Plain Vadai / Prawn Vadai (Lentil Patties)

When you go visiting in Sri Lanka, your hosts will often insist on quickly frying up some vadai for you, accompanied by hot, sweet, milky tea. You can protest once, for politeness’s sake, that they shouldn’t go to the trouble. Then say yes.

Vadai typically don’t refrigerate and reheat well; they’re best served hot, right after frying, but are also tasty at room temperature. Verde are a perfect mid-afternoon snack with tea or coffee or mango-passionfruit juice; they also make a terrific picnic or road-trip food.

1 c. split red lentils / masoor dal
8 oz. prawns (if using)
1 large onion, chopped
3 green chilies, chopped
3 dry red chilies, broken into small pieces
1 T ginger
3 garlic cloves
1 stalk curry leaves
1 t. cumin seeds
1 t. fennel seeds
1 t. salt
oil for deep frying
rice flour if needed

1. Soak lentils for at least two hours. (Can be done overnight.) Drain.

2. Wash and devein the prawns and set aside; you can shell them if you prefer, but usually you just eat the crispy fried shell too.

NOTE: Typically, people often prefer a more coarse texture to their vadai — for that, set aside half the lentils and/or the chopped onions before the next step, and just mix them back in after grinding, to preserve more texture. I’m a bit of an outlier that I like my vadai to be more finely-textured.

3. Add the lentils to food processor with other ingredients; grind coarsely, scraping down the sides with a rubber spatula once or twice so they’re well blended.

4. Set oil to heating. While it heats, mold the mixture into small balls (if the dough is too wet to mold, add rice flour 1-2 T at a time, until it reaches a workable texture). Flatten them into patties.

5. For plain vadai, gently slip into the hot oil and deep fry both sides, until crisp and golden brown. (My husband doesn’t like seafood, poor man, so I make the plain vadai first, so as not to flavor the oil, and then the prawn ones after.) For prawn vadai, press a prawn into each patty and gently slip into the oil. (If you use large prawns, it’ll be difficult to keep the round shape of the patty, but personally, I’m fine with a more irregular patty if it means big, beautiful crispy prawns.)

6. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towel. Serve hot or at room temperature; they can be eaten straight up, but I like to add a little mint-cilantro chutney or mango pickle. They’re also commonly served with other chutneys, pickles, sambar, or yogurt.


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