Vadai and Prawn Vadai (Recipe)

A little more deep-frying for the Christmas party — vadai and prawn vadai. Vadai are both vegan & gluten-free, so a terrific party item. Very popular at our shindig, all eaten up fast, and a great option for vegans. I try to fry all my vegan items first, both so the oil doesn’t get flavored with meat or seafood, and because vegans have more limited options at my parties, so at least they should get to eat first…it’s only fair!

These are easy and quick to make — I bought shelled and deveined prawns to make it easier, and had Kevin throw the lentil batter together in the food processor. (As I said in the recipe, you can leave the shells on, but I wasn’t sure all my guests would be comfortable with that, so I went with the shelled option.)

The big prawns are a little tricky to have stick (some fell off!), but if you press them down well, you’ll be fine, or you can use smaller prawns. Big ones do look impressive for parties, though. 

Just remember to allow time for soaking the lentils — I got up on the morning of the party and set them to soaking first. These are mildly flavored, so serve them with some nice spicy MD sauce — we did red and green. Delicious. (If you’re not going to do sauce, you might want to add a little more salt, maybe 1/2 – 1 t.)


Plain or Prawn Lentil Patties / Kadalai or Iraal Vadai
(45 minutes, plus 2 hours lentil soaking time, makes about 24-30)

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. Vadai 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 cup 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 TBL ginger, minced
3 garlic cloves
1 dozen curry leaves
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp 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 TBL 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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