Medu vada: Death ceremonies and superstitions, golden vadas

“Why can’t we have hole vadas at home? Why does someone have to die before we eat them??” It seemed very unfair – there was some weird superstition when were kids about round things with holes not being made except at death ceremonies and so we grew up essentially vada-deprived – after all, even kids can’t hope that people will keep popping off just to oblige our gastronomic dreams! Come to think of it, maybe it was the other way around – nobody must have liked  death ceremonies so there had to be some inducement for people to attend… ergo, vada?
Now of course, all those superstitions have been given the go-by and vadas are had at every possible occasion when dietary consciences don’t bite! We, in fact, have a vaadyar (a family priest) whose nickname is “vada vaadyar” in honour of his capacity to put away these little savoury doughnuts of deliciousness! The “maami” who comes to cook for religious functions at home always asks ahead if the vada vaadyar is going to be there so that she’s not caught unprepared!
A few years ago, a cousin from the US – an avid reader and commentator on this blog – had come home with his family for breakfast. Hadn’t seen them in some years, so I really went to town on an elaborate breakfast of vada, sambar, idli, pongal and various chutneys! Almost everything got demolished excet for the idlis. Said cousin turns around and says, “what’s the point in calling any Nemali home for breakfast and giving us an option of idlis and vadas? We’ll always go for the vadas, of course!
Here it is – the vada or to give it it’s Tamil name – “medu wadai” with the “dai” rhyming with “die” – there’s another clue to the superstition! Vada –  the dearly beloved, almost always rationed commodity – the original food to which the song “no one can eat just one” was intended but P…i stole it along the way!
Medu vadai
Urad dal – 1 cup – washed and soaked for at least 4 hours
Green chili- 1
Ginger – 1/2 inch piece
Onion – chopped – 1 (optional)
Pepper corns – 1 tsp
Coconut pieces –  1tbsp (optional )
Curry leaves – 1 sprig – chopped
Coriander leaves – 1 tbsp – chopped
Oil to deep fry
Grind the urad dal along with the green chili and the ginger with very little water – 2-3 tbsp is ample. The consistency of the ground batter is very important because if it’s too watery, the vadas absorb too much oil when frying. Drop a few drops of batter into a bowl of water. The batter should stay intact and not blend into the water. If the batter is too thin, add a couple of tbsp of semolina. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. 
Heat the oil to below smoking point. Wet you hand, take a large tbsp of batter , make a hole in the centre (you’re not superstitious, are you??!) and slide it into the oil. Repeat with the rest of the batter in batches, turning over the vadas with a skewer till they are golden brown. Remove and serve hot with sambar and chutney.
Oh, and do you read the obit columns?