Saturday, January 19, 2013

Medhu Vadai / Ulundu Vadai - A Step-Wise Tutorial

Warning: This is a super-long post. It is meant for those who want to make vadais and those who have been eating vadais all their lives without knowing the complexity of making one.

There are certain dishes in Indian cooking that are meant to showcase the skill levels of the cook who makes them. Have you seen that man in the corner chips store standing outside in front of a huge cauldron of boiling oil. He has a grater held at an angle and deftly slices the potato or banana in such a manner that it lands into the cauldron without even a drop of oil spluttering out. Next time you walk by a tea-stall, watch the man cool the tea  in a gravity defying display(i think its called tea-pulling!! I am not joking. Google it and see :-)).  It is the same with making jalebis and jangris - SKILL. Skill that I have realized that comes with practice and not by watching Masterchef. 

How is it that our grandmothers and mothers exhibit the same skill in making complicated dishes that require great sense of geometry and physics considering that they are not making it day in and day out like the chipswallah or tea master. I have watched with fascination during Diwali, Pongal and other festivals as frail hands mix and shape beautiful and delicate pieces of "kozhukkattai" with such precision that each piece is of the same dimension and contains the same amount of filling. (I made kozhukkattai once and the experience is better left unsaid. Think globs of undercooked flour! ).

One of the dishes that involves skill and practice that I have learnt  am learning is Medhu Vadais.  It is a breakfast dish in South India and is served in most restaurants along with steaming Pongal or soft idlies and a bucket of sambar and chutney. Due to the efforts involved, it is not an everyday dish in homes and is more of a festival food.



 I have been trying to make these vadais ever since I was allowed to come near a pan of hot oil. It involves bringing your hands close to boiling oil to drop the batter and therefore is not exactly a mom-and-me cookie making stuff. Making vadais is like a military operation. Coming to my experience, after exactly five attempts (done over 2 years and 5 festivals), my vadais now justify their name. It took 3 attempts for me to get that darn hole in the vadai (until then I was making medhu bonda). 

But none of the results were inedible. When I look back, it is not that difficult - especially not as difficult as kozhukkattai. (I am sure my kozhukattai would take atleast 10 trials. Look out for that post in 2016).

I made medhu vadais for the recent festival and it came out pretty decent. I agree that the shapes are no way close to precision and dont even start me on the hole. But if you ask me - how boring is it to have the same shaped vadai - I like my vadais to have character. Thats why I dont clone them. Infact I tell my family that life is like a plate of vadais. You never know which size or shape you are going to get them (hehe. Sorry Forrest Gump)

So here you go - my first post with steps - a tutorial on how to make Medhu Vadais. 

Disclaimer: This post may sound too much if you are my grandmother or a born vadai maker. I am no way close to a vadai expert (just look at that darn hole and you would know) and this post is not meant to be a Masterclass in vadai making. This is to help amateur vadai makers like me to impress their family. Do go through the extensive notes at the end of the recipe. (It is longer than the recipe itself).  If you have suggestions or advice, please feel free to leave them as comments. Will update the post with the same. 

Medhu Vadai / Ullundu Vadai / Deep-fried Indian Dumplings
Makes about 10-15 small vadais



Ingredients:

1 cup Whole Urad Dal (skinned white variety)
2 tablespoons Rice flour
1 tablespoon Ginger, finely chopped
Salt to taste
Oil for deep frying

Seasoning

2 Onions finely chopped
3-4 Green chillies, finely chopped
1/2 cup Coriander leaves, finely chopped
1/4 cup Curry leaves , finely chopped

Method:

Making the batter:

1. Wash the urad dal two or three times and soak in sufficient water for 1 to 2 hours.


2. Drain and grind to a smooth paste in a mixie or grinder along with the ginger. (Refer notes). Please add very little water during the grinding process. Adding water would result in loose batter that cannot be shaped into vadais. Ideally if you find the batter to be dry creating a strain on the grinder, then just sprinkle some water by hand and continue grinding until you get a smooth batter. The batter will be thick.

3. Just before stopping the grinding process, add the required amount of salt.






4. Mix in rice flour and the items given under seasoning.

5. Keep the batter in the refridgerator until frying.





Shaping and Frying the vadais:

1. Heat sufficient oil. Check if the oil has reached the correct temperature by dropping a small bit of the batter into the oil. If the batter immediately rises to the top, then the oil is ready. Else remove that piece and wait some more.

2.Keep a small bowl of water on your kitchentop. Wet your fingers and take about 1 tablespoon amount of batter with the four fingers on your hand.





3. Keep the batter on the top portion of the four fingers and using the thumb of your hand pat the batter and create a round shape to the batter.







4.. Using the thumb, make a hole in the
middle of the batter.



5. Gently slide the batter into the hot oil. Keep the stove on medium flame to ensure even cooking.Repeat from Step 2 for the rest of the vadais.


6 Gently turn the vada until both sides are golden brown.





7. Use a slotted ladle / spoon (jalli karandi) and remove onto a kitchen towel

8. The vadai should be crisp, evenly browned to a golden hue and should not have any oil on it. The insides should be white and fluffy.

9. Serve hot with chutney and sambar. Or go ahead and make some sambar vadai or thayir vadai (refer notes)




























Notes:


  • A wet grinder is the most ideal appliance for grinding the batter. If you dont have one, then a mixie would do. Do watch out for over-heating on account of longer grinding time in a mixie.  I have used a wet grinder.


  • The important aspect is the water content to the batter. It would seem difficult to grind without water. But take note that the urad dal has been soaked and therefore has a bit of water content. I would have added only about one or two tablespoons of water throughout the grinding process.  Too much water can be a disaster. If you do end up with a loose batter, try adding more rice flour. Or make medhu bondas. 
  • Rice flour helps in making crisp vadais. Too much of it will change the taste of the vadai. So keep it under 2 tablespoons.
  • Adding salt too early in the grinding would result in hard vadais. You can even add the salt after removing the batter to a vessel.
  • Adding ginger at the time of grinding is optional. It helps in not having to bite into ginger bits while eating. If you dont want to grind them, then add it along with the onion and chillies. Again it is optional.
  • Chilling the batter for 5 to 10 minutes enhances the texture of the vadai. Not mandatory. You can skip it if you want to make the vadais quickly.
  • Quantity of oil depends on the size of kadai and the size of the vadai.
  • If the oil is not of the right temperature, then it will result in oily and oil soaked vadais. If its too hot and smoking, then it will result in the vadai being cooked only on the outside with the middle remaining raw. Adjust the heat while frying to ensure even temperature.
  • If  you want to make bigger vadais or shaping and dropping the vadai and bringing your hands near the hot oil sounds dangerous, then do try it the traditional way with a small piece of banana leaf smeared with oil held in your left and using your right hand shape the vadai on the leaf and turn the leaf over slightly above the oil to drop the batter into the oil. Alternatively, you can use the slotted ladle that you use to fry and shape the vada on it directly and drop it into the oil. 
  • If you are a first-timer, then focus on making the vadai edible for the first couple of attempts. Don't fret too much over the shape. It will come with experience. Trust me :-)
  • With experience, you would be able to fry a batch of 4 or more vadais at a time.  Do not crowd too much as they may not get evenly cooked. 
  • If vadais seem to look oily, then keep the batter again in the fridge for 10-15 minutes. Alternatively add some more rice flour.
  • You can make the batter the previous day and store it in the refrigerator until frying. I have kept the batter in the fridge for a maximum of two days without affecting the taste and quality of the vadai. I am not sure about the maximum time it can be stored.


Variations:



1. You can omit any or all of the seasonings given if you like plain vadais
2. You can add roasted and crushed pepper, small pieces of coconut to the batter.
3. Restaurants normally add cooking soda/baking soda to the batter just before frying for giant sized crisp vadais. This is optional when you are making at home. I did not use it.
4. Soak the leftover vadais in sambar and garnish with chopped onions and chillies for a delectable sambar vadai.
5.Soak the vadais in curd that has been seasoned with mustard seeds, urad dal and chillies. Garnish with shredded carrot and serve chilled. This is the yummy thayir vadai.









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