Monday, July 27, 2009

The Medu Vada has Landed

In Bombay, you can't throw a rock without hitting an eating establishment, and there is a very good chance that the rock will land on a particular genre of eating establishments, the Udipi restaurant. It refers to the cuisine of a particular region of Southern India, and these restaurants represent the best of both worlds, combining certain attributes of chain restaurants while also serving tasty meals. They are independent places, for the most part, but have the kind of standard fare and reasonable prices and solidly good food that make them the restaurant of the masses.

A meal in an Udipi restaurant is typically a no-nonsense affair. The staff is all business, the place is teeming with people and noisy with the clattering of stainless steel utensils and whirring fans. You already know what will be on the menu. Most people have a specific Udipi-dining profile. There are the uttapam people and the crispy dosa people. There are those who want to eat the full thali (prix fixe platter). Of course, you always have that one person who insists on perusing every line of the 12-page menu before finally declaring that they will eat masala dosa, the same thing they have eaten on their previous 50 Udipi restaurant visits. Then there is also that person who will order something like matar paneer and naan, the few North Indian dishes placed on the menu for people exactly like these. Within 20 minutes, you will have placed your order, wolfed it down and have the bill plunked on your table, in a small plate of fennel seed. Now that's fast food.

Everyone has their own ideas about the best indicators of the quality of an Udipi restaurant. V insists that you can tell how good an Udipi restaurant is by tasting their coconut chutney. Fresh coconut has a delicate taste, but the freshness starts deteriorating rapidly once you shred the coconut. A thick fragrant chutney oozing with fresh coconut milk is a definite sign of the restaurant's superiority. For my part, I say the best Udipi restaurant is the one that has the best medu vada, with the desirable traits being the crispy crackling outer shell and a soft pillowy inside, a bronze look but no trace of the recent oil bath- no oily smell or greasy taste.

On my visit to India, a dear cousin who had been appraised of my lust for kitchen gadgets love for cooking gave me a funny-looking contraption, which I showed you yesterday in this post. She also gave me a fantastic skillet that I am using almost every day (thank you, Smita tai!!)

Thanks to all who played along, and kudos to the dozens who correctly guessed that it is indeed a medu vada maker. Kudos also to the imaginative souls who guessed that it could be a beater or churner or sifter and other things- I enjoyed reading your guesses! The idea is to make the medu vada batter, fill it into this thingy, then press down so that circles of dough can be dropped into hot oil. In theory, anyway. I wish I had action shots of the medu vada contraption at work, but unfortunately, having only two pairs of hands and no other humans at home at the time, I could not. Dogs are pretty much useless at taking pictures of medu vada making, I find.

Medu vada really only needs two ingredients, ural dal and salt. I use gota urad dal, which is black lentils that are skinned, but the two halves of the lentil are still together. So it is skinned but not split. I soaked 1 cup of urad dal for 3 hours or so.

In addition, people season medu vadas with any or all of the following- ginger, green chillies, curry leaves, cilantro, cumin seeds, fresh coconut shards. I chose to only use crushed black peppercorns for some zing.

All you have to do is to drain the soaked urad dal and churn it into a thick and creamy batter, along with the salt and seasoning. I use my KitchenAid food processor for this. This requires very little excess water, if any. The batter has to be buttery soft and fluffy. My mother tells me that if prepared batter sits around, it absorbs oil when fried, so I make the batter as the oil is heating up.

Normally, I simply drop tablespoons of the batter in hot oil to make medu vadas. One can form the traditional doughnut shapes too, with some skill and perhaps a plastic sheet to form the shape on. The idea of the doughnut shape, of course, is to increase the proportion of crispy surface relative to the inside of the vada.

As the proud new owner of a medu vada maker, I swear I gave it my best shot. And it was really fun at the beginning. The vadas came out looking like this:

July09_29


But after a while the bottom of the thingy is too sticky with batter, and vadas refuse to form well. Am I doing this wrong? Is there a secret to making this thing work?

The bottom line is that the jury is still out as far as the medu vada thingamajig is concerned but who cares really, the medu vadas tasted fantastic.

I'm sending this post to the RCI (Regional Cuisines of India): Udipi and Mangalore event. I love the cuisine of this region and I am sure the round-up of this event will prompt a bookmarking frenzy here!

Come back in a day or two if you would like to see a tasty dish made with tofu and tamarind. Go ahead, make your guesses, this one's easy!

36 comments:

  1. The Vadas look yum!! Growing up, I was always a crispy dosa person (And I just might be the one who looks at the menu for a long time and then orders what he/she/they always order..lol)..However, now that I have a home away from home (i.e in the U.S), my love for South Indian food has grown. Though it is still difficult for me not to order a dosa in a South Indian restaurant..:)

    You have been responsible for many of my late afternoon cravings (last week I was craving crepes filled with bechamel sauce) and today these vadas!! *shakes accusing finger at Nupur*..:)

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  2. Speaking of Udipi and food from Karnataka- I am craving maddur vada (my favorite vada). It is similar to parippu vada and sooo yummy. And while am at it, I am also craving mysore bonda, benne masala dosa, udipi sambhar, finished with a cup of filter coffee.
    Ok..Now I am done..:)

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  3. mmmmmmmmmmm thats looks so good and perfect and crispy..pls can i have one

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  4. Wow, that was a nice presentation. Excellent colour of vadas. Good tried.

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  5. I'm no help on medu vada batter or the hows to make them look better. But I do agree with V on judge an Udipi joint by its coconut chutney! As for those North Indian dishes? Hee! It's usually malai kofta and naan. Yup, that's what my m-i-l ordered at Masala in Denver a few weeks ago.

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  6. Yummy looking vadas. I'm going to make some for Varalakshmi vratam this friday. Wish me luck 'cos I don't have your fancy contraption and have to use my hands :-D. are you making some pad thai with tofu & tamarind or some Indianized dish with tofu in it????

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  7. First i read this post, then i see these gorgeous pictures, and now i have a serious craving!! To top it all i read Lavanya's comment! vadas and maddur vadas, i wanna' eat some, NOW!

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  8. I thought maybe it was part of an ice cream maker!

    Hope you find the trick - could you just wipe it down every so often? Or maybe you need to get one of those setups like they have for the mini-donuts at Soulard :)

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  9. I would be one of those people who will order naan and paneer butter masala at an Udipi place... my take is that no one makes better north indian food than south indians :)

    Of course, I would swear by the crisp dosais, rava dosais and medu vadais :)

    You've put the press to good use :)

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  10. the holes in the center come out bigger with the contraption right?

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  11. What perfect looking medu vadas Nupur! I love it when a spicy peppercorn piece comes in a bite .. but I also love green chillies and some chopped coconut in the vadas. Lucky you to have that vada maker! :-)

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  12. I totally agree about the coconut chutney bit!! creamy, fresh chutney = great restaurant.

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  13. OMG thats looks sooo crispy! reminds of a restuarant we often visited back in bombay :)

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  14. Lavanya- I live in a city where South Indian restaurants are exceedingly hard to come by, so I have resigned myself to learning how to make dosas properly at home.
    And yeah, do go on with the maddur vadas and benne dosas and then accuse *me* of making *you* crave stuff!! :D

    Pavithra- These disappeared within seconds of being made!!

    Lakshmi_Venkatesh- I've made medu vadas many times before but this was the first attempt at using the medu vada maker.

    Manisha- LOL of course- you are right, it is always malai kofta, usually in a pale sickly sweet gravy!!

    Pavani- Trust me, you are better off with your faithful hands as the medu vada makers.
    And you guessed right, smart lady, it is pad thai indeed.

    Musical- Sigh, medu vada pictures will do that everytime, result in serious cravings! Go soak some urad dal and you can have some in 2-3 hours :)

    Cathy- LOL YES that is exactly what I need, the set-up from Soulard so the medu vadas can take a nice relaxing ride in the the hot oil.
    I did try wiping it down and even washing it between batches but it got quite messy :D

    Raaga- Well, just between you and me, I regularly used to order Chinese food at our fav. Udipi place and it was delicious, so I guess they do make any and all food quite well!

    Nags- Yes, they do. The vadas end up more like rings, like in the picture.

    Sharmila- I love the bite of peppercorns too :) I would have added the other stuff but this time I really just wanted to try the medu vada maker so kept the rest low-key.

    Shilpa- The coconut chutney camp does seem to have the majority here!

    Parita- It was very crispy for sure :)

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  15. While making vadas with hand we keep dipping our fingers in a bowl of water...so that the vadas slip easily into the oil without losing shape...and I assume the same with the maker...keep rinsing it frequently...hope it helps.Happu vada making

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  16. Medhu vadas from scratch is a huge deal!LOVE your contraption, had no idea there was a vada making device.

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  17. The wadas look really yummy..
    and its the perfect rainy weather here in Pune for something so deliciously crunchy!

    I agree with your Mom about the wadas soaking up oil if the batter sits around.. I have also realized that while making this with split urad dal, it helps to soak the dal for just one hour in order to get the least oily yet perfectly crunchy wadas.

    I have been enjoying your blog posts for quite some time now. Thank you for adding some interesting bit of information along with the recipes.

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  18. tch... y'mean Dale wouldn't help you take photos? :)

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  19. Just drooled on my keyboard!

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  20. I am in food heaven just looking at the vada pics, and I don't even like fried food much !

    On to ur next challenge, tamarind n tofu = vegetarian pad thai or ma po tofu?

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  21. gosh talking of udupi restaurants is making my mouth water. Of course i insist on eating onion rawa masala dosa my absolute favorite and also vadais...c'mon! those vadas all big and fluffy...i don't even know how it dissapears in my mouth :D. My way of finding out how good a restaurant is with the crowd outside...usually a place where ppl. are waiting for you to get up and move is something i like to try out for sure...tourist spots are excluded tho. I think i have to buy this gadget, i make my vadas like bondas :(

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  22. Maybe it helps to cover the parts of your gadget that come in contact with the battern with kitchen oil ( just normal cooking oil ).
    I helps the batter slide off and not stick to the metal.
    I have a Mexican Churro press and the oil really helps.

    Good Luck !

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  23. lol I guess beater and its silly because mom actually has this thing and I have seen it before:D:D
    I garnish my vadas with green chillies, red chillies, peppercorns, curry leaves, slices of coconut, ginger and its yum yum yummy!

    My guess for the tofu and tamarind dish is pad thai!!

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  24. The vada looks delish Nupur. Kudos for making it from scratch.

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  25. Ok I may as well say this...me and a friend would go to a udipi place and order Chinese food... garnished with coriander. But yes, I totally agree, good chutney = great restaurant!
    The vadas look delish!!

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  26. A week earlier, I'd have died to own one of these contraptions but last weekend, a friend too pity on me. And now (8 yrs after I started to try), I f.i.n.a.l.l.y know how to make holes in the medu vada. Insert a really wide grin! :D

    Tofu+Tamarind => Hmmmmm.... Pad thai??

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  27. What fun! I love learning about new kitchen gadgets. This one looks like it would make great doughnuts, too.

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  28. Medu vadas have always been my nemesis - my SIL is an expert churns out these lovely soft inside crisp outside perfectly shaped vadais in minutes..Sigh, I'm no where close to getting there!

    Your versions look really good, but I guess the gadget may need to be cleaned after every few batchesZ?

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  29. I have been lurking on your blog for long, always curious to know what you will try next!
    Vadas indeed look yummy. And I cant resist adding my 2 bits too!
    My mother loves to have vadas at the udupi restaurants and they have to be piping hot and just off the gas too! Not meeting this criteria often resulted in one of the following - walkout of the whole family from the restaurant or the person attending to us got a stern reprimand! Her indicator of how good the udupi restaurant (still) is based on how hot and fresh idli/vada they serve!

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  30. Sahiti- Rinsing it frequently and re-filling with batter would be difficult given the construction of this device, but might be worth a try!

    Ranjani- Medu vada from scratch is dead easy! Easier without any devices, actually ;)

    Shruti- That's a great tip, to not soak them for too long. Thanks!

    Shammi- Dale exists on a higher plane, taking pics of food and all is beneath him :D

    Anon.- Fried stuff will do that to ya :)

    Dhana- Full marks to you- pad thai it is!!

    Rajitha- Very true, if people are standing between tables waiting for diners to finish, that's always a great sign!

    Droelma- You are so right- I should have sprayed it with oil before filling in the batter! Thanks for the great tip :)

    Smita- And your guess is 100% correct :)

    Mandira- It is the very easiest thing to make from scratch! Except that deep-frying can be a pain with the oily smell and all.

    aquadaze- Oh but I love that coriander-laced Chinese food :) so I'm with you on that one!!

    Kay- Much much better to do it that way, with one's own hands, believe me! Now I hope you'll share the secrets with us, about making the perfect hole-y medu vada.

    Lydia- I am planning to try making doughnuts with this one sometime :)

    Miri- If there are experts in the family, then one can always invite oneself over for medu vadas, right? ;)

    Sam- Well, I can understand not going to the sub-par medu vada restaurant again, but I wouldn't go so far as to walk out or to scold the servers- they don't make the food, right?

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  31. Your Udipi-restaurant profiles reminded me of a section in White Tiger (have you read it? Good in parts, highly affected in others). The author says how everyone in Bangalore has their own filter coffee drinking ritual. Some will blow then sip, some will slurp, some will pour the coffee between the two steel cups... and so on :)
    Good to see you back in action, and how! Medu vadas - my craving has never gotten so far to push me to make them at home!
    Also, grinning at "Dogs are pretty much useless at taking pictures of medu vada making, I find."

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  32. The medu vadas look so inviting, especially it is raining here while I am drooling, er reading your post. I had to smile when you mentioned the 'udipi-dining profile' my mom strictly a medu vada person, my sister a naan-paneer and me a rawa dosa person, irrespective whichever udipi restaurant we went to in bombay! Mani's in matunga was my favourite, where the boy used to dole out rasam and sambar from steel buckets. Wish I could transport myself there now, sigh!

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  33. gosh! u are right,.. i always read the whole menu but end up ordering idly OR idly vada.. LOL

    hugs to Dale!

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  34. Ashwini- No, I haven't read the White Tiger, it has been on my reading list for a while though.
    Any chance of you getting back to blogging? :)

    Namita- LOL such greta memories! You know, I bought a steel bucket from India this time, just for serving sambar etc. I'll feature it in a blog photo sometime.

    A- Yes, we are loyal to our favorites!

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  35. @ Nupur,

    Please do me a favour and post a video or atleast detailed instructions as to how the vada maker is meant to be used. Got one with me, but do not know how to use it. Please please.. I'm desperately waiting to make "vadas-with-actually-a-hole". :)

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  36. Hi, I just came across yr food blog. About the vada makers problem- try making yr batter more loose (although we've always been cautioned to make it thick when making it the traditional way), almost like idli batter.
    Give it a try, don't loosen up the whole batter, experiment with a little at first.
    All the best!

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