frying
Enough neutral tasting oil (for instance, not olive oil but sunflower, safflower or rice bran) to come up to about 2″ (5 cm) deep in your frying pot.
To serve
One, a combination, or all of the following:
–Fresh green chillies
Coconut Chutney
Mint Chutney
–Tomato Salsa/Sauce but not ketchup please. Salsa/sauce is not authentic at all but neither is this recipe. In a pinch, I open a bottle of Prego Marinara Sauce.  Alternatively, try making my Tomato Chutney.
* I purchase prawn stock cubes/granules from Filipino grocers.
** Bottled clam juice can be found at better stocked supermarkets.
*** Korean grocers carry clam/seafood granules on their store shelves.
* Dashi granules are like the bouillon cube of Japanese cuisine. Made from a base of bonito (fish) and I am sure other flavour enhancers.  Found in most supermarkets and at Japanese grocery shops.
** These can be purchased from Indian grocers.  Image below. The lentils you want to buy are actually off white in colour. The black husks have been removed revealing the inner off white colour. You might also find on the Indian grocer’s shelves, black gram lentils. Those still have the husks attached. Buy white ones. Soak the lentils at least 6 hours. I tend to soak them overnight.
*** Use purple onions and not yellow as purple onions are more often than not the onion of choice to be used in Indian cooking.
* This helps give the fritters a crispy edge.
** I prefer using dashi granules as it does add the umami flavour that I am after. Alternatives: 1/2 teaspoon prawn/clam/seafood granules OR 1/3 of a prawn stock cube (pulverise this with a knife before using)
*** This helps soften the lentils.
* This is a lengthy description, please scroll down to ‘Tips‘ to find out more.

Asafoetida is the less than pea-sized, beige-coloured pile, in the glass dish, bottom right. The larger granules on its right, in the same dish, are dashi granules.
Left: Lentils before soaking. Right: Lentils after soaking.

Method

Soak the lentils
1. Pick out any grit from the lentils. Rinse clean.
2. Cover in water and soak for at least 6 hours or overnight.

To make prawn stock
1. Wash prawns. Remove shells and heads. Set aside. Save the prawn meat for another use as we will not need it.
2. In a pot, lightly brown garlic in oil. Add prawn shells and heads and fry until it turns orange and smells fragrant. I fry them at least 5 to 8 minutes on medium-high heat until it looks as if it is coming close to being burnt. Frying it thus enhances the flavour of the prawns. Watch the garlic though.
3. Add water and salt. Boil down until you have 1 cup of stock even though the recipe calls for 3/4 cup of stock. Always better to have some extra.
4. Use a potato masher to mash up prawn shells and heads in the pot. Drain and set stock aside.

Making the batter
1. Drain and rinse the urud dal well. Drain well so that you can add as much prawn stock as possible.
2. Grind urud dal with prawn stock until you have a smooth and thick batter similar to hummus. Thin down further with more stock if required. I doubt you will need to. The batter has to be thick. Remove urud dal from mixer into a large bowl and mix in all other ingredients.

The batter has a thick but somewhat loose consistency.

3. Place the batter into a heavy duty plastic freezer bag.  At this point you can freeze the batter as is.

Frying 
1. If you are frying them straight away, heat 2″ (5 cm) of oil in your frying pot to 340F (170C).
2. When the oil is hot, snip off 3/8″ (1 cm) off the corner of the freezer bag.
3. Pipe a continuous 1 and 1/2  circle of batter (6′ to 8″ long)(15 to 20 cm long ) directly into the hot oil. There is really no right shape. Some end up looking like wriggles. It is fine.
4. Turn them after they start to colour on one side. They usually cook in about 2 to 5 minutes.  Do not overcrowd your pot or the temperature will drop and the vadai will be oily and soggy.
5. Drain on wire cooling racks before serving with your choice of whole fresh green chillies, mint chutney, coconut chutney, tomato chutney or Prego Marinara Sauce. They are all good choices!

Tips

Asafoetida
Refer to image above, just below the box for ‘Ingredients‘ to find out what it looks like. Asafoetida is the resin derived from the herbaceous ferula family. You can buy this beige-grey coloured powdered spice at your Indian grocer. I use this for its anti-flatulence properties. It is an ingredient used as far as I am aware, primarily in Indian cooking. Its use has not transcended borders as much as other spices associated with the Indian cuisine. Perhaps because it smells dangerously sulphuric. The smell might just shock you enough to send you reeling back a few steps. I keep the plastic container where it comes stored in when I buy it, in a plastic bag and then in a glass jar. That is how pungent it smells. Add too much of it in your food and it overwhelms the dish. I am very conservative with the amount I add. I cannot accurately tell you the flavour it imparts as it is a totally different spice. All I know is if I add it to my lentil/bean dishes, my tummy feels a whole lot better. If I really have to describe the taste it imparts, I would say it is a mix of onion, fennel and garlic. Omit if you cannot bring yourself to buy or use it. I do use it in my recipe for Coconut Chutney.

Freeze the batter to use as a quick snack
I recommend making a double batch of these and freezing them in a few plastic freezer bags. They are so convenient. They thaw and fry up quickly. You can serve them as snacks when you have unexpected guests. It doesn’t matter if you have no chutney to serve with it. Green chillies and bottled tomato salsa or sauce will suffice. If you have neither, than just serve with a cup of tea.

Serve them for tea with a cup of Chai/Masala Tea or a refreshing Pineappleade
These are just right to serve for tea with a cuppa. I have a recipe for Chai Tea also known as Masala Tea. 

If you want something nondairy to go with vadais then try my Pineappleade. It can be served hot or cold. Either way, it is always refreshing.

WHAT’S  COMING UP NEXT?

Coconut Chutney! Don’t limit yourself to serving this chutney with just vadais. They are good with pakoras and tortilla chips straight out from a bag!

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