For most of us Indians, fasts are an excuse to eat more. Honestly. You won't find anyone fasting, at least not the traditional fasters, for weight loss or for a cleanse or for any of those reasons people fast here in the West. Instead, we fast to please the gods, or to get something we covet, or just for salvation. And because the gods don't really want us to suffer, or so the belief goes, we line those fasts, wall to wall, with some pretty tasty food.
My aunt, Vilas maushi, who was the most avid faster I know, would go on serial fasts that recurred on specific days over several weeks, with names that sounded really colorful in Konkani: Sixteen Fridays, Fourteen Tuesdays, Seventeen Saturdays, whatever. The only food that was off-limits on those days was the food that you ate regularly: so no dal, rice, chapatis, rotis, sabzi, etc., and often, no garlic. But there were plenty of loopholes. You could have foods made with other types of grains, or gluten-free flours like chestnut. Potatoes, yogurt, milk were all perfectly acceptable. There was even a special kind of rice you could cook and eat instead of the regular rice.
The more austere fasters who did starve themselves all day would feast on rich food as soon as the deadline for fasting, usually sunset, was past.
One of my favorite fasting foods -- although I am incapable of fasting -- was sabudana or tapioca pearls. These brittle-looking, bright-white, almost luminescent pearls are gluten-free and I always have them in my pantry because they can be turned into some of the tastiest treats you can imagine, including a sweet pudding and khichari. These Fat-Free Tapioca Pearl Fritters, or Sabudana Vada, which my mom often made for Vilas Maushi during her fasts, are my favorite.
Tapioca pearls are really easy to cook with- they are starchy, with a bland taste that showcases flavors added to it beautifully. All you need is a few simple herbs and spices: coriander leaves, curry leaves, green chilies, garlic and garlic and they turn into beautiful, golden little devils who will make you go just a little delirious for wanting them.
Sabudana vada are usually deep-fried, but I wanted to cut down on the fat-- drastically. Ebelskiver pan to the rescue. Similar to an aapam or paniyaram pan used by south Indians, this pan used by the Danish to make deep, fluffy pancakes, is also a perfect tool to "deep-fry" foods with a minimal amount of fat. For my Tapioca Pearl Fritters, all I did was spray them with some fat-free oil spray, but if you wish you can just brush on a thin layer of oil.
These are also quick and easy to make. You do need to soak the pearls in water for a few hours, but after that the process is smooth and simple. I even used a food processor to help "knead" the fritter dough. If you are, like me, eager to save time where you can and decide to use the food processor, be sure to pulse the dough no more than two or three times, for just a few seconds each time, or you will get the tapioca and potato gummy.
I was a little surprised myself by how perfect these fritters turned out. They were crispy on the outside and gooey and soft inside, and Jay went just a little crazy for them. Between him and Desi they would all have disappeared in seconds, but...I was there first.
Fat Free and Gluten Free Tapioca Pearl Fritters or Sabudana Vada
- 1 cup tapioca pearls (sabudana. Soaked in water for four hours, then drained thoroughly. The sabudana will be quite soft after soaking. Squeeze lightly with your hands to get excess moisture out and reserve.)
- 1 large russet potato (boiled, peeled and mashed)
- ¼ cup rice flour
- 2 green chilies (like jalapeno, finely minced. Discard seeds if sensitive to heat)
- ¼ cup cilantro
- ½- inch knob ginger (grated)
- 2 cloves garlic (minced)
- 1 shallot (or small red onion, minced)
- 10-12 curry leaves
- Salt to taste
- Place all of the ingredients in a bowl and knead by hand until a "dough" forms.
- If you're doing this in the food processor, place all ingredients in the bowl of the food processor and pulse two or three times, no more than five seconds each time, until the dough comes together. You shouldn't need any water, but if the dough absolutely won't stick, add a tiny bit of water, a teaspoon at a time, until it comes together.
- Spray an ebelskiver pan or a griddle with some fat-free spray or brush on a thin layer of oil.
- If using the ebelskiver pan, shape into a rounded fritter and press into each of the cavities of the ebelskiver. If you're using a griddle, dampen your palms with water and shape the fritters flat so the entire fritter touches the surface of the griddle.
- Flip over the fritter after a couple of minutes, or when the underside has golden-brown spots.
- Cook the other side until golden-brown spots appear. If using the ebelskiver, press down slightly with a spoon to ensure the fritter touches the surface of the pan.
- Serve hot with chutney.