Born and brought up in Mumbai we just love and enjoy every cuisine of the country, but we enjoy South Indian cuisine the most. Idli, Dosa, Wada are south Indian staples in Mumbai. From breakfast to dinner these can be eaten any time of the day. Until I got married and went to Chennai (South Indian State) where my in-laws were, I did not know that idli would not be on the dinner menu of the restaurants there, I was so sad because for a Mumbaite, South Indian food should be available at any time of the day :)
Medu wada are deep fried and crisp lentil donuts. I just love the ones served on a small roadside joint in Mumbai. Yes, they have a very different taste from the ones we order in California. Every time we ordered a portion, we felt disappointed and cheated as it would lack something...we were not sure what that something was until we experimented and found that out. It was a Eureka moment for my husband and me.
As a child I have always seen my mom making medu wadas. She was into catering and would make this quite often. The big bowl of ground lentils or urad dal was kept aside for few hours and then deep fried to make medu wadas. I always though medu wada batter is left to ferment for few hours to yield soft, hollow wadas that are not dense from inside. This is what I adapted throughout my life until one of my South Indian friend said that you never ferment this batter. The reason was that the fermented batter when deep fried absorbs oil and becomes soft. I was startled...so many years of my life I made medu wadas with fermented batter and that was incorrect!!! If a South Indian claims that the batter should not be fermented I would think it as a commandment and just follow that blindly right? I tried it out...made a fresh batch and made fresh batter, whisked it well, and ready to deep fry. As I took the first taste test I realized what was missing in Medu wadas...the wadas were crisp from outside, soft from inside, but it lacked the fermented taste. It tasted bland and the blandness was not from missing salt or spices but the blandness of fermentation. It tasted flat compared to my earlier method.
I am not saying that fermentation is the correct method. I am sure the traditional South Indian food that has been so lovingly prepared since ages is perfect. But we forget the traditional method of preparation. With tropical climate in India and most of the South Indian states, the process of fermentation starts when the lentils are soaked in water. The high temperatures and humidity impart delicious taste to urad dal. The batter is then hand ground in a stone mortar and pestle or a wet grinder. This definitely takes time compared to our mixes or food processors in which five minutes of grinding is more than enough. So fermentation is also taking place here. As you remove the batter in the bowl the temperature and humidity is doing it's job and bacteria are imparting taste and flavor. Therefore, keeping the batter aside for few hours is not needed. Now, I am not a scientist, I am a passionate science teacher and I cannot accept things by the word. I like to reason and I like to experiment. So when a small vendor in a corner joint in Mumbai makes fresh medu wada batches right in front of us, the heat and humidity is activating the bacteria in the un-fried batter. The unknowing process of fermentation is taking place. In California where I live, neither are the temperatures high nor humidity. So leaving the batter aside for few hours or overnight is the only choice for me, and we love that taste. As for absorbing oil and making medu wada soggy, I have not experienced that in a fermented batter. If the oil temperature is perfect for frying, medu wada will turn out perfect too!
I planned out an experiment. Just like I tell my students, experiment is the most important step in science. I created independent and dependent variables and left all other factors constant. The variables were the fermented batter and non fermented batter. Type of oil, temperature of oil, time to fry, type of urad dal, amount of salt, time for soaking, etc. are the factors that were kept constant. I did not want any of these to affect the result. After frying the medu wada... 1. with freshly made batter and 2. with fermented batter, my husband was given a blind fold test. He had to tell me for soggy or oily wadas, and he said they both were same and just perfect medu wadas. So for me fermented batter did not yield soggy and oily wadas :) As per the taste...I like the fermented batter better than the fresh one :)
It is totally up to you, you may decide to make these with a fresh batter or leave the batter for some time. I am really glad to share this recipe and my findings with you!
1 cup split urad dal/ while lentil
3 cups water
1 green chilli
5-6 whole pepper corns
1 inch ginger
1 tsp. salt
Pinch of hing
Oil for frying
- Wash urad dal with water and soak it in 3 cups of water for 6-8 hours or overnight.
- Remove all the water and add soaked urad dal to the food processor. I have been using my Cuisinart food processor since last 9 years and I love it.
- Add ginger, green chilli, and pepper corns.
- Grind to form a coarse paste. (the video is given below) Add 1-2 tbsp. water if needed. Keep the batter slightly thick.
- Remove the batter in a bowl. Cover and let it rest for 4-5 hours or overnight. OR if you choose to fry it immediately, whisk the batter well to make it light and fluffy.
- Heat oil in a pan or kadhai.
- Add salt and hing to the batter and mix well
- Keep a small bowl of water next to the batter.
- Dip your fingers in water and take a small portion of batter on your fingers. The water prevents the batter from sticking to the fingers and slides off easily to fry. Remember you finger need to just be wet and not dripping with water.
- Make hole in a wada and gently slide wada into hot oil. (the video is shown below)
- Fry on both sides till golden brown.
- Remove on a paper towel and serve hot with chutney!
You could add chopped onions or chopped curry leaves to the batter just before making medu wadas. I don't because my medu wada is inspired by Mumbai street food and I have not eaten it that way.
Here is step-by-step pictorial recipe:
1. Medu wada with fresh batter.
2. Medu wada with fermented batter.