Dahi means yoghourt in Hindi and Vada is a generic Indian term referring to a huge variety of lentil fritters. These fall roughly into the felafel family, in that they are made according to the same basic principles, but are usually lighter in colour and less earthy because they tend to be made from split lentils.

In the film Delhi 6, there is famously a scene where the protagonist stands next to a very long-standing stall in Old Delhi selling Dahi Vada. The scene captures what many know: Old Delhi with its people, its alleyways, its bustle, its smells and… its street food, or chaat. Dahi Vada is quintessential here, but it is also a kind of street food that has managed to cross social barriers. If well made, this is a dish that can grace a table.

Dahi Vada

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

Half of a 200ml glass filled with white urad dal

Salt and black pepper to taste

1 teaspoon of cumin seeds

I small or half a large onion, finely chopped

¼ of a red or green pepper, finely chopped (or green chillies if you dare…)

A piece of fresh ginger 1”x1”x1” very finely chopped

Oil for deep frying

500 gms of natural yoghourt

¼ glass of milk if needed

2 teaspoons of castor sugar OR of Agave syrup

A quarter teaspoon of chilli powder

A quarter teaspoon of cumin powder

A quarter teaspoon if pomegranate powder (anardhana) if the yoghourt needs to be more sour.

A pinch of coriander powder for decoration

Method:

Soaking the Urad Dal

  • Wash the urad dal to get rid of the dust and soak it in a bowl of water. If you use cold water, you will need to soak the dal for about 6 hours. A quicker way is to boil water in a kettle and cover the dal with the very hot water and then put a lid on top. Make sure you do not pour in too much water. There should be about one inch of water over the dal, to allow the latter to soak and swell. Check the dal after a couple of hours and add in more water if needed, but only just.

For the dahi:

  • Place the yoghourt in a bowl, making sure you leave a few inches free.
  • Stir in salt, black pepper, the sugar or Agave, the chilli powder, the cumin powder, and the coriander powder. If the yoghourt is very thick, add in the milk. The sauce should be thick and creamy. It should also be only mildly sweet, mildly salty, mildly spiced and mildly sour.

For the vada:

  • Take the lid off the soaked dal and get rid of any excess liquid.
  • Using a hand blender or a liquidiser, blend the soaked dal into a thick batter.
  • Stir in the chopped onions, peppers and ginger.
  • Stir in the cumin seeds.
  • Add salt and black pepper to taste.
  • Heat enough oil for deep frying in a wide-bottomed pan (you can test the temperature by dropping in a small amount of batter. If it rises to the top, then the heat is right).
  • Use a teaspoon to fry small amounts of the lentil batter. Use a slotted spoon to remove them from the oil once they turn brown (you will know when they are done because they will sound hollow if you tap them with the back of the spoon).
  • Do the frying in batches, allowing the vada to cool a bit before plunging them into a bowl of very cold water.
  • Use your hands to squeeze the oil and water out of them, breaking them up in the process.
  • Place the broken vada into the yoghourt sauce, making sure they are all covered (your aim should be to have different textures in the sauce, with both the more crusty exterior of the vada and the softer interior soaking up the yoghourt sauce).

For dahi vada:

  • This dish is never done until you have sprinkled a few colours on top. These should be: red (paprika might be kinder on the palate than chilli powder, but be prepared for the real thing if you go to India), dark green (coriander powder), earth brown (cumin powder).
  • Finally, let the dish chill in the fridge. If possible, let it sit there overnight or for several hours. If, like me, you do things last minute, leave it in the freezer for about half an hour or so before serving.

© Taste Trail Limited 2014