Desi’s the kind of guy who usually just eats whatever I cook, but sometimes — to my delight– he will come up with a special request. Usually it’s a taste from his childhood in Madras. This past weekend it was a request for Vadakari (also sometimes called Vada Kari or Vadai Curry), a spicy dish he and his brothers would sometimes order at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Chromepet, a suburb of Madras where he grew up.
Vadakari is exactly what it sounds like (well, at least to a Tamilian). It is a curry, or a spicy gravy of tomatoes and onions with tiny little lentil dumplings, or vadai. The vadai are deep-fried, then broken into little pieces and added to the gravy, which gives them a really great chewy texture.
Desi told me that Vadakari is served with pooris, puffy little Indian breads, probably just as a ploy to get me to make some (did I ever tell you he’s nuts about pooris?). But this curry would also be gorgeous with some chapatis or any Indian flatbread, like a garlic naan.
Here’s the recipe. Enjoy, all!
Looking for more south Indian vegan recipes?
For the vadai:
For the curry:
- 1 tsp black mustard seeds
- 1 onion (finely chopped)
- 3 cloves garlic (minced or crushed with a garlic press)
- 10-12 curry leaves
- 1 tbsp ginger paste
- 1 large tomato (finely chopped)
- 1/2 tsp cayenne (or any red chili pepper powder)
- 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp garam masala powder
- A generous pinch asafoetida (hing)
- 1 tsp vegetable oil
- 1 cup coconut milk
- Salt to taste
- 2 tbsp cilantro (for garnish)
Make the vadai:
- Soak the chana dal for 3 hours or if you don’t have the time do what I did and cheat– put the chana dal in a microwave-safe bowl, add enough water to top the dal by at least an inch, and zap for three minutes. Then drain.
- Grind the chana dal with the rest of the ingredients. If the processor or blender blades refuse to turn because the mixture is too dry, add just a tiny bit of water, a tablespoon at a time. You want a coarse paste that clumps together, but it should not be too watery or you won’t be able to form your vadas.
- Form 1-inch vadas by pulling off a piece of the dough, rolling it into a ball, and then flattening it between your palms. I got about 16 vadas.
- Heat the oil in a wok or saucepan. Deep-fry the vadas until they are golden-brown. Don’t let them brown too quickly or they’ll stay raw inside. Drain onto a paper towel. Once the vadais are cool enough to handle, break them up into small pieces.
Make the curry/gravy:
- Heat the oil in a saucepan. Add the mustard seeds and asafoetida. When the seeds sputter, add the onions and curry leaves.
- Saute until the onions start to turn transparent. Add the ginger and garlic and stir well, about a minute. Add the tomatoes.
- Add the turmeric, chilli powder, and garam masala powder. Mix them in and saute the mixture until the tomatoes are all crushed into a paste and most of the liquid has evaporated.
- Add a cup of water, bring it to a boil, then add the pieces of vadai. Once the vadai absorb most of the water, add coconut milk and salt to taste.
- Stir well, bring the curry to a boil, and let it simmer another five minutes. Turn off the heat and add chopped coriander leaves.
- Serve hot.