Food in India is decided by season, and the ingredients available in the region one lives in. The festival of colours, Holi is just round the corner and, as the temperature rises, celebrations are incomplete without food that not only tickles your taste-buds, but also cools you down.
Rajani Jain, a home chef in Delhi says, “What better way than cool dahi vada after spending hours outside playing Holi?” The dahi (curd) cools you down and the common urad dal vada s, laced with masalas — cumin, coriander and chat masala powder — bring forth a burst of flavours. “I prefer ginger juliennes on it, with anar dana (pomegranate seeds),” she adds.
There are many such preferences and not restricted to toppings alone. There are variations that give this dish an interesting spin, like vada s made with mixed lentil, moong dal, bread, oats or even with jeera butter cookies. An illustration to go with Tarla Dalal’s recipe, for instance, suggests vadas can be made with jeera butter cookies, slightly soaked in lukewarm water before dunking them in a pool of seasoned yoghurt. The mixed lentil variety, also called masala vada , consists of chana dal , urad dal and moong dal , all coarsely ground.
The tough question
Dahi vada is a simple dish, but it can get complicated if the vadas are not soft enough.
According to chef Garima Poddar, dahi vada s are unique, because though they are deep fried, they melt in your mouth. She adds: “A lot of people get stuck with hard vada s or bhalla s. To avoid this, one can soak the fried vada s in water for a few seconds, then squeeze the water out gently by pressing them between one’s palms and drop them them in dahi .”
Having said that, softness need not be an obsession, adds Garima, “In Rajasthan, the vada s are made with a slightly coarse paste of lentils, so there is a bite to its texture.”
Chef Kunal Kapoor suggests that the urad batter be made with less or no water, to get soft vadas . Whisking the batter well, for quite some time, right before frying the vadas will also be helpful, he says.
Street food lovers in Cuttack, Odisha have created their own twist to the dahi vada , pairing it with alu dum in a treat exclusive to this city.
The now-iconic street food dahi vada and alu dum is a fusion experiment that has clicked very well, says consultant chef Rachit Kirteeman.
- Ingredients: 1 cup dhuli urad dal (split black gram); 1 chopped green chilli; ½ inch peeled and grated ginger; A pinch of asafoetida; 4 tbsp water; Salt to taste; Oil for deep frying; Lukewarm water; 2 cups thick yoghurt (curd); 1 tsp chat masala; 1 tsp cumin powder (for curd); 1 tsp cumin powder (for topping); ¼ tsp black salt; 2 tsp sugar; 2 tbsp sweet tamarind chutney; 2 tbsp coriander and mint chutney; 1/2 tsp red chilli powder; 1 tbsp chopped coriander
- To make the vada batter, wash and soak dal in water for six hours or overnight. Transfer soaked dal to the grinder with chopped green chillies and grated ginger. Grind dal without using water, stop mixer in between, stir with a spatula and grind again. Keep doing this at regular intervals. If it still does not turn into a smooth paste, add one or two tablespoons of water, then grind. The idea is to use minimum water. Transfer the paste to a large bowl. Add salt, asafoetida and whisk batter briskly for a couple of minutes or till it is light and fluffy.
- Deep fry the vadas over medium heat by shaping small portions of the batter into flat balls with your fingers (dampened with water), or dropping them into the oil with the help of spoons. Allow them to cook as they fry. They can be turned when they are pale golden from the base and sides. Fry until they become crisp.
- Soak the vadas in lukewarm water in a wide saucepan. Keep enough space for the vadas to breathe, as they expand in water. Let them soak for about 10 minutes or until soft and drain out excess water from each vada by gently pressing between your palms.
- To assemble, first take curd in a bowl. Add salt, cumin powder, sugar and chat masala and whisk till smooth. Dilute the curd and season it to taste.
- Arrange vadas in a serving bowl. Pour the flavoured curd over the vadas , so that it soaks them completely. Top with the green chutney and tamarind chutney. Sprinkle red chilli and cumin powder and chat masala to taste. Garnish dahi vada with chopped coriander leaves. Serve chilled.
He elaborates, “The Cuttack region of Odisha produces a lot of milk. So instead of letting it go waste, curd was made. Vada is a staple breakfast. Someone who had surplus of both curd and vada mixed it together and added the alu dum as an unusual accompaniment. Dahi vada in Odisha uses diluted curd, so when alu dum is added, it becomes a complete dish.”
Season to taste
As for spicing the yoghurt, Garima says, “There is no thumb rule to seasoning the dahi . The same applies to its consistency. Some like it thick and creamy, others like it slightly runny. Experiment with what works for your palate on a small quantity of dahi .”
One of Garima’s favourite variations of dahi vada is the South Indian version, which uses a runny curd base.
She says, “I also enjoy the tempering on it. One can play it up with any seasoning. I have tasted it with a garnish of peri peri masala, and also read about dahi vada with Tabasco sauce.”
Kunal suggests creative toppings: “It is a season of fruits, so there is no harm in adding chopped fruits such as apples, bananas, grapes or even melons to the whisked yoghurt.”