Last week was the Tamil New Year, and that always warrants something special. And what can be more special than crunchy, utterly satisfying deep-fried food?
I won’t lie: although I like to watch what I eat, it is never easy for me to resist the golden deliciousness of foods dunked in bubbling oil. Given my sub-zero willpower around fried foods of any sort, I usually resist temptation simply by not keeping store-bought fried foods around the house.
But festivals are a great excuse to pull out that cast-iron pan and get some oil on the boil.
For the new year, Desi suggested masala vadai, one of his favorites.
Masala Vadai is pretty easy to put together and very versatile. It can be a snack, an appetizer at parties, a light meal, even, with some sambar and chutney.
You can add some veggies like cabbage or spinach to your vadais to make them more nutritious. But one ingredient is an absolute must if you want the true flavor of a traditional masala vadai: cinnamon.
I added some saunf and garlic and onion as well– all traditional ingredients that together bring an exquisite complexity to the flavor of the vadai.
For a slightly untraditional twist, I served it with an avocado-tofu chutney that was really quite delicious and healthy to boot.
So here it is, my own chunk of deep-fried bliss, Masala Vadai with Avocado-Tofu Chutney. Hope you enjoy it!
1 cup chana dal, soaked at least 2 hours
3-4 1-inch sticks of cinnamon
1 tsp saunf
10-15 curry leaves
3 red chilies or 1 tsp chili powder
1 red onion, diced
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
Salt to taste
2 tbsp cilantro, chopped
Oil for deep frying.
Put all the ingredients other than the cilantro and the oil into a food processor or blender and process until it comes together in a coarse paste. I ground up my vadai batter quite fine, but you could leave a few visible bits of the dal in there for a more traditional look.
Try not to add any water, because you want a stiff batter that you can shape into vadais. If your blender refuses to budge, however, add water 1 tablespoon at a time until it relents. If the batter gets too loose, sprinkle in just enough chickpea flour so the dough holds together.
Add the cilantro to the batter and mix in. Check the seasoning and add more salt if needed.
Heat oil in a cast-iron or other pan.
Make a ball about one inch in diameter with the vadai batter and then flatten between the palms of your hands into a disc.
Fry in hot oil until golden brown, about a minute on each side.
Serve hot with chutney.
2 ripe avocadoes, peeled, pitted and diced
1 tbsp ginger, grated
1 green chili, jalapeno or serrano would work.
1 cup silken soft tofu
A few drops of lemon juice
Salt to taste
Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor and puree until nice and smooth.
Garnish with coriander, if desired.