Rasa Vadai

October 7, 2008 | 54 Comments

Lentil Dumplings in a Spicy Tamarind-Lentil Broth

In 660 Curries, Raghavan Iyer says,

“If you were to ask me to identify one recipe that’s closest to my heart, I would pick this one.”

We can see why. It’s spicy, tangy, hearty and slurrrrrrrrrrrrrrpilicious. Totally worth the time it takes.

Raghavan Iyer’s recipes are too perfect to mess with. Except for one thing. He uses canola oil. We use peanut oil which has a high smoking point for dishes that need frying, and light sesame oil for the rest. Canola oil is likely to be genetically modified and we avoid it.

This recipe is so good, we recommend making a double batch.

Part of the reason we love Raghavan Iyer‘s book is because he’s all function over form with no time to mess around with useless procedures.

Cooks in southern India normally shape these dumplings in the form of a doughnut before frying them. It sure looks pretty, but I don’t bother with the hassle and the time it takes to shape each savory fritter. Trust me, they will taste the same …

Purists will tsk-tsk, however, and if you are one of them or have invited one of them to dinner…

Bee and Jai would ask them to shut up and eat already. Or

here’s how you can create those doughnut-shaped vadais. Lightly spray a piece of wax paper with vegetable cooking spray. Plop a tablespoon of the batter onto the wax paper. Grease your hand with cooking spray, and spread the batter out to form a 1/2-inch thick patty. Poke a finger through its center, creating the familiar doughnut shape. Gently slide the patty off the paper directly into the hot oil, and fry it until it is golden brown and crispy.

Lentil overdose: Vadai (lentil fritters) and roasted papads (spicy Indian lentil crackers) in lentil broth


from 660 Curries (p. 75-77)

The dumplings are made of urad dal – skinned black lentils that look white without the skin. See this pic.

Split yellow peas or split Bengal gram (chana dal) will work too, but will have a slightly different flavour.

We fried these in our trusty aebleskiver (appam) pan. We got three batches – 21 tiny dumplings.


Wash and cook
1/4 cup split pigeon peas (toor dal)
**yellow split peas or split Bengal gram (chana dal) will work too
with 2 cups of water

in a pressure cooker or on the stovetop until soft. Cool and blend to a puree in a food processor or using an immersion blender.

If you have tamarind,

soak a small walnut-sized ball for 15 minutes in 4 cups warm water. Squeeze out the pulp and strain the liquid to remove the fibrous parts.

If you’re using
concentrated tamarind paste,

whisk 1 tsp in 4 cups water and keep aside.

In 1/2 tsp oil roast
1 tablespoon uncooked rice
2 tbsps chana dal (split Bengal gram) or yellow split peas
1 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
2 or 3 dried red chillies, stems removed

Roast these on medium-high heat until the lentils get toasty and the chillies start to darken a bit. Cool and grind to a coarse powder in a spice grinder.

Add the spice blend to the tamarind water along with
salt to taste
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp asafoetida powder
1 cup chopped tomato
15 to 20 fresh medium to large fresh curry leaves

Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and then lower the heat to medium for 15 minutes – until the tomatoes are mushy.

Add the lentil puree to the broth.

For the final tempering, heat
1 tbsp oil and add
1 tsp mustard seeds (black or yellow)

Edited to add: the second time, we added a tsp of minced garlic to the tempering and fried it till golden brown. It lends a nice touch.

When they pop, add them with the oil to the lentil-tamarind broth. Stir in

2 tbsp finely chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems.


Wash and soak
1 cup urad dal
in about 3 cups of water for at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours. If you only have 30 minutes, use hot water.

Drain the lentils and blend with some of the soaking water (between a third and half cup) until you get a very smooth paste. Use as little water as possible. (See this video to get an idea of the perfect consistency)

It should be of a dropping consistency. If it’s too thin, skip the next step. If it is not too thin, add 2 or 3 tbsps of water to the blender jar, “wash” out any remnants and add it to the lentil paste.

Add salt to taste.

Meanwhile, heat the oil to fry the dumplings (2 to 3 inches deep in a wok on medium heat to 350F). We used our aebleskiver (appam) pan and put in 1.5 tsps oil per slot.

As the oil is heating, with a spoon, beat the batter vigorously for 2 to 3 minutes to incorporate as much air as you can to get a light, fluffy batter. If you’re damn lazy, use a pinch of baking powder and mix it in.

Put heaped teaspoons of batter in the oil and fry them a few at a time until golden brown and crisp all over.

Drain them on paper towels and keep aside.


Place 3 or 4 vadais in a bowl and ladle the hot lentil-tamarind broth on top. If you have leftover broth, serve it with steamed rice.

Rasa Vadai is our entry for My Legume Love Affair hosted this month by Sra @ when my soup came alive.

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  1. purplesque says:

    Yumness! The aeblekiver pan idea is pure genius. I’m going to try this out the next rainy weekend. Thanks.

  2. sunshinemom says:

    This is my favourtie remedy for severe cough and cold – nothing like a fiery rasam, and when it has vadai in it – it is like ‘sone pe suhaga’:)

  3. Miri says:

    sigh…my favourite dish to order in Anadan Bhavan, Kings Circle, Mumbai. never had them at home and never made them either. Now that Im in Delhi, think its to bite the bullet. Thanks for the detailed notes and the beautiful pics – its so inspiring!

  4. Usha says:

    I would have never thought to use my appam pan to make vadais….looks delicious…this is one of my favorites:)

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