Uzunnu Vada: Deep-fried Urad dal Fritters

Light and fluffy uzunnu vada has a texture that is somewhere between crunchy and tender. Take a bite of this little doughnut-shaped fritter, and a burst of flavor explodes in the mouth—the intense flavors of ginger, cilantro, and curry leaves; the bright spark of black pepper; and the fiery bite of green chili. Uzunnu vada is served with a couple of spicy chutneys or sambar. When soaked in tuvar dal and tomato soup (rasam), it becomes rasavada.

1 cup skinless whole or split urad dal
¼ teaspoon asafetida powder (optional)
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
4 or 5 green chilies (serrano or Thai), finely chopped (less for a milder taste)
12 to 15 fresh curry leaves
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
6 cups vegetable oil (for deep-frying)

Soak the urad dal in water for three to four hours, wash it in several changes of water until the water runs clear, and drain. In a food processor, combine the urad dal, asafetida powder, and salt, and process them into a thick, smooth dough. Since the dal absorbs water while soaking, there is no need for extra water while processing. Remove the dough from the processor, add black peppercorns, green chilies, curry leaves, cilantro leaves, and grated ginger, and mix well.

Heat the oil in a heavy frying pan or wok to 365°F. When the oil is hot, wet the palms of your hands, and shape about two tablespoons of dough into a thick disk. With a wet index finger, make a hole in the middle, then slowly slide the vada into the hot oil. Turn the vada with a slotted spoon, and cook on both sides. Repeat with the remaining dough. Fry the vadas until they are golden brown, approximately four to six minutes. Remove them from the oil, and drain. (Use a cake cooling rack placed over a cookie tray to drain them. Excess oil will drip through the cooling rack and fall on the cookie tray.) Serve hot, with coconut chutney and/or sambar.

AMMINI RAMACHANDRAN