Cooking is an act of comfort and nourishment. It can also be a radical act of self expression. Or an act of reclaiming one's culture and heritage.
Over the course of the last couple of years I have started to learn how to cook some of my favourite Sri Lankan dishes. It's the food I ate at food fairs, dinner dances and curry nights for the Sri Lankan and Buddhists associations my family was part of when I was growing up. Sometimes we would also have curries for dinner but not often as to make all the dishes you need for a meal is very time consuming and with two parents working full time, there often wasn't time left over for elaborate meal preparation.
When I made this recipe I doubled the ingredients and then halved the batter. I left one half plain and added the Maldive fish to the other half. Maldive fish is dried and cured tuna. It's the equivalent of South East Asian fish sauces and shrimp pastes. Along with curry leaves it is the secret ingredient that gives Sri Lankan cooking its distinctive flavour. If you can't get Maldive fish, try using drained anchovies in oil instead.
This recipe was always my Mum's favourite snack or short-eat as Sri Lankans like to call them, when I was growing up. I think it's fair to say it's now my kids' favourite as well!
vegetarian, gluten free, dairy free
1/2 cup split chickpeas (chana dal / Bengal gram)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 green chilli, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 inch piece of ginger, finely chopped or grated
4-5 curry leaves, finely chopped
2-3 tablespoons finely chopped coriander leaves
1 tbsp Maldive fish pieces (optional)
salt to taste
vegetable oil, for deep frying
soak the chickpeas in water for 4 hours.
drain the chickpeas in a colander.
put the chickpeas into a food processor and whizz into a medium coarse texture, leaving some whole chickpea pieces to give a nice crunchy texture to the vadai.
scrape down the side as necessary.
if the mixture is too dry (won’t hold its shape when you make a little ball) add 30-50ml of water.
place the mixture in a medium bowl.
add the finely chopped onion, green chilli, ginger, curry leaves, coriander leaves and salt.
mix together well. The batter should not be very moist or dry.*
put the batter into the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes to make the vadai crispier.
fill a small bowl with water.
wet your hands and divide the mixture into 8 equal portions.
shape each portion like a little lemon and press it between your palms to flatten it a little.
place the portions on a plate, ready for frying.
put some paper towel on a plate and place it next to the stove.
heat the oil in a frying pan on medium heat.**
when oil is medium hot put several vadais into the pan. making sure they don’t touch each other.
when they are crispy and golden brown on one side (1-2 minutes), use spoons to carefully flip them over.
when cooked, drain them on the plate with the paper napkin.
deep-fry remaining vadais.
for an authentic Sri Lankan snack, serve them with Ceylon tea.
*if the mixture is too crumbly and it’s difficult to make vadais then blend 1/4 cup mixture again until smooth and mix with the remaining batter. If the batter is too moist and it’s hard to shape the vadais, add 2-3 teaspoons of rice flour or chickpea flour in the mixture.
** resist the temptation to speed up the process and turn up the heat. The vadais will turn dark brown fast on the outside and remain uncooked on the inside.