Thayir Vadai (Dahi Vada)

I’ll begin my post on Thayir Vadai or Dahi Vada, a crisp, airy, golden lentil dumpling dunked into a creamy, tangy-sweet, yogurt-based sauce, by wading smack-dab into the squabble over tofu or, more generally, soy products.

I don’t cook very often with tofu (perhaps once a month, if that), and the only soy I consume most days is a couple of tablespoons of soymilk in my tea or coffee. But for as long as I’ve been a vegan, I’ve listened to and tried to understand some of the criticisms fired at soy. Some of these include valid research and concerns from real people like you and me who want to make sure they are eating the right stuff when they move to a plant-based diet. But truth be told, a lot of the criticism comes from the meat and dairy industries and their minions looking to preserve their own business interests.

Then recently, I came across an unusually heated discussion over soy products on an Indian vegan forum. A large number of the people commenting seemed to be really nervous about soy and were vigorously exchanging links to articles pummeling it. Some swore how they had not touched soy in years, or would not hereafter. All of it really, truly mystified me.

Mystified me because, for one, the Indian diet has not been traditionally dependent on soy so I didn’t really see why everyone sounded like they’d been eating a ton of it. Vegetarian Indians have long managed to balance their diets beautifully with grains and beans and lentils– a gift, really, for modern-day vegans who don’t have to look far to find delicious recipes, the way we here in the West with our long tradition of meat-based diets sometimes have to. But the other reason I was mystified was because this seemed to be a reaction based mostly on the gut rather than any sound understanding of the pros and cons of soy and the tremendous health benefits it offers.

With a vegan diet, perhaps more than any other, information is key, but the message can sometimes get lost in the din of voices weighing in from just about every side. You can find some very authoritative articles on plant-based diets that weigh in on the soy controversy, like this one.

Here’s what I do to make sure I get all the goodness of soy in my diet while keeping any potential negative effects at bay:

I make sure I always buy organic soy products. I try not to eat highly processed soy foods on a regular basis, like soy-based sausages and readymade vegan “meats” or even tofu, although I do enjoy and eat these occasionally. Instead, I recommend eating soy in the form of edamame– crunchy, delicious soybeans which you can lightly steam and eat as a snack or turn into any number of delicious dishes. I also try to make sure I eat a diet that does not depend largely on soy for protein: other beans and grains are just as rich in protein and offer welcome variety in a vegan diet..

Have you wrangled with the question of soy in your diet? Feel free to weigh in with your thoughts.

My recipe for today uses tofu as a base instead of yogurt which is traditionally used for this dish in Indian kitchens. Tofu makes a great yogurt substitute because it is rich in protein, just like yogurt, but has none of the cholesterol of yogurt. It also tastes surprisingly like yogurt when seasoned perfectly. While there are alternatives to homemade tofu yogurt, like store-bought soy yogurt and nut-based yogurts, I find these less appealing for a number of reasons. Store-bought vegan yogurts are not easily available everywhere and are sometimes too sweet for my taste. Their texture can also be iffy. And nut yogurts, although a  popular and delicious alternative, pack too many calories and fat. Half a cup of tofu, for instance, has just 100 calories and 11 grams of fat. Half a cup of cashews has nearly 400 calories and 32 grams of fat. Take your pick.

This recipe includes deep-frying, so it goes without saying that it’s a once-in-a-while treat. But the ingredients in here are fabulously healthy: black lentils, or udad dal, besides the tofu. I use a few different spices to flavor the yogurt, and you can always experiment with your own favorite spices.

Enjoy the recipe, all!

Dahi Vada (Thayir or Curd Vadai)


For the vada:

1 cup udad dal (black gram dal), soaked for 2 hours

1-inch knob of ginger, chopped

3 green chillies, minced

Salt to taste

Oil for deep-frying, heated to around 360 degrees

Drain the soaked dal thoroughly. Place in a food processor with the ginger and chillies and salt and process into a coarse, fairly solid paste.

Form the vadas by picking up a lump of the batter, about one inch in diameter, and pressing it out on the palm of your hand (I like dampening my palms with some water to prevent the batter from sticking.)

Drop the vadas one by one into the hot oil without overcrowding them. Flip the vada when the underside turns golden-brown. Remove to a rack or a paper towel when the vada is golden-brown all over.

Tip: Always ensure your oil is not too hot or too cold. Too cold oil will cause the food to absorb the oil, which is bad for your waistline, of course, but will also end up in soggy vadas. Oil that is too hot will cause the outside of the vada to brown rapidly, before the inside gets cooked.

For the sauce:

1 12-oz package of MoriNu firm tofu

1/2 cup of soymilk or other non-dairy milk like almond milk or rice milk (add more if the yogurt sauce is too thick)

Juice of 2 lemons

2 tsp sugar

1 tsp roasted cumin seeds, powdered

1 tsp paprika or other mild chili powder

1 tsp chaat masala (optional)

Salt to taste

Place all the ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.

To serve the vadas, pool some of the sauce in the platter, place the vadas in the center, and pour more sauce on top. I like my vadas to be more on the crispy side, so I tend not to pour sauce over the top, but it’s up to you, really. You can also sprinkle some paprika and some roasted, powdered cumin on top, for a little extra zing.

(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.

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  1. says

    i hear ya.. i was totally confused in between about soy.. esp since so much of it is gmo and processed..
    i do the same.. try to stick to the least processed and organic stuff.. its fun to read labels like.. naturally fermented, organic, with non gmo soybeans and non gmo soybean oil.:)

    i dont think i like tofu at all.. and i havent tried the store bough soy yogurt yet.. lets see which yogurt i settle with.

    The dahi vada looks fab.. goes into, what mom should make for me list when she visits!!( hopefully in oct)

    Richa@Hobby And More Food Blog

  2. says

    Crispy vada is a bit weird to me, since my mom always dunked it in water first for a few minutes to get rid of the oil, then placed it in the yogurt. I’m used to dahi vada being soft.

    As for the soy thing: I think the issue is mostly GM soy. And the fact that lots of land is cleared to grow soy (although most of it IS for cattle). I don’t think it needs to be demonized, but I think veg*ns make too big a deal of it. I don’t think it’s the superfood that some people think it is, and I don’t think it’s something to be demonized either. Moderation is key. Americans tend to over-do EVERYTHING, but in East Asia, where it’s prevalent, it’s also not over-done.

  3. says

    Great recipe Vaishali and thanks for bring this topic up. I am vegetarian but slowly exploring vegan options. Recently I was at the receiving end of a verbal attack by some people who found soy milk in my fridge. I was told it causes cancer and that I should “stop this crusade” that I’m on! And here I thought my dietary habits would bring me good karma :)

  4. says

    Krithi, Thanks! :)

    Richa, yes, it really is about educating oneself, vegan or not. Soy makes a great addition to any diet, in moderation.

    Manju, Alpana, Thanks!

    TS, Moderation is definitely key with any food. And I find the combination of the crispy vadas with the silky tofu yogurt quite seductive. :) I must say I’ve never heard of vadas being soaked in water first– wouldn’t that saturate them with water and make them bland?

    Gayatri, people can be really funny while defending their traditional diets, but attacking someone for including soy in the diet sounds a bit extreme. Notwithstanding these kooks, you can rest assured you are earning those karma points. :)

    Anu, thanks!

  5. says

    Hi Vaishali,

    First off, I’m a big fan of Indian food and I love your recipes.

    From what I’ve been reading lately, it is much more healthy to eat fermented soy products such as miso than unfermented ones like tofu.

    You may find this link interesting:

    Like you, I have soymilk (organic, made from beans grown here in France) only in tea and coffee (for other purposes I use homemade nut milks but these curdle in hot drinks). I’m not a fan of tofu or soy yogurt, simply because I find them tasteless (sheep yogurt was one of my pre-vegan fave foods).

    Your vadas look wonderful, but I’m wondering if I might try making them with some pureed chickpeas to replace the tofu for added flavour? I will let you know anyway.

  6. Anu says

    Hi Vaishali,
    Lovely recipe as usual.I have been following your blog regularly and look up to your recipes for inspiration.Curd-rice recipe which you had posted has been among the many dishes I have tried with great success.Similar to your recipe for Dahi-Vada, I made raita using tofu-soymilk-lemon juice combination.I was a little short of tofu so added a cup of fresh grated coconut.It tasted really good.Thought I should it with you.

  7. says

    Pauline, Thank you! You could make the vadas with chickpeas, but the flavor would be too strong, like a felafel. You need a neutral dal for the vadas to enjoy the taste of the vadas with the sweet-sour tofu yogurt.
    Thanks very much for sharing the link. It is true that countries like Japan and China that eat lots of soy products eat more of the fermented ones, which could explain why they see benefits without any ill effects.

    Priya, Thanks!

    Anu, thanks for your kind words. I love the idea of adding fresh coconut to the recipe: it sounds like a natural fit with vadas which go so great with coconut chutney. Lovely idea, and one I will try next time I make a tofu yogurt- thanks!

  8. says

    Like everyone else I too have battled with the soy dilemma…too much is not good, but then again we need the protein etc etc. I was buying SILK organic but all of a sudden for the past 2-3 months it has disappeared off the shelves of the supermarkets and has been replaced with SILK soymilk without the word “Organic”…which makes me wonder if it is made out of GMO soy! So after much discussion with Dr Shah I have switched to Indian soy milk because she assures me GM soy has not yet made its inroads into the Indian market – yet! Then I heard foods like seitan, miso and tempeh where the soy is isolated soy protein, the IGF is very high, almost twice as much as dairy!!!! So now, I just have Indian soy milk, almond milk and for a treat cashew milk!!! I love tofu, but am limiting it to once a week esp. now for dahi annam! Too much info out there to digest…
    Whew…sorry for this long post!

  9. says

    Hi Kamini, It was a wonderful moment last year when India put on hold its first GM crop– eggplants — after a huge outcry by activists. It makes me glad that people are being so proactive out there, and I hope they will be able to keep greedy politicians from being persuaded to allow GM crops by greedier multinationals who want to peddle them.

  10. says

    @Kamini: I didn’t know Indian stores sold soymilk! I’d definitely buy it if I found it at my local.

    @Vaishali: yea, it did saturate the vada, but then she squeezes the water out, and puts extra spice in the yogurt. I never noticed a difference between hers and the ones from the Indian restaurant. Maybe she burned it and compensated that way? (she tends to burn things…)

    …AAAAAnd now I want dahi vada. I need to stop reading these blogs close to dinner time.

  11. says

    mmm, this looks delicious!

    You know, if you avoid *every* food that someone tells you will kill you, you’ll die of starvation. Aside from those who believe my vegan diet is starving me, I’ve been told that the following are all “toxic”, “poisonous” or bad for a number of other reasons: wheat, canola oil, olive oil if heated, broccoli when cooked but raw is ok (or was it the other way around?), extruded cereal of any kind, soy obviously (makes men grow boobs, lol), sugar or any sweetener except organic agave, almonds, potatoes, and I can’t remember what all else. Much of that list came from a couple I met over the weekend who mainly eat rice… rice bread, rice cookies, plain rice.. anyway, point is that you can’t avoid everything someone tells you will harm you, and soy is no different.

  12. says

    The Dahi Bhalla in the North is always made by dipping the wadas into water and squuezing them before putting them into the yoghurt!

    I prefer your thayir vadai version!

  13. says

    Karen, you make a great point. And I’ve heard that tale about men growing boobs. If that were the case, I — and other women I guess– would be eating lots more soy. :)

    Miri, I didn’t know that, and I still can’t wrap my head around the idea of deep-frying something to crunchy deliciousness, and then wasting it all by soaking the damn thing in water. :)

  14. says

    I have posted several of Michael Greger’s, videos on my blog and they are pretty good at blowing some of the myths away. Such at the male soy issue-it seems that there was a pesticide on soy, that did cause that, but it wasn’t the soy itself. So organic soy should be okay, and conventional anything is risky. But the biggest surprise I found was on one video it talks about women with breast cancer, taking tamoxifen, and they had a fifty or 60% reduction in cancer recurrence!! I too was going back and forth about it, but that really blew me away. If there was a drug that did that we would be paying a lot for it! Also, I have noticed the vegan docs/ and pretty much any docs that talk about hormones and soy do NOT specify on the hormone balance or the estradiol vs. estrone. Estradiol is happy go lucky, good for your heart, your head, your bones. Estrone makes ya fat, grouchy, and gives ya high blood pressure. DIM, is an extract of brassicas, that helps balance the 2, so you want at least twice the estradiol as the estrone. I wonder if Soy acts the same way. If it does, then this stuff is GOLDEN!! The DIM also fights prostate and female cancers….

  15. says

    I have had so many discussions about tofu and soy with various people. Various studies come up with various suggestions and things to avoid etc. Few years ago it was about ‘how coconut oil is bad for you’ not its exactly opposite! If I decide to accommodate every recommendation in my day today life I will go hungry … Everything in moderation should be the moto.

    Hats off to your inventions Vaishali. Every time I read your blog, I am awed!! I will be making this one day!

    My husband makes great dahi vadas … I will try to beat the reputation with your help 😉

  16. says

    I love the vadas! They’re truly some of my favorites of all Indian dishes. As for the soy issue- I’m a vegetarian & a scientist, and as such, I have researched the primary literature on this thoroughly [papers that are untouched by corporate hands] and truly, you’d have to eat a GARGANTUAN amount of soy to cause any ill effects- assuming you are a healthy person. Also, yeah, the GMO & argi-business issue is another separate problem.

    I agree with what you said- eat soy in moderation. Sometimes you need it- sometimes not. And whole soy products [I buy locally made tofu which is really the best stuff ever and is so fresh it poofs up while cooking] over processed as much as possible. Moderation, is ever, the key.

    take care!

  17. says

    dropped by to see if there were any more soy discussions:) as the only vegan house in my friend circle.. we have to be the encyclopedia of all sorts of questions.. including man boobs.!.. just saw another study recently that too much chicken when pregnant hampers with genital growth.. probably should be publcized to the guys..

    yes, the dahi bhalla my mom makes.. she soaks them in water to remove excess oil and soften them.

    Richa @

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