Keerai vadai is a crunchy lentil fritter, with spinach and a special blend of spices folded in. Once you dig in, you will find it hard to stop at one. But why should you?
Dr. Vannucci clapped her hands excitedly as she saw me lift up my sari skirt, carefully navigating the stairs that led to her office. Do you know the story of the beautiful sungudi sari you are wearing, she asked.
‘Everyone thinks it’s a pure southern construct but not many know its origin lies in the Saurashtran peninsula bordering the Arabian Sea’. She continued, seeing me shake my head.
Think about it. Southern saris have gold threads but no tie dye. But Sungudis have both gold threads & tie dye; she finished with a glint in her eye watching my curiosity getting deeper.
Relenting she said ‘Have a seat. I have 10 minutes before my meeting. Girish will make you some whipped coffee’.
Dr. Marta Vannucci had a very important role in the UN office. She came from Brazil to research the mangrove ecosystem in India. Outside her role she travelled a lot and took a keen interest in the culture and customs of the country where she lived.
Cotton needs a hot climate and Indian weather is perfect. The softest cotton comes from Saurashtra.
From the 8th to the 12th century, with the Mughal invasion, the weavers fled Saurashtra. After a long circuitous journey they set foot in the southern Temple Town of Madurai where they met beautiful people with darker skin than they were used to. Madurai’s kings warmly welcomed them.
The Saurashtrans embraced the local culture. Observing how the southerners liked saris edged with real gold thread, they set to creating a gift of cotton, calling it “Madurai Sungudi.” In Saurashtra, the word ‘sungudi’ means “round”, referring to the circular tie-dye knots.
I’m moved with a deep gratitude to Dr. Vannucci for sharing this beautiful secret. As I go into my backyard to pluck amaranth to make vadai, I recall the number of requests I would get from my Punjabi friends for Sungudi saris.-parrot green with orange, peacock blue, mustard brown –all of the colors borrowed from nature’s vivid yet harmonizing palate.
How does our awesome recipe fit into the Saurashtran saga? Keerai vadai owes its origin to the innovation of the saurashtrans.
The weaver households made keerai vadai to serve during breaks. The fine dust and fibers from the silk threads that they worked with made them prone to respiratory problems. They folded in special spinach for medicinal value.
1 cup washed channa dal or split chickpeas (soaked in hot water for 1 hour)
1 cup washed, packed chopped spinach (I used amaranth)
3/4 cup water
2 dry red chilies or to taste
Himalayan sea Salt to taste
2 cups oil (I used grapeseed oil)
Discard soaked water of channa dal. Grind with red chilies, salt & hing to a coarse paste. Fold in the chopped spinach to the batter
Add oil to fry pan & turn on stove. Let oil heat completely. Drop a pinch of batter to test heat. Batter will puff and rise to the surface when high heat is reached.
Keep a pot of water handy to dip fingers in to prevent batter from sticking.
Next, secret tip-take a medium sized zip lock or clear plastic bag. Wet it to create a non-stick surface. Pat a small golf ball sized portion of batter, flatten with fingers & slowly drop into fry pan. Repeat with remaining batter. Try to keep room in fry pan for the vadai to rise so only fry about 4-5 max at a time.
Remove when golden brown with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
My magical keerai vadai needs no other dressing. Serve piping hot with chai.
An enchanting story of fusion, a marriage of techniques to produce the softest and prettiest cottons, and a health benefit learned. Did you know about the sungudi sari? Do give my simplified keerai vadai a try.
#vegan #vegetarian #spinach #chickpeas #soulofspice #charuyoga